Entrance into Heaven and the Church
A Holy Supper address by Rev. James P. Cooper
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. …She had a great and high wall with twelve gates, … and the twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And … its gates shall not be shut at all. (REV 21:10,12,21,25)
The Holy city New Jerusalem, first seen by John in a vision while on the Isle of Patmos, is a beautiful image and symbol of heaven, and at the same time a vision of the Lord’s New Church which was to be established when men on earth were ready to receive the spiritual truths contained within the letter of the Word. John’s description of the New Jerusalem makes it sound heavenly indeed: a city in the sky with golden streets, with walls made of precious stones, and the gates each made of a single great pearl.
All the readings from the threefold Word today have been selected because they had “gates” as their central focus. Throughout the Word, gates represent a person’s entrance into the church or heaven, because a city represents the doctrine of the church, and to enter into the doctrine of the church by living according to the truths of faith, that is, by entering into it voluntarily, as if going through a gates, is to prepare oneself for heaven.
Gates are the means by which those who are on the outside of something are able to come in, whether it be an historical figure in the Word entering a walled city, whether it stand for a person joining the church, or whether it stands for a person who has passed on into eternal life and then finding the doorway that leads to their own particular home in heaven.
There are also gates into the mind through which we can, by our choices to do good or evil, invite evil spirits to enter, or through which the Lord may enter with peace and life if we invite Him. But most of all gates are important to our considerations today because they are the way that someone who is alone and unhappy on the outside can come in and find a comfortable, spiritual home.
We have all felt like outsiders at one time or another. When as adults we are compelled to follow our career to a new and unfamiliar place, or as children when we are suddenly moved into a new school, we feel extremely disoriented and uncomfortable because we don’t know the ground rules, the customs, and we feel that we are outside of the group. We’ve all felt this way at one time or another, and we don’t like to feel that way. When faced with such a situation, we feel a lot of stress, and we compensate by concentrating very hard on learning the things we need to know to find our way into the group, to feel a part, to feel comfortable and at home.
We are all outsiders in one way or another. For one thing, we are all outside of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom, and we are here today to try to learn the ways of His kingdom so that we may enter it one day, we are all standing outside the gate, hoping to be ready to enter when the time comes. If we want to learn about a new school, we find a friendly student and ask lots of questions. If we want to find out about a new neighborhood, we look for a friendly face and again, we ask lots of questions about the way we should act, the things we should do, the things that are expected. We should stand at the gate of the church and heaven and ask the same questions of our Heavenly Father. We need to ask Him what we should do. We need to ask Him what we need to learn. We need to ask Him how we should treat each other in order to fit into the heavenly neighborhood. If we regularly study the Word and pray for enlightenment, He will help us find these essential truths.
The first gate for us to enter is called Baptism, and through its symbolic washing away of evils, we represent our intention to shun evils as sins so that we can thereby enter into the church where we can learn how to live in the world, how to live with one another, how to be useful, how to forgive, and how to love the Lord.
The next gate for us to enter is called Holy Supper, for the Holy Supper is the sign that we have actually begun to shun evil, that we have examined our own spiritual state, found sin there, prayed to the Lord for forgiveness and help, and have then taken steps to sin no more. The Holy Supper, when taken worthily throughout life, is the process of passing through the gate of the holy city New Jerusalem.
Finally, when reflecting on the gates, or entrances to the church and heaven, we should take a moment to think about the two distinct views of the New Church seen from our readings today, the Holy City New Jerusalem seen by John, and the Nunc Licet temple seen by Swedenborg. While they both stand for the New Church, they represent that same church from different perspectives: John’s vision of the New Jerusalem descending stands for the ties between the Jewish and Christian foundations of the Word, the Old and New Testaments, while Swedenborg’s vision of the Nunc Licet temple stands for the Heavenly Doctrines, the New Word. The one thing that ties these two visions of heaven together is the fact that the gates of both the New Jerusalem and the Nunc Licet temple are made of pearls.
In the Word, the pearl, the precious pearl that signifies the ultimate treasure, the treasure that we should sell all that we have to obtain, is the knowledge and acknowledgment that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth. When we know and acknowledge the Lord as God, it means we not only understand what that means, but that we live according to its implications, that is, we live a life of charity towards the neighbor. This pearl of wisdom is the basis on which we are judged worthy to enter heaven. That is why the gates to the Holy City each made of one pearl.
But in our effort to clarify that central theme, let us not forget one other important feature of the entrances to the Holy City: there are twelve of them, three on each side. In the Word, the number twelve stands for all things that are good and true, while the number three stands for what is complete. By the fact that there are twelve entrances to the Holy City we are to understand that there are as many entrances into heaven as there are goods and truths — as many ways to attain eternal life as there are people striving to bring the Lord’s Word into their life.
