May 15: Easter 5

Scripture Reading (CEB) Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.

Everything Old is New Again 

I once led a Bible Study that touched briefly on the Book of Revelation, and in my introduction I warned folks that this book of the Bible is a tough one, and you’re better off skipping it.  I stand by that assessment.  For over two thousand years these words have become a tool for conspiratorial thinking: fear-fueled individuals predicting the end times because of imagery, poetry, and prophecy.  Many will quote use the words from this book as a condemnation, or a flat out damnation of others, believing that scaring someone into faith is really what God is after.  There’s imaginings about war and destruction and death.  Yet the text is so coded and obscure that it hinders understanding – hence our struggle.  These puzzling words would have been understood by the early church, as (the author) John wanted to encourage them in their struggle to keep faith amidst persecution and adversity.  That’s why the dominant theme of this text envisions Jesus’ return to right all wrongs. 

It’s like the revisionist-history movie Inglorious Bastards, which follows a team of Jewish soldiers in the midst of World War II who rise up against their Nazi persecutors. The same happens in Revelation with Christ’s return, but this time, he’s a little more edgy, a little more Quentin Tarantino…less love and compassion and more fire and brimstone, quite unlike any Christ we’ve experienced in the Gospels. 

This type of literature is called apocalyptic writing.  And no, not the apocalyptic that you’re familiar with, not an apocalypse full of destruction and terror, but an unveiling or revealing a truth.  In this case, it is not predicting the end times, instead it is proclaiming a vision of the world that God intends for us – and if you make it through to the end, you find that vision:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (The sea being a place of fear and uncertainty.)

I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. (God will move in next door to us, Emmanuel – God with us, Jerusalem will be restored to its formal glory, and our love will reach its pinnacle.)

God will dwell with them, and they will be God’s people. God will be with them as their God. 4 Tears will be wiped from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

This is a text that could and should be read at every funeral, or as we slowly emerge from the last two years of pandemic. Every disappointment held in God’s grace.  Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more.  The awful experiences of this life, completely and forever destroyed.  This is the vision of the world that God holds up to not just captivate us, but invite us to participate in.  This is a world dreamt by anyone that’s ever buried family members.  Wished for by anyone experiencing poor or declining health.  Fantasized by those in the encampment on Victoria.  A distant memory for sleep-worn parents.  Yearned for by Rangers fans and Leaf fans alike. No more losses.  No more suffering.  Only the goodness of God and the wellbeing of all.  Theologian Dr. Jan Love said,

in the midst of (the problems of this world) the letter of Revelation was sent not to foretell the end of time but to unveil the truth about the challenges the churches faced and about God’s presence with them. John wanted to give Christians hope, help them endure, and encourage them to resist complacency and accommodation with the religion and social practices of the empire around them.

Kindness, justice, truth, grace, love and righteousness on earth! What a vision. We speak of it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Those of us who know the saving grace of Jesus Christ need desperately to live out our belief that God intends to reclaim, restore and redeem the life of all creation to its divine intention. If ever there was a time when the world needs the healing, saving grace of Jesus Christ, it is now.[1]

To reclaim, restore and redeem the life of all creation to its divine intention…that is the new heaven, and the new earth that is imagined here.  This is the unveiling, or the revealing of the earth that God has in mind – the divine intention for each and all to thrive.  An earth that doesn’t require us to fight for the basic rights of women, where the poor and those on ODSP are not just used as pawns in provincial elections, where looking after one another is a part of our being in the world, not something you can opt-into.

Caring for others should not be a choice.  Deciding who to care about should not be a choice.

I’m reminded of the hymn, Touch the Earth Lightly written by Shirley Murray, which seems to have taken a page out of the book of Revelation:

We who endanger, who create hunger,
agents of death for all creatures that live,
we who would foster clouds of disaster,
God of our planet, forestall and forgive!

I think the biggest problem about this new heaven and new earth is that I’m preaching to the choir.  If I went to your homes, I wouldn’t see agents of death for all creatures that live… I would likely see recycle bins, generous tax receipts, calendars full of volunteer hours…even if we focussed on what we together did at SJR in the last five months: money raised for Ukraine, goods and money donated to Monica Place, the Food Bank, Canadian Food for Children, Mission and Service, let alone keeping these walls up (and this tummy filled). 

You have the vision of what this new heaven and new earth might be.  An earth where life and wealth is freely shared instead of hoarded. An earth that seeks the wellbeing for all.  An earth that collectively brings comfort in truly desolate situations.  We have the means to do it.  We just need the will and the courage and the faith to share it with others. 

When SJR committed money to support the war in Ukraine, we quickly passed a motion at Executive to try to capitalize on the gov’t matching program, and by the time we went to donate the maximum was already reached!  10 million dollars raised in mere moments, which then had to be upped by our government to 30 million and more because of what we collectively decided was inhuman: the war and destruction and death could be changed by our effort.  What if we did that for young moms kicked out of their homes.  Or skyrocketing housing prices.  Or budget breaking food costs.  We’re not victims here – we have the power to make choices that affect others – as the book of Revelation is not as much predicting the end of the world – but the end of our individualism and self-serving ways when we agree where our efforts should go.

See, as I imagine the new heaven, and the new earth, I see glimpses of it now.  I imagine places like Monica Place and the Food Bank unnecessary.   A time when caring for others isn’t a choice but a collective agreement of what we owe one another.  A time when even I might be unemployed, because the very presence of God surrounds us so thoroughly that there is no beginning or end to worship. 

Maybe that time starts now. 


[1] http://day1.org/1941-the_grace_of_the_city_of_god

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