We finished the book of Revelation this week with a lovely section from the 21st chapter:Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.
Thoughts after the jump…
This is how the vision of Revelation ends. Of all of Revelation, these are probably the verses we’re most familiar with. We hear this at funerals because it’s so lovely, and so comforting—like a lullaby, or a fairytale.
That might make us wonder—is this just pie-in-the-sky nonsense? Does have anything to do with real life? Anything to say to real people with real problems?
I think it does. I don’t think it’s just pretty words on a page.
The people who first heard these words from John had hard lives, and yet they wrote this down, and copied it, and sent it to their friends and their relatives. In the face of hardship and poverty and persecution, they relied on these words.
They relied on these words because they give us a glimpse of reality. They pull back the veil and say this is what is real. Everything else is passing away. This is where the world is headed. At its core, this passage is a series of promises about how our story will end.
There’s the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.
Sometimes this promise is used to justify doing horrible things to the earth. Why worry about destroying the earth? God’s going to make a new one. That’s a misunderstanding of this promise. God makes this promise throughout the Bible, and when we step back and look at it in context, we see that the new earth will not be totally disconnected from this world. It will be this world redeemed, wounds healed and wholeness restored.
And notice: God doesn’t just do away with earth and send us all to heaven. God renews the earth. The earth matters enough to save. And God’s promise is that the violence and horrors we inflict on it will not get the last word.
Then God promises to dwell with us—fully. God will come to us and we will be at peace, without the veil of separation, without the confusion and doubting. God loves us, and will not rest until we are together.
God promises to wipe away every tear. God promises that death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore. This is why we read this at funerals. We need to know that suffering does not last forever.
And then, maybe John got distracted, what with all the glory, and it’s like God snaps God’s fingers and says—hey! write this down!
This is good stuff I’m giving you! You’re going to need this when you get back to the real world. Write this down.
In Bible study on Tuesday this line caught Carolyn’s eye, maybe because she is a writer. I’ve been ruminating on it all week.
Write this down. Remember this. Don’t forget it.
How could John forget this? He’s had the most life changing experience imaginable. How could he forget this? But even so, the heavenly voice says, Write this down. And I think there’s a clue for us here.
All of us have transcendent moments where everything slides into focus. The colors are brighter and the feelings deeper, and for a few minutes we know, deep in our bones, that, as Julian of Norwich said, all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.
But then life moves on. And we face the same problems. We have the same illnesses, the same never ending work or loneliness or depression. The world is still at war and children are still going to bed hungry, and we still don’t know what to do about it. And we forget. We forget these promises.
And so God says, Write this down. You’re going to need it. When you go back to real life, you’re going to need these promises.
Because, and here’s what we’re missing if we think this is all just pie-in-the-sky, these promises have power. These promises have power. They are the end of the story. And when we know the end, it is possible to dare great things in the middle. These promises have power.
Not long before his death, Steve Jobs said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
For Steve Jobs, knowing how the story ended, set him free. But there’s more than what he saw. He got it about halfway right. Because yes, death comes to us all, but death does not get the last word. We don’t know how it works or what it will be like, but the promise of our faith is that God gets the last word—not death. The love and power that brought this world into being, that gave each of us breath and that sustains us day by day, that love and power will get the last word.
When we get that, when we trust that, deep down in our bones, we will find that we are free. We are free of all the petty problems of the day to day. We are free of the demons inside of us, free from our own need to control the world, free from all those forces in the world that seek to control us or make us scared. We are free to stand up for the weak, to seek peace, to love wholeheartedly. Knowing how the story ends, gives us the courage to dare great things in the middle. These promises have power.
John Lewis is a United States congressman. When he was a young man, he was a leader in the civil rights movement. In a recent interview, he was asked how he and his fellow protesters endured. He said “…you have to have this sense of faith that what you’re moving toward is already done. It’s already happened…It’s already done. You just have to find a way to make it real.”
That, right there, is the power of knowing how the story ends. That is the power of these promises. They may ease our minds about what comes after death. But even more importantly, they set us free to live in God’s light here and now, to love more fully, to give more of ourselves and our resources, to let go of all we hold too dear, to reach out and embrace peace and justice and love. Knowing that the kingdom is coming, lets us live as if it is already here.
But it’s easy to forget, when life gets overwhelming and hard. So God says write this down. Write it on your hearts and in your souls, and literally, write it down—on post-it notes and the back of receipts, in your journal, somewhere you’ll see it every day. This is how the story ends: love wins. Write this down. And then go, and live the life God is calling you to.
Take a moment of silent prayer. Maybe read through our scripture again. See these promises that God has made, these promises that set us free to really live. And then write one down, or several. Write them down, so you don’t forget, that there will be a new earth, that the home of God is among us, that there will be no more mourning or crying or pain, that death will be no more, that life endures, and there is nothing, nothing we need fear. Write this down.by Sarah W. Wiles May 12, 2013 Bethany Presbyterian Church Tacoma, WA