The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Readings (Using the John 14 reading)

I hope you’ve not skimped on the coffee this morning, because we’re going to jump into the deep end, that reading from the Revelation. That, in turn, will set us up to think about what the Church is for—not a bad question since we’re only two weeks out from celebrating Pentecost.

A few weeks back we noticed that Revelation likes images that shimmer, enigmatic images. John hears “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” but what John sees is “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (5:5-6). So here, toward the end of the book, John hears “the bride, the wife of the Lamb,” but what John sees is “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (21:9-10). This is something like what we encountered in Physics 101. Is light a particle or a wave? Yes, depending on what you’re trying to explain.

The new Jerusalem. No need for a temple, or a sun, for that matter: “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.… for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

“The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” Pull the camera back to include John’s Bible (our Old Testament) and it’s clear that this New Jerusalem is finally fulfilling the hopes for the original Jerusalem. Recall Isaiah:

2 In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (2:2-3)

Something beautiful is happening, and the nations want in on it.

Then there’s Ezequiel’s river flowing from God’s presence: “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.” So healing is needed—still! The city has gates, the classic means of controlling access, but the gates are never shut. A bit later we’ll hear “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” (22:17). Jerusalem is finally fulfilling its role, being the place where God’s glory is visible and healing is freely available.

I mentioned enigmatic images a bit ago, and in its final chapters the Revelation takes these to a different level in the form of two juxtaposed stories. In the one, a decisive battle in which evil is destroyed and the great white throne before which everything is sorted out. On the other hand, open-gated Jerusalem offering glory, joy, and healing to all who would enter. Well, which is it? What the Revelation may want to show us is that within the limits of human language and human understanding our clearest picture is this pair of starkly contrasting images.

Perhaps this should not be surprising. Recall how our story starts. Genesis gives us not one, but two creation stories. In one everything is good from the start, the humans play no active role, the seven days are as much liturgy as anything. In the other God works by trial and error, Adam plays an important role, and the good emerges at the end of the process: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken” (2:23). To capture the reality of the beginning and ending of human history Scripture gives us pairs of stories.

What may be at stake in these pairs of stories is the challenge of doing justice to God’s sovereignty and human freedom. There’s a popular saying attributed to various folk (Augustine, Ignatius, etc.) “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Maybe, but it could be heard as a call to run ourselves ragged. I like what the Ignatian author Jim Manney does with it:

“I prefer to reverse it: ‘pray as if everything depends on you, and work as if everything depends on God.’ This means that prayer has to be urgent: God has to do something dramatic if everything depends on me. It also puts our work in the right perspective: if it depends on God, we can let it go. We can work hard but leave the outcome up to him. If God is in charge we can tolerate mixed results and endure failure.”[1]

OK, what of the Church? In John’s vision there’s the New Jerusalem, finally doing its job. Sounds pretty good. What happens until then? Let’s circle back to the angel’s words: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” “The bride, the wife of the Lamb:” that sounds like the language used elsewhere in the New Testament for Christ as bridegroom and the Church as bride. Or, to come at John’s vision from another angle, from 1st Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you (3:16)?” Or, more extensively in Ephesians, “19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (2:19-22).

Because God desires that all enter freely into joy, into God’s presence, God really needs a place where God can be at home, where God’s healing glory is visible, and that is the Church. That’s the dynamic in this morning’s psalm, God’s blessing here that ripples out to the corners of the earth. That’s at the core of today’s Gospel: “we will come to them and make our home with them.” This is why, by the way, the New Testament letters devote virtually no attention to evangelism and virtually all their attention to the elements in congregational life that make God’s healing glory easier or harder to see.

And this sweeping vision plays out in the decisions of specific women and men, folk like Lydia, that dealer in purple cloth from our first reading, folk like you and me.

We’re here, God knows, because we need to be here. And in the larger story that the Revelation brings into focus, we’re here because God needs places where God’s at home, where God’s healing glory can be visible in the common life of God’s people, whether gathered together or scattered through our communities during the week. A tall order, yes, which is why Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit on approach, the flaps extending, wheels down.

[1] (accessed 5/16/2022).

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