The postcard industry is not what it used to be. I don’t have any data on this, but I just figure —in light of social media and globalization and our easy access to images from all around the world — that the preciousness of a 3x5 photo from some faraway destination isn’t the same as it once was.
I mean, can we begin to wrap our heads around what postcards accomplished before there was Google?
Postcards were meant to be vistas into another world. They were meant to be a token of someone’s experience, someone you love but who is out of your reach — but who is still very much alive and wants you to know it. The postcard was a kind of proof — it was a way to say, simultaneously, “I miss you” and “I’m well” and “Isn’t it glorious here?”
And a lot of times, the “here” was only a place from your dreams. You had only read about it, at best, but then, because of the ink and paper you held in your hands, you finally got to see it. And so you stared at it, and tried to imagine what life must be like there. How would it feel to sit under that sun? What if I could dip my feet into that water? Are the people there really as happy as they seem?
What prompts us to stop and ponder these kinds of questions today?
Well, a couple days ago I was reading through the Book of Isaiah, and I came to Chapter 35, verse 10,
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
I have read this verse before. It’s been highlighted and re-highlighted every year when I walk through the Prophets. Isaiah is giving us an end-time vision of God’s salvation — the enemies of God are under judgment, and the people of God are blessed. This is when all the wrongs are made right, when hurts are healed and blind eyes see. This is the day, the future day, of God’s manifest, conscious, unending presence.
And so I read these words in Isaiah 35:10 and they became like a postcard for me.
“… come to Zion with singing.”
What kind of singing? What language will it be? How loud? Will it be beautiful like a majestic choir, or beautiful like a motley congregation of broken people made whole? Isaiah says singing. I’ve heard singing before, but I know I’ve not heard it like this will be. We’ll be walking and singing. Moving and singing. Standing together and singing. What will that be like?
“… everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy.”
Everlasting joy. Gladness and joy. Can we wrap our heads around this? It is like a dream of some faraway place. He means that we’ll be happy all the time, right? He means that our joy won’t diminish? He means that every moment will feel like that moment for a child just as she opens her biggest present on Christmas morning? It’s not two seconds before or two seconds after, but it’s precisely as she tears back the paper and gets a glimpse of the doll she has wanted so badly. That moment. That is what Isaiah means, and there are other foretastes in this life. God has hardwired the universe with them. I’m talking about that moment when anticipation meets reality and it’s better than we imagined, and then it just freezes there, well sort of freezes. It’s freezes only to increase, to grow and grow and never wane. It’s an ever-increasing joy that has all eternity to always become more than what it is, never less. And it’s on our heads. Like a hat? Like rainfall? Yes.
“… and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
And he says flees away as in runs away, as in gets completely out of the picture, as in it is extinguished. What else would we expect if it’s everlasting joy? Sorrow and sighing, frowning and tsk-ing, heartache and bitter tears — none of it will be there. Not even a trace. That’s because all the causes of these things will be no more, the causes outside of us and inside of us, everything from calamity to criticism, from sickness to sin. Everything from buildings tragically exploding to families being plagued with cancer. Every bit of it will be gone. And God knows how deeply we will breathe in that air, that air absent of any pain, free from every threat. I want so badly for it to fill my lungs!
But for now, Cities Church, we read, and hope. And wonder. How would it feel to sit under that sun? What if I could dip my feet into that water? Are the people there really as happy as they seem?
“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)