Print Version May 14th, 2001
A new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem—maybe even a new Oakland too! And John, the dreamer, means new. The old order—all the things we know, all the things we hate, all the things we love too—has passed away: “Behold,” says the Voice from the throne, “I make all things new!” New! Not just gussied up a bit. Not just re-upholstered. Not “previously owned.” Brand, spanking new!
Isn’t that a dream we want to share? Because the present—for all it’s joys, for all it’s loves—sometimes just feels old, feels like last year’s gift, feels like it’s been worn too long.
If you feel that, if you’re a dreamer too, John has quite a dream for you. Of a new heaven and a new earth. Of a future full of hope. A world drenched with newness, the feeling like clean, crisp sheets to your aching limbs. Like the smell of a new car. Like the eyes of a new-born. Because, says the Voice, God has chosen, at last, a dwelling-place among us. Taken a house in the new and holy city. God is our new neighbour. No longer a stranger.
What would it be like if God really did pitch in with us? John knows! For a start, no more tears. No more dying, no more crying, no more pain, no more mourning, no more false starts, no more loose ends, no more regrets, no more hurting, no more bleeding, no more broken bodies, no more aching hearts. All because God is living with her people and making all things new.
And do you know what is also gone from this new city along with pain and death and tears? It’s a few verses on from our text so we don’t hear it today … but the New Jerusalem has no Temple. No synagogue, no church, no mosque, no ashram. None. Our brave new world doesn’t need a Temple because God is present in person. No more distance and no more religion. You don’t need religion when God is living cheek by jowl with his people. The whole city is a temple. So no more sacred space. And no more secular, either. No more death and no more taxes.
You can’t accuse our John of stinting on imagination. And if there’s anything he’s left out you can add it yourself. Anything you personally would like to see come to an end? Anything you think the world would be better off without? Just add it to the vision of the new world. Let it be the world of our wildest dreams. Let it be all we’ve ever hoped for. Don’t hold back—paint the canvas of the imagination with every new thing you need, the world needs, the poor and hungry need. Hey, forget need and think hope, think desire, think big. Dream dreams.
I let myself get a little carried away with that yesterday. I imagined the world of my wildest dreams and, as I did, I realised, with a shock, I can’t imagine living in it. Well could you? I mean, really? I mean what do you do in such a world from day to day? Do you still get up in the morning and go to work? Do you still sit down to eat? Do you still get to watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”
And God living right next door sounds good but what kind of neighbour would God make? Something tells me all that glory shining over the fence could keep a guy up at nights.
And what do you do in the morning when you bump into God, stumbling, bleary-eyed, out the front door to pick up the paper? “Hi God!”?
I disappoint myself! I can’t imagine a new heaven and a new earth and new Jerusalem where I would be at home. God knows what I’ll do in heaven! But, you know, I’m not happy with the alternative either, at least as we heard it in the first reading. “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” This is from Paul and Barnabas, rushing like crazed commuters across the face of the old earth. Hard work, many hardships, endless travels, constant persecution, continual quarrels—is this the alternative vision to John’s or is it the same one. The problem with both is the deep divide between hardship and glory, between absence and presence. Suffer now and be rewarded later. John is full of the reward and Paul full of the hardship but they both make the same bargain.
OK, I’ve built up the dilemma so now for the resolution!? Uh uh! Jesus, in the Gospel today, does show a different way, a different bargain. But I’m not sure I like the price.
Here we are at the last supper. Jesus is having his own vision of glory. He himself glorified. God glorified in him. God glorifying herself. And God glorifying Jesus. It’s like he can’t hold all that glory in ordinary words and they tumble and fall after each other. But it isn’t a future, new-world, no-more-tears kind of glory. “Now,” says Jesus, “now is the hour of glory.” Here and now—as night has fallen and Judas has just left the table to sell him for silver. How can Jesus get so excited exactly when he is being betrayed? Is he nuts? This is the moment when everything begins to go wrong for him and, right there, he sees glory in it.
You see the price of this different bargain? The glory and the hardship are all mixed up in his vision and called love. “Love each other as I have loved you.” And he means now. This morning. And he knows love has a price. And he knows love has its glory. And he knows love takes practice. Earth is the right place for love. This is the way his kingdom comes—one little act of love at a time.