Revelation 21:10, 22:1-22:5
A few years ago, I drove down to Washington, D.C. I was saying goodbye to a friend and mentor. I had the address punched into my GPS and thought, “this will be an easy trip.” As I travelled down with the usual kinds of traffic, I would reminisce in my mind the stories that I had with this friend. They were good stories; stories of how he supported my decisions and assessments of situations. I thought about how he was kind of “laid back” in not wanting to sweat “the small stuff.” He also pointed out that it was all “small stuff.”
I tell you this story today because my heart has been heavy on this reading from Revelation. Meaning, this very first line is one of the most uplifting statements in scripture; “One of the angels carried me away to a great high mountaintop…” This passage can worry people. Revelation is not one of the most popular books in our Bibles. In fact, there are some who are very afraid of this book. I know I was at a very young age. However, I have left that fear behind to a different understanding of our reading today. BUT the fact that an angel could carry me…and carry me away was pretty cool (because I do love to fly)!
This verse 22 and further on really caught my attention. John is writing about this “New Jerusalem! My thought was “what was wrong with the old one?” What was wrong with the “Old Jerusalem?” The answer is everything! Think about it! In the Jerusalem of Jesus time there was a complicated situation going on: Rome was in charge, then you had religious leaders, the Laws of Moses, cleanliness laws, sacrificial rules and practices, etc. There were all these hoops that one had to jump through in society just to be deemed acceptable.
John tells us the vision of this New Jerusalem. This is quite the city! There was no temple in the city! That is a problem! Where are the people going to worship God?! There is no darkness! Huh? God is the light and provides the light 24/7! How about that (I think about insomnia when I saw that) but the counter to that is that there are trees for healing! Despite what we perceive as negatives, John points out that there is No need for a temple because God is right there with them; and that worship will be done in the presence of God!
John’s imagery is so good and so powerful that we tend to think of this imagery as what heaven will be like when we, hopefully, arrive. That is not what this imagery is about. John is using the imagery to send all of us a different message than one of death and “post-life” heaven.
Through all of this detail, John is pointing out what it takes to be the body of Christ. He shows us a city that is nothing like the Jerusalem that we know from ancient days with Jesus. He takes the time to point out that there are walls (to protect the city), There is the stream of life. The people in the city are free from worry about who is in or out, are they making the proper sacrifices, maintaining the necessary or required rituals set up by human hands. The people are free to praise and worship God all day long (and all night, if there is one)!
John points out that this city will be new because God and Jesus (that little bity lamb) is walking among the people, providing light and guidance; so that, no one is left out in the dark! All the things worried about once before will not be worried about again. Sounds like a nice place doesn’t it?
The bottom line here is that John is not portraying what will be to come. John, this beloved writer of this book is showing how this “New Jerusalem” can be in the here and now. We have the opportunity to experience the New Jerusalem in this world. Think about it: we have all these things that are tugging at our sleeves, right? Schedules, deadlines, bills, taxes, and the list goes on and on. We worry about whether we will measure up to the expectations of others. We worry about the intentions of others, the religion of others, do others meet my standards.
Now, think about that “New Jerusalem.” Think about a city where schedules can be important BUT they don’t define you as a person, parent, friend, etc. think about the New Jerusalem where when you show up, no one is sizing you up; but rather glad to see you! Imagine that New Jerusalem where God walks with you day in and day out, puts people in your lives to show you the sunshine of God’s love by God using others to remind you of that.
When I finally got to my destination, I saw a New Jerusalem. As I entered Arlington National Cemetery that day to say goodbye to my Senior Chief from my Navy days, I got to connect with his family. His children who were so small back in the day and now had their own families. I was welcomed by his wife who I had not seen in decades just glad to see that I attended. And a dear friend with whom I talked so long, they actually kicked us out because another funeral was coming in. That New Jerusalem was not filled with judgement. It was filled with gratitude and grace.
I will be honest. I see the makings of a New Jerusalem here. We are given the ability to be a community…a city where all the hassles, complications, and down-right meanness of our world can remain outside of our lives. This can be a city where we say no to the hustle and bustle of schedules, worries, and all the things that can keep us from seeing the beautiful city that God is creating in and among us. My John’s vision of New Jerusalem be our vision and may God use us to make that vision a reality: AMEN!