On Earth as in Heaven

Footpath leading to Jacob’s Ladder, in Derbyshire, near Sheffield

There’s a connection my brain is trying to make with the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer as a whole seems a concentration of all the things that are true, each line containing something infinitely profound. Taken together, these lines draw us close to the edge of something unfathomable and altogether spectacular.

It’s too much for me. Lately, as I go about my day, I’ve been repeating to myself one part of the Lord’s Prayer, the phrase “on earth as in heaven.” I caught a glimpse of its mystery when I was working on clouds and then again with the raven and the dove. And I’m still hunting for it.

Heaven on earth seems more than a reference to the Temple, though that approaches its meaning. The Temple, God’s dwelling place that Solomon first built is of course a sign. It draws our eye beyond things built by human hands to God’s in-dwelling of creation in human form (Acts 7:48). First in Christ and then in His new Temple, His body, the church.

But that still seems incomplete. When it comes to heaven on earth, there is Noah’s mimicry of God when he sends out the raven, the festivals God gives the Israelites as reminders, even reenactments, of their salvation from slavery, the ladder to heaven Jacob witnesses in a dream. There are the glorified appearances of Moses, Elijah and Enoch, that cloud of witnesses around us, we who are already seated in the heavenly places and yet still lingering on earth.

Each of these and so many many more speak to us of God bringing heaven and earth into union and yet holding them separate. The already and the not yet in dimensional overlap. I can’t think about it too much or my brain will scramble. Sometimes it feels like I’m headed for that. But I can’t let it go. Nor can I fully put it into words.

Where can I go except the Holy of Holies, Song of Songs? In the most intimate book of the Bible, we eavesdrop – no we participate! in the longing of two lovers for each other, Solomon and his wife. But of course it’s about more. Jesus Christ, in His life, death and resurrection has become ONE with His bride the church, and this is why Jesus can say to us,

You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
    there is no flaw in you.
Song of Songs 4:7

How can this be right? We can’t go a day, an hour, even a minute without hurting someone else, without hurting ourselves.

But here’s the mystery: Heaven on earth – holiness, peace, joy – flows only out of the perfect love and enduring presence of God (Psalm 23, James 3:17-18). This is why Lady Wisdom in Proverbs is a picture not just of ‘godly wisdom’ nor even of Jesus alone but of the perfect wisdom the Church of Christ already possesses.

And here’s the mystery again: Bringing together heaven and earth can never be done by human effort, out of duty, trying harder, doing better. “On earth as it is in heaven” is therefore both what we have now and what we pray for. The re-creation Christ will usher in when He comes again. Tomorrow’s bread, given to us today. In the Lord’s Prayer, then, we who belong to Jesus ask not to make heaven on earth for ourselves but to be who we already are (1 Cor. 11:1):

a special people unto Himself, above all people (Deut. 7:6)
blessed (Num. 22:12)
friend (Jn 15:14)
apple of His eye (Deut 32:10)
a vessel unto honor (2 Tim 2:21)
as many as I love (Rev 3:19)
accepted and beloved (Song of Songs 5:1; Eph 1:6, Rom 1:7).

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