New (Revelation 21:1-7)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation for this fifth Sunday of Easter comes from our second lesson from Revelation, especially where John records, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
Dystopian fiction has become quite popular in recent years. The Hunger Games, Divergent, Ready Player One, were all rather popular in their heyday, both the books and the movies. There’s nothing new about these types of stories though. From H. G. Wells and Aldous Huxley to George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, dystopian fiction has been prevalent throughout modernity. No doubt, these creative minds saw elements of dystopia in their own days and sought to prevent its spread by leading their consumers to dystopia’s inevitable conclusions. Governmental overreach leads to Big Brother. Satiation and avoidance of suffering leads to Soma. Libertinism leads to droogs and “ultra-violence.” As these fictional societies begin to reach rock bottom, something has to give, and the heroes have to do something to right the ship, to dispel with the drudgery and carnage and usher in “utopia.”
The problem is, utopia doesn’t exist, either in these fictional worlds or the real one. In Greek, the word “utopia” a play on words, literally meaning “nowhere” while a homonym for the word translated “good place.” A place of perfection where all of the present problems are either truly solved or are swept under the rug sufficiently enough to be out of sight and out of mind – more likely, the latter. The “utopia” that emerges from the ashes of the former regime is nothing more than a replacement dystopia.
I think most people know this at heart. Utopia is an impossibility in this world devastated and ravaged by sin. The best of intentions will always lead to unintended and often disastrous consequences. World hunger will never be solved – not for lack of food or arable land, but because sinful humans will always muck it up, unintentionally or otherwise. There will never be a “war to end all wars.” We will always invent newer and more horrific ways to kill our fellow man. All the police reforms and new laws in the world won’t stop criminals from following their base passions and impulses. Solving poverty will always be the Sisyphean task, one which the redistribution of wealth will certainly only worsen – as our Lord Jesus Himself once told His disciples, “… you always have the poor with you ….” There’s nothing new under the sun, good or bad. On this side of eternity, there is no perfection, no peace, no utopia, … which is what makes Easter and what follows so incredible, so profoundly revolutionary, so extraordinarily … new!
To the naked eye, there wasn’t anything new about what happened to our Lord Jesus on Good Friday. As He breathed His last and yielded up His Spirit, the everyday observer likely would have found nothing extraordinary about it. Crucifixion was commonplace, although still horrific, so one more dead Judean hanging on Golgotha’s hill wasn’t unusual. The three hours of darkness at midday, the earthquake, the vitriol from the religious leaders were a little weird, but still nothing to get all worked up about. The truly remarkable, revolutionary, supernatural new thing came that Sunday morning when the dead Jesus of Nazareth … stopped being dead. Though He still bore the wounds of His execution, His heart started to beat again. His lungs started to breathe again. The neurons in His brain began firing again. And, He walked out of His tomb, not just alive, but resurrected, no longer bound by death, but free and new.
This … had not happened before. Yes, the same Jesus had raised others from the dead, but this … this was something entirely new. It literally changed everything about … well, everything. It changed the precedent of this world. Everything up to this point had been drudgery and carnage, violence and corruption, sin and death. Now … existed the reality that those things do not have the final say. Now, because of Jesus’s extraordinary death, bearing the sins of the world, and His jailbreak from death’s stranglehold, life can truly be everlasting, and this is entirely new.
It’s new … but it’s not here yet. What we saw on that Easter morning is a foretaste, a tidbit, a proof-of-concept, if you will, of the new thing God is doing, and John gives us a sneak-peak: “Then 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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”
What John is seeing is the culmination of eons of work from a God who loves His creation. It was in mind before the foundations of the world. It saw its turning point in the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, and its fulfillment is yet to be … but it will be. It will happen; the process has already begun! It began when Jesus sprang from His three-day prison on the theological eighth day, the first day of the new creation! It will be brought to its full and complete fruition at the end of this age and the beginning of the endless Age, as He sits upon His throne in the midst of the city, the only Light of the new creation, and declares to the new heavens and the new earth, “Behold, I am making all things new. … It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
That is not utopia, where the veneer of all things shiny conceals rot and corruption and savagery beneath. This is the truly supernatural, truly extraordinary, truly new. This is the destruction of all destruction, the death of death, the end of endings. No more good-byes, no more heartache and sorrow, no more separation, no more poverty or war or hunger or thirst. No more sin. No more effects of sin. No more doubt. No more epistemic distance, if you’re familiar with the philosophical parlance. No longer will man and woman worry and fret over things temporal or eternal. No, in that Day of days, in the ageless Age, God will have done, fully and completely, what He’s done for us here: bring His dwelling place down to us. In that Day, God will make His dwelling place with the faithful sons and daughters of the resurrection … in the New.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.