An Easter Vision for All
A sermon related to Rev. 21:1-5a
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a wedding partner adorned for the wedding. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God’s peoples, and the Holy One will be with them; 4 God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new...’
For the Word in Scripture
For the Word among us
For the Word within us
Thanks be to God
When things are tough, how do we know it’s going to turn out?
How do we stay the course and keep hope?
When problems seem so large, how do we keep going?
When you are young and wondering how to find your place and deal with the big world, how do you keep confidence and seek direction?
When you are old and life is short, where do you look for meaning and possibility?
This year, I’ll turn 59.
Might sound young to some, old to others.
But it sure makes me reflect on more than half a century of living;
highs and lows, mistakes and learning, growth and gratitude.
Yet, in all my years, I’ve never seen a couple of years like our last two. What about you?
We’ve had a new worldwide pandemic, the old pandemic of racism unveiled anew to many, the increasing effects of climate change seen in hurricanes and wildfires, armed white vigilantes in the streets and the Capitol, even in grocery stores.
But if you think the last couple of years have been tough to view, it can’t compete with the biblical vision we know as The Revelation received by the anonymous author we refer to as John. John’s vision has beasts, a sea monster, plagues, horses of multiple colors, the archangel Michael fighting a red dragon, a giant pit, a pregnant woman, and a day of God’s wrath.
Likely in a trance or non-ordinary state of consciousness, John saw and recorded this vision. It is not for the faint of heart nor is it for simple literal interpretation. And there is a lot of lousy interpretation out there that claims The Revelation of John as its verification; end of the world stuff predicting dates and events and such. It’s generally poor Bible analysis and bad theology.
The Revelation is best approached with humility and a good understanding of Hebrew symbols and Hebrew prophecy. Seen this way, Revelation can become what it was for the people of John’s time and for many Christians over the centuries;
an inspiring, encouraging vision that helped them in bad times to keep going, to faithfully resist empire and the false gods of society.
Indeed, The Revelation received by John was an underdog story that served them as they faced tough challenges and big questions of history and of their lives.
As the last book of the Bible, it is a kind of symbolic end, not necessarily in the sense of time ending, but of purpose, the telos, the end toward which we travel, the meaning of history and life. Of that which is symbolic of that time, we know that John was referring to the Roman empire as the beast and anti-Christ Presence. The Pax Romana, the dominating peace of Rome, that way of empire was not the Peace of Christ. John knew that. The early Christians knew that.
So those early followers and communities of Christ were called to live differently, to resist the way of Caesar and choose the way of Jesus. But when Rome is so big, when the system seems so pervasive, or even when life takes an unexpected and unwelcome turn, how do you do deal with that?
Many of the faithful looked to The Revelation of John as an alternative vision of what ultimate power was at play and trusted in that Divine power. Through this story, they rejected the conventional menu of what was inevitable and cultivated an alternative consciousness of what was possible. In this, they found hope.
Hebrew scholars like Walter Brueggemann and theologians like the late great James Cone will tell you that Pharoah and Caesar’s greatest power is the belief in their ultimate power and the limitation of possibility to change the status quo. There is nothing new in the empire. There is no different future, only anxiety about a different future (which might inspire something like Make Rome Great Again).
Maybe that is the genius of the Medieval Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart when he wrote: "God is the newest thing there is, the youngest thing there is. God is the beginning and, if we are united to God, we become new again."
Sound strange, God as the newest thing?
Maybe being part of a historic Protestant denomination and a congregation with institutional history and a solid brick building makes it harder for us to know the God who is always new. Maybe we relate more to God as a fixed external absolute, as the Ancient of Days. Or maybe we can attribute it to the repeated habits of heritage. (It is said that the last seven words of the church are “We have never done it that way.”)
Yet like the new births of that come to our congregation, God comes, too. Not just as the birther, as the mother, but as the new birth itself, as the new itself.
And new in Revelation means different.
Did you hear it in the Scripture passage read?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; John said.
Both for those of the first centuries of the ancient near East and for us, the new heaven and the new earth has not come. This morning’s news from Buffalo, New York, and many mornings’ news tell us that. Pharoah, Caesar, demonic conscious and unconscious systems of domination still have power. And they take root in human souls such that violence against another person or group or country becomes a siren song, a tragic temptation, an illusion of solution: if only we or I could just get rid of or control this ‘other.’ Projecting inner tensions and fears and insecurities onto the ‘other’ and making them an enemy, a dehumanized object is as old as Cain and Abel and at the core of what keeps humanity alienated, in conflict, and out of step with Divine Love.
The Revelation of John is not without its troubling aspects, yet ultimately tells a new, alternative story where empire is not the last word nor the only possibility. Connecting with that Divine alternative vision is the beginning of liberation for us all. Through song, ritual, prayers, or art of this liberating story of reversal, where empire is not ultimate or final, we can connect to the power of the story of a new heaven and the new earth. We can anticipate its full coming by tasting and expressing and living it now. We can participate in its emergence now. We can live the new now, and in so doing allow its call to stay rooted in us and sustain us in the long arc of history.
And for those being crushed and exploited by the empire, whether the oppressive empires of history or the inner oppressions of the wounded soul, Good News comes when a new vision of possibility is made visible and, like communion, taken in, even if only in part. When this taste of inner liberation comes, hope comes, affirmation comes, and fortifies the spirit for endurance and for liberating action.
As Choctaw nation music artist Red Eagle raps in his song, “Still Here,”
Wounded Knee And we still here
Sand Creek And we still here
Cortez And we still here
Slavery And we still here
Small Pox And we still here
Boarding Schools And we still here
Damn it feels good to be a native
Damn it feels good to be a native
Good News comes to those who hear and trust the God who says ‘See, I am making all things new...’ even in the midst of empire, injustice, and violence.
It comes when you truly hear Jesus say ‘the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.’
It comes when you know that, even if in the short term of history, it looks like the forces of death and oppression are winning, you know the story of the Resurrected One who came in a lowly stable, lived with, taught, and healed the lowly ones, and who, dying with the lowly ones, conquered even the power of death.
As we continue in the resonance of Easter, our sacred image from John’s Revelation reminds us that we arrive together in the end in a New Heaven and a New Earth. It is an Easter vision for all people and for all Creation.
In the words of Lyla June, Navajo Nation artist in her song All Nations Rise
“this time, it isn’t Indians versus Cowboys. No. This time it is all the beautiful races of humanity together on the SAME side and we are fighting to replace our fear with LOVE. This time bullets, arrows, and cannon balls won’t save us. The only weapons that are useful in this battle are the weapons of truth, faith, and compassion.”
Truth, faith, and compassion. The alternative way of Jesus.
Cultivating and living in these ways are how we participate in the coming of this Easter Vision for All, God’s Beloved Community, a New Heaven and a New Earth. This is what we do to be an Easter People amidst times such as these. This is what we do to allow God to dwell with mortals, Immanuel.
Finally, a brief word for our graduates from Sister Ilia Delio, a Sister of St. Francis and Professor at Georgetown University who says,
God is always new; life is always new. Every end is a new beginning and every arrival, a new departure. There are no dead ends in life unless we ourselves die in despair.
For you graduates, I say do not despair, but have faith in the God who says
‘See, I am making all things new...’