Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C
22 May 2022
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9
Anglican Bishop Tom Wright likes to say, “Heaven is great, but it’s not the end of the world.” He then declares that while he believes the statement to be true, he didn’t come up with it but that he picked it up from someone else.
The point Wright is making is that our faith isn’t only about what happens after we die, or about heaven as some place far away and disconnected from this world as if we would no longer have to care about what happens in the world.
In fact even we mortal beings love and we know that our love continues to be concerned about those we love for the time well after our death.
I know a number of parents who have children with disabilities and who even as adults depend on the support of their parents. Knowing that they will die before their children weighs on them as they seek to put in place support systems for the time after they are gone. In my first parish there was a woman who on her deathbed asked me to care for her adult son. It turned out that her son had significant mental health challenges, yet both she and her son lacked the language to express that.
So if even we mortals continue to care about things in the world for the time after we have died, how much more would God who is love care about the world!
But Wright also wants us to rethink what we think we know about heaven. Is heaven really a “beam me up, Scottie” kind of thing where we escape the world, or is heaven something different and something more? After all Jesus taught us to pray the Our Father in which we ask “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We ask about God’s kingdom to come among us and God’s will to be done here. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for today.
The Book of Revelation speaks of heaven and it speaks of the things we often call eschatology, which is a fancy way of saying the things that aren’t yet but that God will yet bring about. Often eschatology is described as the teaching of the ‘last things’, the consummation of all things in Christ. But by last we often think ‘end’ which is why the church has spoken of the end time and our hymn book has a section called “End Time”, wedged between “Festivals and Commemorations” and “Baptism”. And yet what the Book of Revelation describes is not so much an end as it is a beginning.
We heard about a new heaven and a new earth in our reading last week. And we heard about “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” A new heaven, a new earth, and the new Jerusalem suggest less an end as they suggest a beginning. And I think that it is more helpful for us in our lives as followers of Jesus to think of a beginning than of an end. Because with an end we don’t have to do anything except wait, but with a beginning there is anticipation and opportunity for faithful following.
With that I am not suggesting that our lives will get easier, in fact the changes I see in the world suggest that life will become harder, likely much harder, and following Jesus faithfully will become much more demanding. But while we worry about the world, we are seeking God’s kingdom even as we pray for it to come to us. It is that which gives us hope.
The main message of the book of Revelation is that we not live with false allegiances, that our loyalties to state, country, economy do not supersede our allegiance to Jesus Christ. Such misplaced loyalties occur easily and often without us noticing. And as many of us were raised in a culture we considered Christian, we often would not give our loyalty to our politics or to the state a second thought.
And yet we know that the world’s power structures are about winning and not about serving. That is why almost no one speaks about peace in regards to the war in Europe but only about winning and about regime change.
Yet war and regime change are not the mission of the church as we already under the regime, the yoke of Christ who is Lord of lords.
We also see the political discourse in most Western nations deteriorate. Personal attacks have become common, even in places once considered outside of the political arena, and some of the rhetoric has a “take-no-prisoners” approach where not only facts are distorted but advocates no longer seek the common good, do not seek conversation, but only seek to win. Undoubtedly, this has been fuelled by the way we have come to use the internet, less to learn, and more to find tribes to which we can belong.
But the primary community of Christians is the church, not a political tribe, or the nation, which does not mean that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not political. It is. But it is God‘s politics, not ours
And so I suspect that going forward Christians will have to say “no” more often than we are used to. This includes the moral judgment that can say ‘no’ to my own inclinations.
I told you that I was invited for the holocaust remembrance at Beth Tikvah. And I was asked to say a few words. Well, while the remembrance of the holocaust has been part of my life for almost as long as I can remember, I had never thought about why it is so important to me. The first thing I said is that it is part of my history as well. My grandparents were bystanders to the holocaust.
Then I said why we used to take our children to these remembrances. It was because virtues don’t come about by accident. We don’t learn to resist evil if we think we are incapable of evil, and we don’t learn to resist evil we do not know the difference between good and evil.
There is something remarkable taking place in our reading from Revelation. While earlier in the book and throughout the Bible kings and nations play an ambiguous role and are often found on the wrong side, here in chapter 22, at the conclusion of the book the nations will walk by the light of God, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the new Jerusalem. (22:24)
We thus see that this often difficult to understand book is not about condemnation but about redemption, and our redemption is not far but near, and it is not away from here but our redemption is coming to us.