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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before November 1, 2015

Revelation 21:1-6

21Then 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. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

What I Am Learning

We live in a time of deep despair for the future of the planet, critters everywhere, and for the human race. This despair gets expressed in many ways. Some withdraw from their neighborhoods and neighbors. Some dig out bunkers and fill them with food and guns, getting ready for the zombie apocalypse. Some soothe their fears with drugs, alcohol or consumer spending. Some retreat into ideological cul-de-sacs, saying that if only everyone would believe and act as they do, everything would be great. Some look for any sign that Jesus might be coming again soon, taking the few good ones into the air and getting out before the earth blows up.

Ironically, the writer of Revelation, which means "unveiling", was living in a similar time. The Christian community had been living in hope that Christ would return and bring about the healing of all creation. But it was nearly a century later and he had not come yet. The Roman Empire which was systematically oppressing people of all their occupied territories. This same Empire that killed Jesus was thriving - but at a great cost to human beings and the created world. When you think of the Romans, think of the mafia with an army.

On the surface things seemed great in the Roman Empire. They were continuing to expand their territory. They were bringing great wealth into Rome. Their armies were victorious and the goddess of victory, Nike, seemed to smile a lot. But under all of this was a lot of pain. In Romans Paul wrote of people having to self medicate through alcohol or addictive behaviors because they were captured in the Roman vision of the human being: That we are human to the degree we are powerful.

But what happens when you aren't powerful? How do you live when you are both oppressed and stupid and bad for being oppressed?

What's worse, is that the Roman government proposed that the gods had set it up this way and so this kind of world, this kind of human culture was inevitable.

Using a very specific style of writing the author of Revelation proposed that this kind of human culture was not inevitable - in fact the Creator of the universe was moving to bring healing and new creation to the whole earth and to all people.

The book of Revelation is not a decoder ring for the conditions in which God's Great Healing will take place. Frankly, people have been trying to use it that way for 1,000 years and so far their batting percentage has been a big fat zero.

Rather the book of Revelation is a book for hope, giving us a vision of God's future and in that hope, reason to work for the healing and creation of the world.

Notice the outline of this vision.

  • The earth is made new, its environment restored and beautiful.
  • Second, our imagination about God is healed as we receive a new concept of heaven, the throne room of God, and the God who rules it.
  • Third a new place for human community is given to us by God, a new City of Peace for all humans to live in (Jerusalem means "city of peace").
  • Fourth, God will bring healing to the specific and collective hurts of human beings, gently wiping the tears from our eyes.
  • God's vision of the world is the A to Z of the universe, not the Roman vision of a dog-eat-dog universe

The Book of Revelation shows not only the downfall of the Roman Empire and all other empires, but the transformation of all people from allegiance to any mafia with an army to allegiance to God's vision of peace.

And how are the armies defeated? Does God smite them down? No. By a little  powerless lamb, once slain, they are overcome. Consider that line for a moment, "once slain." We all know that once you are slain that's it. But this little vulnerable lamb was slain and unjustly so, and is now alive and reveals God's love for even God's enemies, now transformed in a baptismal kind of death are now in the City of Peace. (they "died" in Rev 18:9 and then came into Jerusalem in 21:24)

In the end God wins, and because God is a God of love, love wins.

This meant many things for the first hearers of the Book of Revelation.

It meant that they could recognize their despair as despair, and not "just the way things are." Recognizing our despair is painful and requires its own kind of courage.

It meant that they could begin to explore a very different vision of what it means to be human.

It meant that they could begin to find meaning for their lives by taking part in God's healing and creation of the world.

It mean that they could understand that every kind of evil as a temporary setback but that in the end love wins.

I think this is what the book of Revelation could also mean for us.

Instead, many use it as another expression or even a tool of despair.

Even this is temporary, however.

Like those in early second century Rome, we live in a time in which to be human is to be powerful. We live in a time of great despair expressed in the pain of addictions, violence, economic inequity and environmental degradation.

Jesus invites us into a very different vision of the world. And that is the world we get to live into as God's people of hope.