“Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Hang on …. did I hear that right? In today’s gospel, did Jesus really say “Heaven and earth”? Perhaps he meant “the sky and the earth …” (Like Chicken Licken, “The sky’s falling!”) Or even, “the universe and the earth may pass away.” But not heaven. Heaven can’t pass away – it’s where God lives.
Well, there was no distinction in Jesus’ language between the sky and heaven. Where God lived was way up there beyond the blue, so if the sky passed away, then where God lived did too. So no let-out there. And it’s unlikely that Jesus would be referring to the universe, which is a concept his listeners would not understand at all.
So yes, heaven will pass away.
Actually, John’s vision in the book of Revelations endorses this too: “I John saw a new heaven and a new earth… Behold, all is made new!”
So we’re left with a rather disturbing picture. The things of this created universe are finite, and will of course be rolled up like an old blanket and thrown away. We know this. And science confirms that the universe had a beginning and will have an end. But heaven is part of the eternal, everlasting realms. The dwelling of God and countless myriads of angels. We depend on heaven being unshakeable and constant through all the struggles and vagaries of our mortal journey. Is nothing, then, steadfast at all?
Well, of course, it’s the next words of Jesus that actually matter. There is something that will never, never, never100 change. The truth.
Truth is the foundation of everything – even heaven itself. What is true is true, what is false is false (Mr Trump, please note) and truth is the first thing that defines who God is. God is truth, and he cannot be untrue to his own nature. No matter that heaven evaporates and the angels fall from the sky, what is true remains true and always will.
Jesus’ words are the expression of that truth for us mortals. They will never pass away. From, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” to, “I give you a new commandment,” his words connect us with the truth of God, and that is what will never be shaken. Everything else – and I mean everything – is expendable.
So finding that truth, and building on it as our foundation, is pretty crucial. And we give thanks today, on Bible Sunday, that wise and holy people in the past who did just that, have shared with us the path that got them there. The Good News of Jesus, the Way the truth and the Life.
But scripture isn’t in itself the Word of God. It is Jesus who is the Word of God. The scriptures help us understand Jesus’ words that will never pass away, but those words are spoken afresh at every encounter. Spoken to you; spoken to me. We hear those words in our inner being, inspired and guided by the words written in scripture.
It is the words that Jesus speaks to our hearts that connect us to the truth, the unshakeable, immeasurable and unfathomable truth of God’s love.