Text: Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5
Context: A Sunday morning Service of the Word at a large suburban church of mixed ages in Northeast Ohio.
Aim: Using the concepts of Resurrection and New Creation, to encourage members of the congregation to reflect on what the Christian hope means for them.
Everyone loves a happy ending.
And in today’s Epistle reading we heard the happy ending at the conclusion of the book of Revelation, which in my more mischievous moments I sometimes call the book of Hallucination.
But that’s not really a fair description of Revelation because the images didn’t spring out of nowhere like a bad dream. The symbols come from the prophetic books of Hebrew Scripture and they would have been as familiar to the author’s contemporaries as the image of the cross is to us.
To those who were steeped in the prophetic texts of Hebrew Scripture, Revelation speaks of the fulfilment of God’s covenant with his people. The forces of darkness and the enemies of God’s people are overcome by God’s envoy, the Messiah, and a new covenant and a new world are established.
The images in the book of Revelation speak to God’s people of redemption, resurrection and new life just as certainly as do the cross and the empty tomb.
But the story in Revelation is not simply a retelling of the Easter story. It reminds us that God promised his people this ‘happy ending’ – this New Creation –since he made a promise with Moses and Abraham.
This morning’s Good News is not only that God sent his Son to redeem us and make us his own. But we are also reminded that redemption is part of the plan that God devised for all of creation before the foundation of the world; it was not just an afterthought.
Now maybe this piece of Good News seems overly optimistic. We might legitimately ask the question whether this image of living in a world directly ruled by God is even remotely in touch with reality. After all, there is war, terrorism, natural disaster and widespread unemployment all around us.
The only problem with such an objection, though, is that most of us who live in the West today have never faced the sorts of tribulations that challenged the author of Revelation nor have most of us faced the severe persecutions that are described in the book. The vision of New Creation expressed in Revelation does not come from naïve inexperience of life’s realities; rather it is a vision of hope born from the school of hard knocks.
Of course, most adults in any culture have had a hard knock or two. Like me, I’ll bet most of you know people who are currently struggling with major challenges like unemployment, family issues, illness or disability. Or you may be facing such a challenge yourself.
Different people deal with life’s trials in different ways but I never fail to be amazed by those individuals who are able to see the positive side of life despite the sometimes very negative circumstances that they face.
What is it about a tragedy or a serious challenge that often results in a person gaining a sharp perspective on what is truly important? It is often in times of great difficulty that we have such touchstone experiences that transform our perspective for the better. Our minds are stripped of unimportant concerns and we become capable of focussing on what really matters.
In order to gain such focus I sometimes imagine myself close to death saying ‘Thank God for…’ And most of us, no matter how pessimistic we are, understand how we are going to complete this sentence. ‘Thank God for community, friends, spouse, children, grandchildren.’ And, hopefully, ‘Thank God for his presence in my life.’ I suspect very few of us would say something like ‘Thank God for my possessions’.
Perhaps the tragedy of human life is not that each of us must at some point face difficult challenges. Perhaps the true tragedy is that it is easy to lose the sharpness of our touchstone moments when our lives are comfortable.
These touchstone moments are an opportunity for ‘little resurrections’. They are an opportunity to walk in God’s direction and to see small glimpses of our lives from God’s perspective. But first we need to die to those old perspectives where we cling to things, people and events that are not of ultimate meaning. Because, until we die to our old ways of thinking, there can be no resurrection into new life.
On this sixth Sunday of Easter, resurrection remains the Good News. Not just Christ’s resurrection in the first century and not just our future resurrection into God’s New Creation. But also those little resurrections in this life when our minds become sharply focussed on what it is in life that is of ultimate worth.
As we go from this place I pray that, whatever trials we may be facing, our lives will be guided by those touchstone moments that God has given to us. I pray that, in our everyday journey through life, our eyes will be increasingly opened and we will catch ever more frequent glimpses of the hope that God holds out to us. Amen.