Only a Full House

by Rev. Nick Chambers

Only a full house. Acts 11, Psalm 148, and Revelation 21 will abide no less.

In Acts, God presents animals of every kind to Peter, even those preciously considered unclean, declaring, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” God’s blessing breaks down barriers between Jew and Gentile: "The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” In the Psalm every feature and detail of creation is enlisted and embraced in praise. Every voice joins in the song of the whole. In Revelation, the “sea" of isolation and division disappears. Heaven and earth are joined in marriage. The pain of separation is replaced with togetherness.

One of my favorite songs that draws on such apocalyptic imagery is Josh Ritter’s “thin Blue Flame.” After three long and equally prophetic verses of violence and despair, he concludes:

"And this whole thing is headed for a terrible wreck
And like good tragedy, that’s what we expect"

But with a decrescendo and pause, his tone changes:

"At night, I make plans for a city laid down
Like the hips of a girl on the spring-covered ground
Spirals and capitals and the twists of a script
Streets named for heroes that could almost exist
Fruit trees from Eden and the gardens that seem
To float like the smoke from a lithium dream
Cedar trees growing in the cool of the squares
Young women walking in the portals of prayer
The future glass buildings and the past an address
The weddings in pollen and the wine bottomless
And all wrongs forgotten and all vengeance made right
The suffering verbs put to sleep in the night
The future descending like a bright chandelier
The world just beginning and the guests in good cheer
In Royal City, I fell into a trance
Cause it’s hell to believe there ain’t a hell of a chance"

Do we need these visions just because it’s hell not to hope? Do they keep our “eyes on the prize?"Are they simply illusions, cherished to soften the harshness and darkness of the waking world? Are we just waiting around for something to happen? As his sprawling song continues, Ritter wakes from the idyllic dream:

"I woke beneath a clear, blue sky
The sun a shout, the breeze a sigh
The old hometown and the streets I knew
Wrapped up in a royal blue
I heard my friends laughing out across the fields
Girls in the gloaming and the birds on the wheel
The raw smell of horses and the warm smell of hay
Cicadas electric in the heat of the day
A run of Three Sisters and the flush of the land
And the lake was a diamond in the valley’s hand
The straight of the highway and the scattered out hearts
They were coming together, they were pulling apart
And angels everywhere were in my midst
In the ones that I loved, in the ones that I kissed
I wondered what it was I’d been looking for above
Heaven's so big, there ain’t no need to look up
So I stopped looking for royal cities in the air
Only a full house gonna have a prayer"

Gazing into God’s future does not require turning our heads from the present. Our hope is not based on escape or exclusion but on the embrace of the God who is Alpha and Omega. The very point of divine revelation is to unveil and to clarify, to remove obscurities and obstacles to see the eternal in time. Ritter himself ends not with the denial of heaven but the discovery of heaven here and now, permeating and pulsating in the present.

Having come through these cosmic passages and arriving at the gospel, its tone strikes us as somewhat parochial. Jesus simply says, “Love one another.” But in this command we realize that if God’s vision for restoration is really that comprehensive, then it must include precisely  the place and person right in front of us, where God dwells and works. 

Hope does not distract us, drag us away, or dull our senses. It gives us both scope and focus. It awakens us to the "full house” of heaven and earth that is already beginning to embrace us.