I suppose it is not surprising that I am accustomed to mostly hearing these words at funerals, as often as not in my own voice: sometimes strong, sometimes faltering.
For surely this is a powerful and no doubt, timely, word on such days when we do so very much need to hear the promises of God breaking in, revealing a world we hardly dare imagine, much less hope for in any real way. And yet, don’t these promises resonate on other days as well? Don’t they also speak on all of our days?
- For this is word of promise on all those days when death or destruction draw close, whether we recognize or are aware of their nearness or not.
- This is a word of promise when it all seems ‘God-forsaken.’ When not only the landscape (the external) seems barren, but our hearts seem to be as well.
- This is a word of promise when mourning and crying and pain — too much, too often a part of our everyday — threaten to have the last word.
- Indeed, this is a word of promise not only for some far distant future day when each of our story’s final chapter is written, but also one that we yearn for, and are called to live and work in light of and toward now. Not later. Now.
For as we hear and take in even now how the story will end, doesn’t that necessarily change how we live even now? And not in a way that results in living in ways which are fatalistic, as though the predetermined outcome leaves us with no responsibility, but rather resulting in a deeper connection to not only ‘the ending,’ but everything and everyone which precedes it, undergirded by a profound hope which not only invites, but urges us to be more, to do more, yes, to receive more in our every day. Indeed, by grabbing a hold of this vision, by grounding ourselves in it, doesn’t that necessarily make hope our fallback position, vanquishing despair? And doesn’t that make all the difference?
- But oh, it is so hard to see when the mourning and crying and pain seem to dominate, isn’t it?
- In the middle of all that is, it is too often difficult to imagine such a world when God will be so very near that God’s own hand would wipe away the tears which are too often so prevalent.
- Oh, it is easy to see how this vision before us now can seem entirely disconnected from much of what far too many experience in this world now.
And yet, it still sings, doesn’t it?
For it speaks to a hope that has perhaps been long buried, even mostly forgotten, for a world which is not so marked by pain as the one we live in now.
And yet, hope, particularly such hope as this which is undergirded by such promise, is a powerfully resilient thing, isn’t it? Surely it continues to speak to our hearts and through our hearts to the world today.
Indeed, there are so many images in these short verses in John’s vision now that perhaps we do well to break them down and to choose one. Here are some first thoughts on several of them:
And the sea was no more. (Revelation21:1)
To be honest, I never much thought to pause in this phrase before for it never much occurred to me to wonder why this detail would be central to ‘the end of the story.’ So what I offer here are new thoughts.
In the Biblical witness, ‘the sea’ is where powerfully evil things are believed to originate. This is, of course, the stuff of symbolism and myth and perhaps not all that helpful except as something we point to as mysterious, as unknown. More specifically, though, as I understand it, ‘the sea’ was and is a place of commerce. More than this, it is place where both vessels of commerce and war make their way.
- So what would it mean if ‘the sea was no more?’
- What would it look like if all sources of evil were destroyed?
- What would it mean if vessels of commerce could no longer find their way, if those which brought armies and weapons of powerful destruction could no longer make their way on ‘the sea?’
- And doesn’t this signal a world of peace?
- Oh, doesn’t this offer another way of being where more than a few grow wealthy while others only grow poorer?
- And how might this preach where you live and serve?
- Indeed, how might we be called to live differently because we know this ‘end of the story?’
“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…” (Revelation 21:2)
What a wondrous thing that John’s vision includes that of a ‘new Jerusalem…’ As for me, I hear this and I wonder at how the city I call home would be different if it were reshaped as ‘new.’
- Surely this newness would include adequate public transportation. It would mean that people in every neighborhood had easy and affordable access to food and quality health care.
- It would mean that falling down houses would be not only restored, but truly ‘new.’ That streets would boast new pavement and every neighborhood would have parks for rest and play and sidewalks for safe movement.
- It would mean that there would be no need for a homeless shelter, no need for services for those who are neglected or abused, no need for food pantries to feed the hungry.
- Indeed, if this were a ‘new’ city, it would mean that we would no longer be segregated by race or economic status.
- What would a ‘new city’ look like where you call home?
- How would this preach?
- And how might we be called to live differently because we know this ‘end of the story?’
“See, the home of God is among mortals…” (Revelation 21:3)
And oh, what will it be when God is actually near enough to wipe away our tears of mourning and crying and pain?
- What difference would it make, does it make, that God is that close?
- And how does it contrast with your experience even now to have the One who made all, who loves all, who holds all, who redeems all, right here?
- How does that preach?
- Most importantly, how might you and I be called to live differently because we know this ‘end of the story’ even now? Who might we be if we remember that God is already living among?
There are many rich options for preaching this week.
Indeed, you might instead find yourself living deep into Peter’s vision at Joppa in Acts 11:1-18. And surely the rich and important meaning of that fleshes out what we hear in the vision in Revelation.
Or you could run with the praises in Psalm 148 which surely will sing in the New Jerusalem we are invited to imagine today.
Or you might just go with Jesus’ words in John 13:31-35, reflecting on the call to live by the new commandment to love one another which also surely is central to ‘the end of the story’ we are given now.
Wherever the Spirit calls you to in the days to come, may you be sustained by the hope and the promise which is so richly painted for all of us in John’s vision now. Indeed, may the ‘end of the story’ shape your story even now.