Summary: Heaven is party-central, and the party starts now, but doesn't get into full gear till we get to Heaven, or when Jesus returns--whichever comes first.
When Biblical writers speak of Heaven, they often use figurative language. I suspect the reason is that they’re trying to express heavenly realities with the limitations of human language. Trying to describe Heaven to us is like trying to describe this world to an unborn child. And so we’re given “a set of signposts” (NT Wright). We’re going to be examining over the next few weeks four images of Heaven. It is a party, a marriage, a city, and a symphony.
At first glance, we may observe that in Mt 22 Jesus is only speaking of the Kingdom of Heaven; yet what is true of the Kingdom is also true of Heaven. The Kingdom Jesus inaugurated is a now and not yet proposition. The party starts now but doesn’t kick into full gear till we get to Heaven, or when Jesus returns—whichever comes first.
So welcome to the party! When we think of church, the word “party” doesn’t usually come to mind. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun being here; at least I hope it is. I realize having fun isn’t the main reason we’re here, yet I trust we leave this place with more hope, joy, and peace than is found at most parties. That’s because we’re not here to be entertained, but enriched and encouraged by our worship.
God’s Kingdom, and Heaven itself, is a party. The reason is--we have something to celebrate! In Revelation 19 we read of the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb,” a party that will outshine all parties--a celebration of our redemption. We are guests at a observance that celebrates how we are joined with Christ our Redeemer. Every time we observe Communion we anticipate this party. The Table of the Lord repeatedly points to the ultimate party of all time. Jesus told His disciples, “I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's Kingdom” (Mt 26:29).
In the short story Babette’s Feast by Karen Blixen (which was made into a movie), a Parisian chef is forced to leave her home during time of war. She winds up a refugee in Norway, working as a maid for two sisters who live austere lives, and she grows to love them dearly. Babette wins a sizeable sum in the lottery and spends it all on preparing a lavish gourmet dinner party for the sisters and their friends--a picture of God’s sacrificial, extravagant grace. The feast, one of the guests correctly explains, is comparable to that of a 5-star Parisian restaurant. Babette realizes she may never again be able to afford to give such a gift or prepare such a meal. One of the sisters says to her, “I feel, Babette, that this is not the end. In Paradise you will be the great artist that God meant you to be! How you will enchant the angels!” (A side note, Pope Francis says this is his favorite movie)
Some parties aren’t much fun, and afterwards we regret going. Journalist Sarah Turnbull, an Australian who moved to Paris, describes a typical French cocktail party. Couples arrive and stand apart, “strangely inhibited”, talking in discrete low voices as if anxious not to disturb the other couples. There’s no interaction; no introductions are made; no one makes an effort to “break the ice”; no one is offered a drink or an hors d'oeuvre. It’s pretty grim. Sarah was used to fun social gatherings in Australia and found the French idea of a party incomprehensible! She turned to her husband and asked, “Is this a party? (From her memoir, Almost French)
Some parties are fun, and no one wants to leave a good party early. Christians facing death may think they’re leaving the party too soon. They’re thinking of all the things they’re going to miss. But the truth is--the real party is where they’re going, a place of laughter and rejoicing! They’re not the ones missing out; those left behind are. We need to remind ourselves that the “dearly departed” are doing just fine. For believers who’ve passed on, the best has come.
Some people think Hell will be a party. Someone wrote a book titled, I hope they serve beer in Hell. With all the rowdy sinners, Hell should be a blast…yet Scripture depicts Hell differently. It’s been said, “If you want to understand Hell, don’t hold your hand in a candle flame; just ponder the meanest, most desolate place in your soul” (Marilynne Robinson). “Hell is being alone with yourself for all eternity” (Tony Hendra).
We’ve been summoned to a party. And, like in the parable of Matthew 22, if we don’t respond, if we make light of the invitation, the servants of the king will find others who will attend. In this parable, the “King” is God. It was the custom in Bible times to issue an invitation without specifying the exact time till a later date. The “time” is when the King is ready. But once people committed to the RSVP, they were expected to come; otherwise their absence would be viewed as an expression of contempt. Verse 5 says they “paid no attention”; in other words, they were apathetic, too busy with their own lives to honor the King. They didn’t just ignore the servants; they showed resistance and hostility in a treasonous refusal. The King cannot tolerate an empty banquet hall. He will find other guests for his party, and declares those previously invited as unworthy, verse 8: they do “not deserve to come.”