Friday, April 26, 2013

Meditation on Revelation 21:1-6, 5 Easter C


Revelation 21:1-6
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 bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4he 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."

5And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

One of my favorite lines is in verse 3: “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." This is an image we also saw in Isaiah 65.17-25, which we heard and read on Easter Day.

Verse 1 echoes Isaiah 65.17, which was the first verse we heard on Easter Sunday. The image “new heaven and new earth” also appears in Isaiah 66.22, and 2 Peter 3.13. The image of a new heaven and new earth reflects the eschatological vision that there will no longer be a separation between earth and heaven. That is why the home of God will be among mortals (v. 3). And being mortal will not matter any more, either, because Death will be no more, either, as well as any source of sadness or discomfort (v. 4). It is a new creation, reordered as it was in Eden before the Fall.

Interestingly, St. Paul also uses this imagery to refer to what changes await those who accept Christ as their savior. In 2 Corinthians 5.17, Paul explains: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” We heard this reading six weeks ago on the 4th Sunday in Lent this year (March 10).

We see another usage of the imagery of Christ as bridegroom and the Church—described here as the city of God—as the bride. The implication is that the bridegroom is the protector and head—which works for many of us as Christians although not for many of us in this day and age who are wives, and verses like this are sometimes used to counsel wives’ submission to their husbands even today. Nonetheless, we need Christ’s love and protection, even if we do not pattern our marriages along this same kind of asymmetrical relationship. Perhaps we should focus on the complementarity of our relationship with Jesus as being unlike marriage today, since we are by no means equals with him. A good thing to remember when we try to justify actions we want to do as being “part of God’s will.”

“The home of God is among mortals…” verse 3. God is proclaiming that he is with us and proclaiming common cause with us. This is reminiscent of the Israelites’ time in the wilderness, when God led them by fire and cloud night and day. The Israelites lived in tents, --and so did God. In 2 Samuel 7 (also 1 Chronicles 17), King David is thankful for all that God has blessed him with, and notes the fact that he now has a fine house of cedar while God still lives in a tent. David has the idea of building God a house too. But the prophet Nathan receives a vision from God in which God points out that he has no wish to have a house, or he would have already asked for one. The time is not right, and David is not the person to build the Temple. David acknowledges the blessing and mercy God has shown him and drops the idea. However, David’s son Solomon did build the Temple—he was the right person at the right time (1 Kings 5 and 2 Chronicles 2). 

Now, in the vision in Revelation, the time is also right for God to live among mortals. But this time there will not be separate houses—God’s house will be ours as well. “Mi casa es su casa.” We will abide with God and God abide with us completely. Every tear will be wiped from every eye, for how can there be any sorrow when justice is established, when all live in equity, and death and suffering are no more? We are not passive observers in this holy city—it has been built by our faithfulness and sacrifice during trials and ordeals, as we were reminded last week. May we be inspired by John’s vision here to work for its establishment here and now. Revelations provides us here with an image of renewal and transformation of us and of all creation, of perfection through the true worship of God through love.

The gift of “water of life” is an image that appears four times in Revelation, in our reading today and at 7.17 —
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

22.1-2 —
then the angel* showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

and 22.17 —
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

This concept was alluded to in Isaiah 55.1, which is subtitled “An invitation to abundant life”:
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
and also in the phrase “living water” in John 4.13-15, in the discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well:
Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’  

and in John 7.37-38
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Living water is flowing water in desert climates, which makes it safer to drink. Living water is also freshwater—notice in verse 1 the sea had passed away and frankly is not missed, since it is not fit to drink and is often described as the home of sea monsters (see today’s psalm), separation, the place of storms, and chaos. But metaphorically, living water is connected with faith and belief which we drink in. Humans need both food and water: even in comfortable circumstances, an adult human will live only a week without water. In desert climates, this time is much shorter. This is a much shorter time than we can survive without food, the outer limits of which is generally estimated to be 30-40 days or so if that person is hydrated.  Notice this is also the length of time that the Bible says that Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. In scripture, water is associated with belief in the verses above. Just as we cannot live without water, we cannot live without belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior.

This perfection is reiterated and framed by the repetition of God’s declaration of making all things new in verses 5-6.  Creation and re-creation. Alpha and Omega. Beginning and End. The source of all being and ground of all reality. Supplier of all we need for real life.

What would it take to make this vision a reality?