I recently watched an interview segment with John Stott in which he was asked when he felt the most alive. His answer was threefold: when he was in public worship, in friendship, and when watching birds.
Stott shared that when in public worship he felt himself transported into heavenly spheres and could sense angles and archangels – the transcendent was palpable. This is more than being excited, it is more than being engaged in music and meaningful lyrics, it is more than feeling refreshed at being disengaged from the chaos and worry of the world, and it is more than being about me the individual – it is about the Trinity and the host of heaven and the people of God who transcend time and place, as the writer of Hebrews puts it (12:22-24), “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angles, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”
I don’t know that most Christians contemplate these things or are even aware of their existence or of the possibility of touching them. I don’t hear many people talk about them or acknowledge them when they are talked about. Our individualism works against a sense of the transcendent and against a sense of a corporate “other”. Many of our church gatherings are so high energy and move so quickly that one is hard pressed to contemplate Scripture, lyrics, music, or prayers. It is as if someone is afraid we’ll change channels if we aren’t kept moving.
Are we seeking a city or are we seeking an isolated yurt? Are we seeking to live in transcendent and eternal community or are we seeking to live in sound-proof apartments to only venture out when there are group activities that interest us? Again the writer of Hebrews (13:14), “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.” Also in 11:10 & 14, “…for he [Abraham] was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God… For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.”
While we may have to wait for the full manifestation of the New Jerusalem, we need not wait to touch and be touched by this city descending from the heavens. While it is important to set our hope on that day when the children of God will be manifested and creation delivered from the slavery of decay (Romans 8), it is also vital to live in that which is and was and is to come. Otherwise we live as the people of Haggai’s time, caring only for our own houses while the house of God lies in ruin, living for ourselves and not for the people of God, not that others may know Him, and not centered on the Throne Room where God and God alone is worshipped. We are most fully alive when we are the closest to our home and destiny.