By Bill Lewellis
“I saw no temple in the heavenly city,” we will hear in next Sunday's (Easter 6) reading from St. John’s book of Revelation, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
Another John of our own day had a similar vision. The late John Lennon (1940-1980): “Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try… Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too, Imagine all the people, Living life in peace… Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man, Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world… You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one…”
I knew people years ago who were not thrilled by that song. I worked with one. Taken, literally, it does imagine away creeds and pledges of allegiance, inviting us to imagine a world without sects, soldiers or security blankets. Isn’t that also kind of what St. John asks us to do in the book of Revelation? No churches in the heavenly city?
When I served on the bishop's staff of the relatively new RC Diocese of Allentown, we did not have our own diocesan newspaper. We relied on the newspaper of the neighboring Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The idea was raised from time to time that I should start a newspaper, but I managed each time to perish the thought because I just knew the bishop with a dominant personality would micromanage the paper.
When the editor of our neighboring diocese’s paper decided to include in one issue a syndicated feature about the merits of reflecting on the words of John Lennon’s song, "Imagine," I got the job of telling the editor how stupid an idea the bishop thought that was – and inviting him to a meeting with the bishop and me.
John was also the editor’s name – the late John Foley (1935-2011). I did my job, conveying the message to the editor who was a good and sincere and, ironically, a rather conservative priest.
God does have a sense of humor. The former editor was later named an archbishop, then a cardinal. He worked in Rome, heading up the Vatican’s communication office and serving as the Vatican's spokesman.
He became known as "the voice of Christmas." Over 26 years, many heard him every Christmas on network television doing whispered commentary for American television that made the pope’s Christmas Eve Mass sound a bit like a golf match.
The National Catholic Reporter called him "the nicest guy in the Vatican."
“I saw no temple in the heavenly city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
That’s the heavenly city. What about our earthly city? Our earthly church?
Beautiful stained glass surrounds us in most churches. Stained glass windows are, of course, most striking when the light on one side is strong enough to enable the wonders of the design to be seen on the other side. The usual plan is to make the wonders of the design visible on the inside.
I’ve often thought the symbolism would be so much more striking if that were reversed? But would there be enough light inside our churches, inside our Christian communities, to make the design visible outside? Imagine.