We’ve hardly begun our walk around downtown Montreal when I come across this sight. Nestled in the courtyard of a gleaming glass building is a vibrant tree. It’s startling not only because of the brilliant hues and the contrast of its organic shape against the rigidity of the structures around it. It’s surprising that the “leaves” are squares, as if the foliage was pixelated.
I’m here with Alison, along with my brother and his wife. But my process is still the same: I watch while I wander, looking for anything that surprises me. For surprises often lead to insights.
And this tree has given me a theme to ponder: the mash-up of city and garden. I begin to look for ways in which the two concepts overlap. It doesn’t take long.
While waiting inside a nearby lobby, I find a veritable forest. Artificial tree trunks support a long panel in the ceiling. Again, the juxtaposition is intriguing and a bit odd. Why trees? Why here? What is it about the urban landscape that cries out for something approximating the natural world?
The answer is obvious: we crave creation. Scripture tells us that mankind started in a garden. So, it’s no wonder that we want to return to it, surrounding ourselves with reminders of God’s creative power and purpose.
But Scripture also turns this longing on its head. Revelations 21 and 22 tell us that though our destination is, indeed, a garden, it’s set inside a city!
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… (Rev 21:2)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)
Timothy Keller, a strong proponent of urban ministry, wrote about those verses:
“This city is the Garden of Eden, remade. The City is the fulfillment of the purposes of the Eden of God. We began in a garden but will end in a city; God’s purpose for humanity is urban!”
This is not to have a rose-tinted view of cities. Any place where humans are massed, sin and selfishness will multiply. Here on this present Earth.
But it does make me readjust my vision of the afterlife. If the city is to be our mental framework, then life in the new Earth will be active, productive, and keyed on interactions with other people – all under the light of the knowledge of Jesus.
It’s hard for me to overlay these two images: city and garden. I keep separating them in my mind, as if abundance is exclusively the hallmark of nature. But God’s plan has always been to dwell in the midst of his people, bringing abundance with him.
For God creates a garden wherever he is. With the first two humans. In the middle of a wilderness. And in the heart of his coming City.
What a surprising, delightful place that will be!
Lord, only you could design the perfect city where beauty and human flourishing coexist. Help us to wrap our minds around this concept. Let it change the way we approach our own personal mission fields.