Therefore, as we prepare ourselves to communicate with the Lord by means of His Holy Supper, let us reflect on the wonder of His creation, that He celebrates our individuality, that He has created a heaven that is perfected and made more whole by the variety brought to it by those who enter. And let us prepare ourselves to enter through those pearly gates into the Holy City by shunning evils as sins, by careful regard of the neighbor, and by keeping the Lord God Jesus Christ as the center and focus of our lives. AMEN.
Hear now from the Word of the Lord as it is written.…
1st Lesson: Psalm 24:7-10
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! And lift them up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in. You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Amen.
2nd Lesson: Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Amen.
3rd Lesson: AC 2851
As regards the signification of a ‘gate,’ there are in general two gates with every man; the one opens toward hell, and is opened to the evils and falsities therefrom; in this gate are infernal genii and spirits; the other gate opens toward heaven, and is opened to good and the truths therefrom; in this gate are angels. There is thus a gate which leads to hell, and a gate which leads to heaven.…
There are two ways which lead into man’s rational mind — a higher or internal one, through which good and truth from the Lord enter, and a lower or external one, through which evil and falsity come up from hell. The rational mind itself is in the middle, and to it these ways tend.
That mind, from the goods and truths which are in it, is compared in the Word to a city, and is called a ‘city.’ And because it is compared to a city, and is called a ‘city,’ gates are attributed to it, and it is often described as being besieged and stormed by enemies, that is, by evil genii and spirits; and as being defended by angels from the Lord, that is, by the Lord.
Sacred Scripture 36
The Word in its ultimate or natural sense, which is the sense of the letter, is signified also by the wall of the holy Jerusalem, the structure of which was of jasper; and by the foundations of the wall, which were precious stones; and likewise by the gates, which were pearls; for Jerusalem signifies the church as to doctrine.
True Christian Religion 508:1-5
One day there appeared to me a magnificent temple. It was square in form, and its roof was in the shape of a crown, with its lofty arches rising on high all round. Its walls were continuous windows of crystal and its gate of pearly substance. Within on the south side, and facing the west was a pulpit on the right of which lay the open Word, surrounded with a blaze of light whose brightness enveloped and illumined the whole pulpit.
In the center of the temple was the shrine, before which a veil was hung. This was now drawn back, and there stood a golden cherub having in his hand a sword which he waved this way and that. While I was looking at these things there flowed into my thought a perception of what they all signified.
The temple signified the New Church; the gate of pearl, entrance into this church; the windows of crystal, the truths which enlighten it; and the pulpit, the priesthood and preaching. The Word open upon the pulpit and illuminating the upper part of it, signified its internal sense, which is spiritual, now revealed; the shrine in the center of the temple, the conjunction of that Church with the angelic heaven; and the golden cherub within it, the Word in the sense of the Letter. The waving of the sword in the hand of the cherub signified that the sense of the Letter can be turned this way and that, provided this is done in application to some truth; and the drawing aside of the veil before the cherub signified that the Word is opened.
When I approached nearer I saw this inscription over the gate, ‘Now it is permitted’; which signified that one may now enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith. On seeing this inscription I was impressed with the thought that it is extremely dangerous to enter with the understanding into the dogmas of faith which are the product of man’s own intelligence, and therefore consist of falsities; and still more dangerous to confirm them from the Word.…
It is otherwise, however, in the New Church. Here one is permitted to enter with the understanding into all its interior truths, and also confirm them by the Word. The reason is that its doctrine are truths in series from the Lord, revealed by means of the Word; and confirmation of these by rational considerations opens the higher reaches of the understanding and so elevates it into the light which the angels of heaven enjoy. This light in its essence is truth, and in this light the acknowledgment of the Lord as the God of heaven and earth shines in all its glory. This is meant by the inscription over the gate of the temple, ‘Now it is permitted’, and also by the veil of the shrines being drawn aside before the cherub. For it is a canon of the New Church that falsities close the understanding and truths open it.
True Christian Religion 721
…Baptism is an introduction into the Church; and … the Holy Supper is an introduction into heaven. These two sacraments are like the two gates to eternal life. Baptism is the first gate, through which every Christian is admitted and introduced into what the church teaches from the Word concerning the future life; and all this teaching is the means whereby man may be prepared and led to heaven. The other gate is the Holy supper, through which every one who has permitted himself to be prepared and lead by the Lord is admitted and introduced into heaven; there are no other universal gates. Amen.
Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.