In Heaven or on Earth

By Michael Smith

A Reading from Hebrews 12:12-29

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

14 Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. 16 See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.

18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26 At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Meditation

After eleven chapters comparing and contrasting the two covenants of God, the first one through Moses at Mount Sinai and the second through the blood of Jesus Christ our High Priest, the writer to the Hebrews reaches a crescendo in today’s lesson: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly 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.” What is to be our response? “Let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”

There has long been a teaching in the Christian tradition that heaven and earth are united when we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion: “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven…” (BCP 362). In the 10th century, envoys from the pagan Prince Vladimir in Kiev reported after experiencing the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople that they “knew not whether they were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon the earth… only this they knew, that God dwells there among humans.”

Sunday is the day Christians gather for worship on the day of resurrection, the first day of the week. As we prepare today to celebrate the sacred mysteries tomorrow, remember that we mortal beings are not alone in our worship. Whether the style is ornate or simple, in-person or online, give thanks with reverence and awe.

Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Kapsabet – The Anglican Church of Kenya
Church of St. Mark, Brooklyn, N.Y.

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