I spent a little time in my commentaries this week. I confess, I don’t always, but somehow there was time and space to do so this time through. I thought to spend a little extra time in the second lesson from Revelation, for it is so familiar and so very loved. In particular, I have read these powerful promises countless times at gravesides, so much so that the words are mostly committed to memory by now. And yet, it is true that I have not thought much about them much beyond the over-arching images of wondrous new life these words offer. This time I stood still a little longer, though, and this is what has caught and carried my imagination in these last days.
M. Eugene Boring in his Interpretation Commentary on Revelation, writes simply that in these words before us now,
“God does not make “all new things,” but “all things new.”” (21:5) (p. 220)
Indeed, God does not simply replace all that has been broken, defiled, betrayed, polluted, adulterated, or even in our understanding or experience, destroyed. Rather, somehow God gathers it all up and makes the old new again. God redeems what we thought was beyond the human capacity for hope. Again and again. And again. And from what I have seen and heard and known, although the promises held in today’s words are future oriented, we get a sense of their wonder even now.
For this is how I have known this to be so this week.
I have written in this space before about my ventures to our local County Jail. However, I have not widely shared where this story has gone of late. But first some background.
The one I went to see had no little or no experience with the church — with any church at all. I became acquainted with her and her need through one of the ministries of our congregation. So it was that as the one serving as her pastor, when I went to call on her, I was told I could not bring her much, but I could bring her a Bible.
And so I did.
When I put it down in front of her that first time she clearly did not know Matthew from the Psalms from Genesis from Revelation. I gave her a quick overview and then showed her where to find Isaiah 43. This, as some of you may know, is a passage which resounds in my own history and experience as a pastor for it was passed along to me by a retired pastor who helped mentor me when I was young:
“I have called you be name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you…”
We shared several visits after that first time we opened her Bible together. Sometimes she would come with specific questions about what she was reading. Every time we sat down I would pray with her. In March she was sentenced and since then she has been incarcerated several hours away.
Now I confess, at that point I got busy. I had not forgotten her, but I also had not taken the time to spend even the few minutes it would have taken to write a note to tell her so.
Then two weeks ago a letter came to me, filling me in on how she was doing. This time I sat right down and wrote a quick response and got it out in the next day’s mail. This week she replied. I share part of her letter here:
“I was very happy to hear from you! Thank you as always or the love and prayers! Sometimes I feel like I can actually feel the prayers from everyone. Especially when I am surrounded by some very trying people. I know that God is with me and helping me to get through the days. I thank God every day for continuing to help me with love, patience, understanding and strength. I’ve prayed for not only my family and friends, but also for the people I don’t get along with so well.”
“There was a lady that stopped me in the bathroom last night and asked me if I ever feel like the “black sheep” of the family because I’m here. My response made her smile and she thanked me. I told her no, I don’t feel that way. I then told her to always remember that God loves her and give his life for HER! She agreed. I then asked her to read Isaiah 43:1-4. I also reminded her that she’s never alone and she’s worth more than she will ever know. I told her what room I’m in and to come find me if she ever needed to talk. This morning I saw her and asked her how she was doing and she told me she was much better. That made my heart happy!”
Now. None of this negates the tragedies which preceded her spending a lengthy time in prison. None of this yet points to God ‘making all things new’ in her family or in other families who have been affected by what went before. Even so? God is doing something amazing right before my eyes. Some kind of wondrous ‘newness’ is taking root in the heart and the life and the witness of one for whom there had been nothing like it before.
Indeed, God is (already) making things new. Even now.
To be sure, nothing this side of what God will one day do as promised through the words of John in Revelation will likely completely capture and surely not fulfill what we imagine that new heaven and earth will be. We get a sense, from time to time, of the nearness of God dwelling with us, literally wiping away our tears, but it is not the same as when the images offered today are ours in all their fullness. There is almost always brokenness in, around, and under even the very best we see and experience and receive now. Even so? When I get a letter like I did this week, I truly do rejoice in the wonder of what God is already doing for it is surely a taste of what is still to come.
For I am convinced. God is already making all things new.
- How do you hear the promises in Revelation today? Are they to be fulfilled in some far distant future or might we get glimmers of them coming true even now?
- What difference does it make in your life or in the lives for whom you care that God is making ‘all things new’ instead of ‘all new things?’ What difference does it make for the life of the world?
- What story might you offer of where God is giving you a sense of ‘things being made new?’