The Rev. Josephine Robertson
All Saints, Bellvue
Easter5C, Revelation 21:1-6
I don’t generally preach on Revelation. I prefer to teach on it in a lot of depth, as misunderstood, and misused as it has been. But today the author of the Revelation of John quotes my favorite passage from Isaiah (or one of them) and I can’t really just leave that alone.
So let’s do a little Bible study on Revelation. First of all, Revelation is not some sort of oracle (a prediction of a future event). It is an apocalyptic text in the same vein as Daniel and others in the first century. And the apocalyptic vision in the Revelation of John is a proclamation of what God has done in Christ.
Our passage today begin with the announcement of a new creation. “A new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away.” By the time Revelation was written the Jesus movement had pretty emphatically named the Incarnation as a New Creation. Mary had, in Orthodox theology of the time, given birth to the New Creation. A creation in which human beings were partners (obviously, see Mary) with God in remaking creation. A second chance.
And the promise of course, the theology, was that in this New Creation, in Jesus of Nazareth creation was made complete; whole. The author points out that the sea is no more in this vision. In ancient theology the sea (and more generally water) was a symbol of chaos and destruction. Dangerous things happen on the sea. See Jonah, the Flood, and the storm that Jesus calmed. All symbols of chaos, destruction and danger.
This isn’t a literal obliterating of the sea, (God has nothing against the Pacific ocean) but rather God winning over chaos. In other words, lives made whole. Maybe, even, the author hazards the world might make sense now.
So we move on to the New Jerusalem (often personified as a woman, good or bad) But remember, God’s home has already been among mortals in Jewish thought. God walked in with the first humans, God dwelt with the people of Israel as they wandered in the desert, carrying the Ark of the Covenant. God’s throne had always been the Temple in Jerusalem where God was really present in the midst of God’s people.
But by the time of this writing? The Temple has been destroyed. The physical connection between heaven and earth was no more. And all of Judaism (including Jesus’ followers) was trying to figure out what that meant. It didn’t take long among our ancestors for the answer to be Jesus. That in Jesus God had dwelled with us in the most mortal way possible, and that in the Church Jesus (and hence God) continued to have a real, embodied presence here in the world.
And then we get that beloved bit of Isaiah that is my favorite funeral reading. (Isaiah 25:6-9) God who has set out a table of good things, food and wine, wipes the tears of her children away with her own hands, soothes their suffering, and banishes death forever.
It is DONE! John declares. Perhaps we hear the echo of Jesus’ words on the cross: it is finished.
Those waters of chaos that are no more? They have become the sweet refreshing waters of baptism.
There is hope and light in this tired old world.
In the midst of persecution, upheaval, and suffering the author of the Revelation of John sent to the scattered communities of Jesus followers a message of hope. A reminder that God was in their midst, of the powerful ways God had moved in the world; and that God is still in our midst and always will be.
Chaos and disorder don’t get the last word.
Even death must bow his head in the face of our God.