Easter 6C; Rev. 21:10, 22 - 22:5
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Easter is the season of newness. It is the season of the empty tomb and resurrection. It is the season of new beginnings. It is the season of experiencing the risen Christ: from Emmaus to the upper room to the beach to here. It is the season of seeing in new ways. It is the season of being brought out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.
Today's reading from Revelation reflects this newness. It reflects life over death. It reflects God with us. It reflects a change in how we both see and experience God.
Last week John saw the holy city of God coming down from heaven. Today we get a glimpse of what that city looks like. Its temple is God and the Lamb. They are its light and nations will walk by that light. It will always be day, so the gates will never be shut. The river of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the city street. The tree of life grows there, producing twelve kinds of fruit each month and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. The name of God will be written on the foreheads of his servants.
I don't know if we can take this vision literally, in that this is what heaven looks like; but we can certainly take it to understand that this is what John literally saw. John does his best to convey what he is seeing, but how do you adequately describe the presence of God?
The group that studied Revelation last year did a deep dive into this book. I won't do that deep dive, but there are a few points I want to touch on.
In an age when cities were built with gates designed to protect their citizens from wild animals and marauding enemies, John sees the city of God as a city with gates. As with any city at that time, the city gates are open during the day and closed at night. But note this: the gates will never be shut because there is no night. There is no night because the light of the glory of God and the Lamb makes the sun and moon unnecessary.
These gates are always open, thereby allowing everyone access to God at all times.
I'm reminded of Hymn 490: In him there is no darkness at all. The day and the night are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.
The angel showed John the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from God. All rivers have a source, and the source of this river is God and the Lamb themselves. This is the living water, the river of life of which Jesus spoke in Chapters 4 & 7 of the Gospel of John. This water is crystal clear, free from any impurities. People have a way of contaminating things – from the environment to holy scripture; but this is pure, uncontaminated, live-giving water that only God can give.
On either side of the river is the tree of life. The last time we heard about the tree of life was back in Genesis after Adam and Eve ate from that other tree and got themselves expelled by God to ensure they don't eat from this one, thereby living for ever. It's not until Revelation where the tree makes a return. This tree was there at the beginning, and now it's here at the end. Humanity was not ready to live for ever in the beginning; but now, at the end, we apparently are. We began in a unified relationship with God, and we will end in a unified relationship with God.
The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. Not just for the healing of the children or people of God, but for the healing of the nations. From every race, tongue, tribe, and nation people will come to God. This healing of the nations underscores God's desire from Genesis 12 that all nations will be blessed through Abraham. It encompasses the universal salvation of people through those mighty acts of Jesus Christ. It may also include the healing of those nations that rebelled against God.
And here I'm reminded of Hymn 470: There's a wideness in God's mercy, like the wideness of the sea. There is welcome for the sinner, there is healing in his blood.
In that walk through Revelation I told the people it was a book of hope, not fear. It is a book of reconciliation. It is also a book of worship, and if you are paying attention, you can see the fingerprints of Revelation all through our liturgy, especially at Holy Communion. From the Peace which flows from Christ, to the Sanctus, through the memorial acclamation, and to the holy food that is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, our liturgy is Revelation in a nutshell.
What would happen if we saw what we do here not as a Sunday obligation – “I can't golf today, I have to go to Church” – but as the embodiment of Revelation? What if we sang as if we could see angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven swirling around us? This is not an exercise in or of our imaginations, but it is an acknowledgment that we are indeed in the midst of heaven.
Acknowledging that, living into that, may encourage us to make sure our gates are open to all who choose to enter. It would encourage us to offer the water of life to those who are desperately thirsty. It would encourage us to feed people from the tree of life that grows in this place.
We invite people in not to gain new members but to allow them the joys of living in the light. We invite people in to quench their thirsty souls. We invite people in to partake of holy food. We invite people in because this, right here, is the city of God.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.
May we be the light to the world around us that brings people in to the light of God. May we be the people who offer the food and drink of God for hungry and thirsty souls. May we be the people and the place who provide health and healing to a world in desperate need of that.
In short, may we be the newness of the Good News of God in Christ to an old and tired world.
May we be the Easter message a Good Friday world needs to hear.