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© April 25, 2016
Revelation 21:1–5 ~ as told by Deborah
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth (what had gone before had vanished, utterly), and I saw a holy city, a new Jerusalem, descending from above, as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day.
And I heard a shout from the throne, “Look! God’s home is with people, to live with them as their God, as they are to live as God’s people.
“And God will eliminate all sorrow and sadness. Death will disappear, mourning and crying and pain will vanish, for what has gone before is now over.”
And the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are true and can be relied upon.” Then he said to me, “The work is complete! I am the Origin and the Conclusion, the beginning and the end.”
A Different World
This scripture passage is one that many people know quite well. Often read at memorial services, it offers a blessed assurance of comfort and a new beginning.
Despite all that has gone before — the countless mess-ups, mistakes, and miseries, things will be made right: all will be well. There will be no more pain or sorrow or suffering; nothing that causes us grief will remain. Even death will disappear.
There will be life and light and joy unconfined. Radiant love will triumph, compassion and gentleness will abound. God’s own self with dance in our midst.
What a glorious notion. It’s marvelous, it’s perfect, it’s what heaven will be like. But why wait? Why can’t we have that here and now?
Jesus repeatedly spoke about a new and holy kingdom; God’s kingdom, run God’s Way, right here on earth. So let’s get with it! Let’s make it happen!
It is the consistent Christian dream: a world redeemed; a land of peace and plenty, governed by the Law of Love. That was what the author of the book of Revelation dreamed of: a holy and blessed way of life. He imagined a world free of tears and grieving, populated by good people with kind hearts, surrounded by singing angels, and ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was only one problem. He had no faith.
The Real World
Weary, grief-stricken, angry, isolated — alone with his thoughts and the memories of his martyred friends, John of Patmos believed in what Jesus taught, but he had no faith that the promised Kingdom could be brought into being. The world that he knew was in ruins: there was too much violence, too much hatred, too much death and destruction.
Nothing could change the way things were into the way they ought to be. Wealth and wickedness ruled the land; justice was purchased, the poor were brutalized, the old and the ill starved in the streets — while the rich dined sumptuously, night after night.
Evil was so entrenched, so tightly interwoven within the culture, the government, the councils and communities … it was so much a part of everyone’s every day life that he could see no way out. People and policies were so set in their wicked ways that change seemed impossible.
What was needed was a cosmic reset button. The only way to redeem the world — to restore it to the kind of blessed, joyful place it was meant to be — was to start over. Completely.
I know the feeling. Perhaps you do, too.
There are days when I genuinely despair of our world; when I’ve read too many headlines, seen too many videos, received too many political entreaties. The endless, vehement, vindictive, vicious accusations and condemnations make me weep.
Such behavior has become typical and acceptable, infecting our culture at every level: in private conversations and public discourse. It is now normal to make hateful remarks to those with whom we disagree; to label them as morally defective, stupid, beneath contempt; to treat them as less than fully human…. and to consider ourselves superior.
There are no thoughtful discussions or meaningful dialogues, no efforts to find a common ground or shared concern, no recognition that intelligent people of goodwill may disagree. It’s one way or the other; there is no in between.
We do not live as Christians, but as clan loyalists; like so many Hatfields and McCoys: “Yer either fer us or agin us.”
That’s not how life should be. Yet it seems as if we’re in so deep that there can be no turning back; no turning things around, no returning to what is right, gentle, and kind.
A Whole New World
We know something is wrong — deeply, essentially wrong, in our world, and our hearts and souls ache. Sitting and brooding on that cold and windswept island, John of Patmos felt the same. Wisely, he looked to God for a solution; foolishly, he sought an answer in destruction.
In his fantastic imagining, John envisioned that evils would be eliminated — along with everything else. All of the earth and the heavens: the mountains and seas and streams, the trees and flowers and bees, the elk and eels and eagles, doves and dolphins and deer… the sun, the moon, the planets, the constellations; the entire universe would be erased. He believed that it would be then, and only then, that God’s Kingdom could come into being.
That’s a pretty extreme notion, but if we think about it, not at all uncommon. It is a very human response to an apparently overwhelming evil: “Tear it down,” “Kill them all,” “Burn, baby, burn,” “Drop the big one.” And so it goes. It is the cry of exhaustion, of hopeless pessimism: when the only imaginable way out is complete and utter destruction of what has gone before.
It is tempting. And utterly diabolical. It is to answer evil with evil; to tear down rather than to build up; to fight fire with fire — and ignite a potentially world-ending conflagration.
It is a temptation we must resist.
Surrounded by a sea of nastiness, we can feel as isolated as poor old John there on that island; alone, lonely, and frightened. Ugliness abounds, evil is spreading, the world is shattering into divisions, we are told that it is hopeless, that we are helpless; our only option is to decide who to hate.
In the face of all these things we must not fall into temptation, but faithfully follow our Lord.
“I give you a new commandment: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. This is how you will be known as my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
~ John 13:34–35
Kindness, compassion, a gentle spirit, a loving heart: a life lived in accordance with the Way of Christ — this is the ultimate counter-cultural act. This is the Path that leads to the redemption of our world, bringing peace to our communities, our nations, and our lives.
Our glorious blue-green planet — and this entire exquisite, bejeweled cosmos — has been blessed and sanctified by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the One whose Way we have been called to follow, whose Work we are to continue. It is ours to protect and care for.
Let us go forth today and every day, ever mindful of our Lord’s words to us.
This Week’s Suggested Spiritual Exercise
Live in hope. Live with love. Trust in the Gospel.