Thoughts on Revelation 21:1-6

'The Vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth...' photo (c) 2013, Sharon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/[Below is an excerpt from a sermon I preached on All Saints’ Day a few years ago.]

This vision John gives us is a beautiful vision. A necessary vision. It is a vision that Christians have clung to through persecution and war and slavery and untold numbers of personal sorrows and tragedies.

“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

We tend to think of eternal life with God as completely other than what we experience now. That when we die our souls somehow fly away . . . up there . . . to another place, another mode of time, another reality. That our flawed earthly existence will be erased, replaced with heavenly life.

But that is not John’s vision in the book of Revelation. John’s vision is of the new earth and new heaven. If we believe John’s revelation, we believe that this earth—God’s magnificent creation, our bittersweet home—does not need to be removed. It needs to be redeemed and transformed.

People are not whisked up into some other place in the sky. The new Jerusalem comes down. This Jerusalem is not the same violent, greed-filled place that it had been. But it is still Jerusalem.

As I’ve been reading this passage, I’ve been thinking about this idea of a transformed reality as opposed to a removed and replaced reality. And I’ve been thinking that what we believe about the end times, about the afterlife, may have more bearing on our call to follow Jesus than I had previously thought.

Transformation versus removal.

We see the tendency toward removal in our penal system: the continued use of the death penalty; the scarcity of programs that work toward transforming the lives of the prisoners. But there are people of faith stepping in and offering the alternative of redemption and transformation.

Transformation versus removal.

Watch these ideas battle in our foreign policy and our national security efforts. Our efforts to remove terrorism seem basically to have increased animosity toward the United States. What would happen if, instead of trying to defeat terrorists, we worked to redeem and transform them? I don’t know. Most people would probably dismiss the suggestion as naïve.

Transformation versus removal.

A friend passed on a great article to me about a woman whose husband tried to leave her. He told her that he didn’t love her anymore and he wanted a divorce. She told him that she didn’t believe him and wouldn’t give him a divorce. He wanted to remove himself from the life he had. She insisted on transforming it. The transformation wasn’t easy. But eventually the husband came back to the family. And the marriage was transformed.

Of course, it might not have been. The husband could have decided to move to Cancun and never see his wife or children again.

And I think that is the crux of why we—as a society—seem to favor removal over transformation. We can control the removal. It might not give us the best result, but we can control it. We can abandon the relationship. We can administer the lethal injection. We can drop the bombs.

Transformation, on the other hand, is ultimately the work of God. We can work towards it. We can facilitate it. But we cannot make it happen.

Sometimes our efforts will succeed. Sometimes our efforts will fail.

Always we have God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth. We can rest in the knowledge that God is the Alpha and the Omega. God was at the beginning. God will be at the end. And God is with us now. God’s home is among mortals. God dwells with us as our God, and we can live joyfully as God’s people.

God’s promises are for this life. And God’s promises of transformation are also for the life to come. Thanks be to God.

*Also, for folks working on services for Easter 5C, I posted some family worship ideas based around Psalm 148 over at Practicing Families earlier this week.

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