Readings – Jeremiah 23:1-6; Song of Zechariah; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
How many here have been to Strasburg, Pa.?
How many have taken the train from Strasburg?
And where does that train take you? What is the destination? Paradise, Pa.
It is about a 4 ½ mile ride through Amish farmland from Strasburg to the Pennsylvania Rail Road main line at Paradise Junction.
In our readings today we catch glimpses of another kind of paradise.
In Jeremiah, while chaos surrounded him and a catastrophe was soon to arrive, the prophet envisioned a future shepherd and a new Garden of Eden, where the people of Israel would again be fruitful and multiply”, like the creation passage in Genesis. Jeremiah envisioned a new start, a new Eden, a new paradise.
The father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, envisioned a day when “a mighty savior …would save us…show mercy…[and] set us free”. There would be a new day when a savior would “guide our feet into the way of peace”, into paradise.
St. Paul in his letter to the congregation in Colossae declared that Jesus had “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the beloved… [where] the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.
We now know in 2022 that the totality of these men’s visions never fully flowered as they expected. However, their glimpses of paradise sustained them and richly blessed their lives.
Sometimes we, too, get visions, get personal glimpses of a new Garden of Eden, of paradise. During a recent illness, a member of All Saints had a glimpse of her extended family on the other side of death, reaching out to her and expressing their continuing love for her. She treasured those glimpses from many months, and they enabled her to more fully love her nearby family more until the end of her days.
Perhaps you, too, have had glimpses of heaven. Many are not quite sure how to share them, discouraged by how others may respond.
Perhaps you have received a vision of heaven while holding a child, or a grandchild, or experiencing a newborn nestled within.
Perhaps you have received a vision of heaven while participating in worship – receiving “the Body of Christ, the bread of heaven” and “the Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation”.
Perhaps you have received a glimpse while joining in the hymn singing, especially enhanced by Susquehanna University voices.
Perhaps you have received a glimpse while seeing birds at your feeder, or beautiful sunrises or sunsets.
We treasure those moments and hold them tightly and experience their blessing from God. There are so many ways of experiencing the blessings of God through received glimpses, received visions, of the renewing Garden of Eden, of paradise.
The example of the Strasburg Rail Road’s two rails to Paradise is much too limiting. There are so many ways of traveling to paradise, to the Promised Land, that God sets before each one of us on our earthly journey. It is a future we all are assured is before each and everyone one of us. It will surely come into all of our lives. Jesus even said to the convicted thief on the cross alongside him on Mt. Calvary — Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise.
So, too, Jesus will say to each one of us, at the end of our days — Truly, today you will be with me in Paradise.
May we continue to treasure the glimpses God provides.
May we even share them from time to time with others.
There is blessed assurance for us all, paradise is just beyond the horizon.