We now are brought to the end of the end in our Easter season readings from John’s Revelation, jumping from chapter 7 to chapter 21 with three successive readings that will culminate in the last words of the New Testament.
I have been thinking lately about how the lectionary curates for us in this Easter season what is essentially one continuous vision from the beloved apostle, beginning with the coming of Christ “with the clouds” (Easter 2, Revelation 1:4-18). The vision now climaxes this week and the weeks upcoming with “a new Heaven and a new Earth” (verse 1) which will bring time to its end (both its conclusion and its goal). Threading throughout this Easter season is the voice of Christ in the repeated refrain: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (verse 6). All time and all reality are taken up in the name, one last addendum to the “I AM” who speaks throughout the Scriptures.
This particular vision of the “New Jerusalem” comes at the center of this continuous vision, and its glorious proclamation makes it appropriately so. On the surface of it, there is so much good news here: The end of death and mourning and crying and pain, the passing away of everything that has broken the heart of the “first earth” to give birth to the “new earth” in which all of it “will be no more” (verse 4). The vision orients our faith to the future, but it directs us to the future in such a way that it provides deep comfort and hope in the present.
The vision orients our faith to the future, but it directs us to the future in such a way that it provides deep comfort and hope in the present.
(As an aside, the repeated phrase “...will be no more” provides an excellent opportunity in preaching this text to use it as a formula in a move within the sermon. At the opportune time, the preacher could name specific pains or heartbreaks within the life of the assembly as a list, every one of which “will be no more” in the future coming of Christ.)
The marvel of this vision overflows in how it echoes earlier voices of the Scriptures. The voices of the prophets resound here, especially Isaiah and Ezekiel. Even the voice of the apostle Paul echoes in the images of verses 1-2 (refer to Romans 8:19-21 and Galatians 4:26). But perhaps the voice which resounds the most is John’s own voice, from his Gospel. I hear the poem of John 1 as the Word made flesh sings, “See the home [the Tabernacle!] of God is among mortals…” (verse 3). And it is hard not to hear the voice of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) in the gift of living water in verse 6. For the disciple John, the voice of his Rabbi and Lord must have been unmistakable, the Galilean accent that was beloved beyond words to his ears. This voice invites him (and us) to see how He is making all things—the whole cosmos—new and it is the same voice that whispered peace in an upper room locked tight with fear and trembling.
To paraphrase an ancient Hebrew Midrash: “Whose voice do you hear when you hear the voice of Jesus?” If we reflect on our lives, we can remember the voice of Jesus echoing in the sound of so many beloved voices who have spoken His words to us: Parents or grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, pastors, all the wise elders of our growing up years, and all the others. Our preaching can invoke these cherished voices anew by recalling their wisdom. The way they may have spoken during a pivotal moment in the life of the community is one more way Christ works through the mortals with whom He is dwelling to make things new. This voice of Jesus is the same voice which now beckons us to see anew how God in Christ is at work anywhere and everywhere. Notice the ongoing present tense of the promise. Not I made, or I make, or I will make, but: “Behold, I am making all things new” (verse 5). This is how the vision’s present moment, now stretching 2,000 years, bridges from past to future. “It is done!” (verse 6). We glimpse the future in what Christ has done and in how what Christ has done breaks forth with healing and hope in what Christ is doing now. There is no stop to it, and nothing will stop it from driving all creation to this glorious new home.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Revelation 21:1-7.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Revelation 21:1-7.