In high school, I starred in the one-act play production of The Beggar’s Opera. By “starred” I mean that occupied space on the stage as an unnamed sailor. I would have been indistinguishable from the other set pieces and stage props, except for one exciting scene. It was a negligible scene, but for me it was the most important scene of the play. For in this scene, I, Sailor #2, had a line.
It was a single line, three simple words: “Not lead us?” I would ask it of the main character, a sea captain played by the captain of the football team. That’s right. La Grange High School was one of those rare spots in the universe where the laws of physics were suspended, where football players donned tights in the off-season and became actors and cheerleaders doubled as mathletes. There was no social stigma against all manners of geekery, and that meant that nerd had no refugee. The stage, the marching band, and even the German Club’s Polka Dancing Team were infiltrated by jocks and preps and pretty people. Not content to win on the field, a certain contingent of the genetically blessed sought to win at, well, everything. I guess when you’re first string, you’re really first string.
But that was alright for this second-string actor (and third-string tight end). Unburdened by the distractions of other lines to memorize and deliver, I was able to whittle my three words down to the most precise expression of shock and dismay. I practiced my line every day, testing new inflections and nuances. Never had a line been uttered in the theatre with such pathos as those in my one, precious, perfectly performed line.
And then came the dress rehearsal, the night before the main event.
We actors donned our costumes, caked our faces with stage makeup, and took our places. The lights lowered, the curtain was drawn, and the play began. To an empty middle school auditorium we acted our hearts out. Or they did. I stood still and didn’t draw attention to myself.
And then it came. My scene. My beautiful scene.
My heart began thumping as I waited for my cue. Gary Boone, the all-state running back, track star, and now leading man took the stage, and said, “I will not be leading you tonight!” My cue! I was ready. I took a breath, then–
–”Not lead us!?” someone shouted from across the stage.
My line!? My only line! Someone had stolen my only three words in the entire play! I was betrayed!
But that wasn’t the worst of it. See this jokester had not spent months like I had mouthing the line and molding it into perfection. No, he had pulled it out on a whim and interjected while stifling a giggle. And my heart sunk. Not because he decided to be a jerk, but because even though he was just playing it for a laugh, he’d delivered the line better than I ever had.
There’s a metaphor here. Or, rather there’s a story here that I wanted to tell, and now I’m going to force a metaphor for the sake of writing a blog post.
Dress rehearsals are not casual run-throughs. No, we play the dress rehearsal the way we hope to play opening night. The stage is set. The costumes real. There are no scripts lying around. It’s time to get it right.
We talk about Heaven a lot. Or, resurrection as I tend to call it. The eternal hereafter. And if we’re not talking about it, we’re singing about it. Nearly every Sunday we sing a song that reminds of eternity, when we all get to Heaven.
What we don’t often talk about is how we will be. Paul talks about Jesus as the firstfruits of resurrection, meaning he’s the first and those who are in Christ will be following him (1 Cor. 15). What will we be like when we’re raised up, our bodies glorified like Christ’s? When we spend eternity in the presence of God? When our brokenness and sin is replaced with righteousness and glory? When we’re not assaulted by our own selfishness? When love is made perfect?
And if we can get a glimpse of what we will be like then, could we not start rehearsing now?
Paul says a few interesting things to show us that not only is this possible, it’s what God intends for us. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his spirit who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11). The same power that raised Christ is in us. Resurrection power is in us now, reclaiming and redeeming parts of us that are wounded by our sin. What will we look like when that redemption is complete, on the day of salvation?
Again, Paul: “For salvation is nearer to us now than we we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day…” (Rom. 13:11-13). The dawn of salvation is near, but the sun has not yet broken over the horizon. Nevertheless, Paul says, let’s go ahead and live as though it were day.
In other words, we’ve got to rehearse.
We won’t be controlled by destructive sexual habits in Heaven, so let us seek purity now. We won’t be overcome with violence or wrath, so let us be people of peace today. We won’t be selfish, so let us learn to be servants in this life. Let’s rehearse this right. It’s almost opening night.