"After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.' At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald." - Revelation 4:1-3
I once heard of a woman who, in the hours before death claimed her, couldn't find her luggage. She earnestly told everyone who entered her hospice room that she needed to collect some bags she could not describe, because someone was waiting to meet her. Sometimes family members and caregivers report that the dying see other things invisible to the eyes of the living – bright lights, winged beings, faceless crowds. Like the lost luggage, these figures are just out of reach, not easy to describe.
John of Patmos wasn't dying when he experienced his revelation, but one interpretation of this book is that he saw the Other Side, witnessed events and objects not usually seen by the living. His first glimpse is blindingly indistinct – bright red of jasper, glorious orange of carnelian, brilliant green of emerald.
Sometimes, people ask me, as they do most pastors, I presume, what happens to us when we die. I usually say truthfully enough that I don't know what it will be like, but I do that know that we will, all of us, be with God. I don't have a picture of heaven, but an impression of expanding awe and boundless compassion.
The God I know here on this earth is bigger than any words can describe; more dazzling than the brightest earthly colors; always right here and yet always just out of reach, too. It makes sense that the God of "what must take place after this" would be like that too. It comforts me not to be certain about heaven.
Holy One, Awe us with your brilliance and comfort us with your mystery, here in this life and in what must take place after this, too. Amen.
Stillspeaking Small Group Discussion
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.