Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.Revelation 19:9
Deep in every soul is an instinctive yearning to be in a world we don’t yet inhabit. The yearning for this world is so inescapable and so powerful that, from time to time, we can’t help but pretend that we do live in it.
Puppies appear to lead a pretty happy, fun life, so it’s not surprising little kids like to enter the puppy world, bouncing around the house on all fours, barking, panting, clawing their way up your legs, or, if you’re caught unprepared, clawing your pants down. In any case, these precious little ones look up at you in their best puppy face and eagerly, shamelessly, joyously beg for attention. Kids play house, they play castles, princesses, and Robin Hood, they create and inhabit imaginary worlds built from Legos or maybe some sticks, scrap lumber, and crooked, rusty nails.
Christians sometimes play heaven. The reason lies in a convergence of three pretty cool realities: One, as the master architect of the world we screwed up by sin, God has the designs for an updated, sin-free version of both the world and us. Two, God has buried in the Christian soul a restless yearning for that updated world, coupled with a simmering dissatisfaction with this one. Three, God gave us just enough of a preview of that world that we can recreate it just a little bit and live in it for just a little while, right here on earth. In other words, God showed us how play heaven. And when we do, we do so in faith believing the drama we’re acting out in a small way now we’ll get to experience in full reality later.
And acts of faith please God.
What does playing heaven look like? Well, at the least, it includes these elements:
Gathering in the Father’s house
Lift up your eyes all around, and see;Isaiah 60:4-5
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
As much as we try to understand heaven as primarily a place of worship (and it will be a place of worship!), both the cravings of our hearts and the testimony of Scripture tell us that the new and updated world will be a place of gathering. The most natural place to gather is in the home of the common ancestor, the family cornerstone, the single star around whom we all have our unique orbit. Long live the Patriarchy!
I’ve rarely attended a family gathering where I heard the phrase, “We do this too often,” except maybe from some poor in-law trying to nurse the baby to sleep in the spare bedroom while she is continually invaded by frenzied five year olds who, for whatever reason, think the fuller the house, the more appropriate to use their outdoor voice or just abandon language completely and scream.
We love gathering together. We always say, “We should do this more often!” But it’s only a perfect gathering if all the people who are supposed to be there are actually there. That’s the reason I’ll be Home for Christmas makes sense. The “snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree” lose something of their mystique if the gathering is incomplete.
When we’re gathered together and loving that we are, we’re playing heaven. We’re putting on a live drama of the happiest moment imaginable – being with family, being with people we love, just because we love being with them. We don’t do it as often as we like, because, well, we just can’t. But when we do – it really is a little piece of heaven.
Feasting at the Father’s Table
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoplesIsaiah 25:6-7
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
What would it feel like to live in a place where death is unheard of, tears are never shed, and all the things that make us sad have been reversed or eradicated? When God wants to explain that, he paints a picture of this great feast with mountains of insanely expensive food. That world feels something like sitting down at a single table with everyone we love, the special china before us, actual silver spoons all polished up, cloth napkins, expensive wine in glasses that are not stingy-sized, and forks buried up to the hilt (we’ll have hilted forks then – we’ll need them!) in the most expensive cut the butcher has to offer, seasoned to perfection. Sheer, unadulterated bliss.
Great food matters a great deal, and giant heaps of food matters a giant heap. It’s good and proper and godly at family gatherings to love every bite and eat as many of them as possible. You are morally obligated to almost pass out on the couch or the floor after dinner. Dieting over Thanksgiving is probably sin, and I’m almost sure I could prove it. The Prodigal’s older brother, for instance, didn’t eat a lot at the feast and was almost certainly on some fad diet.
My dear, departed Grampa would famously compliment someone’s cooking this way: “A king can’t eat no better’n this!” A good feast makes every citizen a king. Everyone, the greatest and the smallest, seated at the same table sharing the same joy in the same meal, the best the kingdom can offer. At these great family feasts of ours, even the newborns have the inalienable right to a Nuk dipped in gravy, no matter how loud the maternal protest. In this case, we must insist that Dads know best. Greasy fingers, cranberry stains on the kids’ good clothes, talking and laughing with our mouths full, every beard bearing some small witness to every dish, Gramma fretting about how that table cloth will never come clean, the whole thing. It’s glorious.
More than that, it’s heavenly.
Your gates shall be open continually;Isaiah 60:11
day and night they shall not be shut,
that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,
with their kings led in procession.
You don’t knock on the door to Gramma and Grampa’s house, you just walk in. You belong there. You’re supposed to be there. You’re obligated to be there and play heaven. How cool. A convergence of blessed togetherness and opulent feasting and you, my dear friend, have the responsibility showing up to play your part in filling and being filled with the joys of togetherness and feasting.
It’s a hard life, but someone’s gotta live it.
When we gather under these conditions, we are playing heaven. Not only do we get to play heaven, in some sense we have to play heaven. God has always required his people regularly gather together in one place and feast on one meal. From the required annual feasts of the Mosaic Law to the glorious love feasts of the early church, the Heavenly Father loves his family gathering together and eating.
Throw the gates open! Gather around the table provided by the blood of Christ, the luxurious creativity of the Father, and the communion and joy of the Spirit. There’s not a soul missing, the table is full, and the gates are swung open wide. Come and get it!
We are entering a sacred time of year, a concentration of holy-days in which the people of God traditionally gather together to play heaven. We get to, for just a moment, once again enjoy a little taste of what heaven itself will be like. Just like the little samples in the little paper cups, it’s that little taste that keeps us hungering and pining and striving for the real thing. If it’s like this now, imagine the table the Father is going to prepare for the Son!
Imagine no one missing at that table.
For my family and me, we’re looking forward to Alice’s chair being occupied by its rightful owner. At least four other children we never got to meet will be there, so we’ll need to add some chairs. Grampa, with his endless supply of funny but wise little expressions, will be there. No one missing. Complete satisfaction, unhindered joy, offering up endless toasts to the founder of the feast, celebrating his lavish grace on us.
Imagine what it’ll be like then.
We can. A little bit anyway. We swing the gates of our houses open and get together, as best we can, enjoying the best we can afford, playing heaven in the presence of God and in honor of the Lord Jesus.
A little way off at the foot of a tree sat a merry party, a squirrel and his wife with their children and two satyrs and a dwarf and an old dog-fox, all on stools round a table. Edmund couldn’t quite see what they were eating, but it smelled lovely and there seemed to be decorations of holly and he wasn’t at all sure that he didn’t see something like a plum pudding…
“What is the meaning of this?” asked the Witch Queen. Nobody answered.
“Speak, vermin!” she said again. “Or do you want my dwarf to find you a tongue with his whip? What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self indulgence?”The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Let the reader understand.
top image The Marriage Feast at Cana en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Marriage_Feast_at_Cana_(Bosch)