From behind the curtain

All Saints’ Sunday

November 7, 2021

Revelation 21:1-7

In the few months we’ve lived in Galveston, we’ve experienced many of the local traditions and customs. And we live right here in downtown, so we’ve really tried to enjoy those events. Artwalk has been amazing. Oktoberfest was a blast. I’m looking forward to Dickens on the Strand and our Pipe Organ Extravaganza. But everybody had been warning me about the motorcycles. Living downtown means that our whole house has been shaking this whole week. I have absolutely nothing against motorcycles or bikers, but it has been an experience.

Now, for the most part, we have kept the blinds to our house closed this week. But every so often, I’ll hear something, I’ll sense something, and I feel like I need to peek out the window to check on things. So very carefully, not making a big fuss, I’ll pull back the blinds and look outside. I don’t open the blinds all the way, I don’t want anybody out there to know I’m watching. But I’m really desperate to see what all is going on. 

Now, don’t tell me I’m the only that does this. You hear something going on down the street, maybe there are sirens or yelling or an ice cream truck, so you barely pull back the curtains and peep out the window. And when you do, you get a glimpse of what is going on out there but you never quite get the full picture. 

And what does John, the author of Revelation see, when God pulls back the curtain? It’s this amazing vision of the new heaven and the new earth. The holy city, the new Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven. God is shown to be wiping the eyes of those who are crying. It’s this revelation that God is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. God is promising, God is revealing what God intends to do – to make all things new. That is the peek from behind the curtain.

Now, pay attention here; it’s an important biblical point. This is the final vision in the bible, and notice that no one is flying off to heaven. There is no fiery destruction of the earth, there is no cataclysmic judgment that God is bringing upon those who are “left behind.” No, the final hope that has been revealed to us, what we have seen through the curtains, is an image of restoration and renewal. The vision, the hope is that heaven and earth will be reunited. Like a bride and a groom, heaven and earth are prepared to meet each other and live each with other. And even more importantly, it’s not that we have to go off to see God. It’s the other way around. It says, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (Revelation 21:3).

What a gift. To me, this is balm for aching soul. For too long American Christianity has been focused on “getting into heaven.” We’ve put so much energy into “saving people” and we’ve talked too much about hellfire and destruction. We’ve used fear to manipulate people to come to church. But that coercion is not part of the heavenly vision. In truth, the vision is that heaven comes to us. God promises to renew, not to destroy. God promises to restore, not to abandon. That’s why we read this lesson for All Saints’ Day. Because the saints of God are the people on earth who are signposts, pointing to how it will all be on the Last Day. The saints of God are the people who living as if heaven and earth were already reunited. The saints of God are the ones who are living the words we pray every day, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The saints of God are heralds of the things to come, when there will be patience and grace and love. When you see a saint on earth, when you see a holy person, don’t think about them “getting into heaven.” No, flip it around. Give thanks that they are a sign of what everyone will be like when God makes all things new. The fancy theological word here is “proleptic.” I don’t expect you to remember that. It means foreshadowing, anticipation of a future event; think of it as a downpayment. The saints are the foreshadowing of what God intends to do for and with everyone. When God pulls back the curtain, and we get a glimpse of what lies beyond, we see this great hope. When death will be no more, when mourning and crying and pain will be no more. When everyone will be like the saints of God.

Now, there are usually two rebuttals to this vision given to us in Revelation. First, is that we’re just not used to it. The idea of our souls leaving our bodies and going off in the clouds to the pearly gates is deeply engrained in us. To the point that the pearly gates serve as the background for cartoons in the newspaper. All I can say is this – the biblical witness reveals something different. Jesus died and took up his body again. Jesus restored the body of Lazarus from the grave. The Christian hope is not that we leave the material world, but that God would remake the material. The second rebuttal of this hope is that it just sounds, quite literally, fantastic. All I can say is that here we need to think more like poets. This is a revelation, a vision, a hope, it’s not a science textbook. And that is okay, there is room for both within Christianity. This vision is showing us an eternal truth, and the truth is that in Christ, God promises to make all things new.

So this has some radical implications for our daily lives. As those who are called to be saints, we are to live the heavenly life here on earth. Everything we do on this earth that is good and lovely and true is a glimpse of what will happen when God restores everything. So, when you pick up some trash off the street, you are showing the world how God will purify us. When you buy food for some hungry people, you are showing the world that God promises abundance. When you see a doctor, or a nurse, or a therapist helping and healing someone, you are getting a glimpse from behind the curtain for when God makes all things, and all people, new again. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, it doesn’t matter what your job is, it doesn’t matter what your family is like. In everything you do you can show the light and love here and now so that someone else can hope for the future. And yes, when a loved one dies, as we remember on this All Saints’ celebration, we trust that in God, death will be no more. There is no promise of escape, only the promise of restoration.

As those who are called to be saints, our hope, our way of living, must be different from the ways of the world. As you may know, we are entering a time in which, technologically, we can create virtual realities. Where we can enter a metaverse, unbound by space and time. With a headset and an internet connection, you can escape this world and live in a fabricated one. I do not know how this metaverse, how virtual reality will pan out in the long run, but I do know this. The saints of God are committed to this world, not to another one. The saints of God, you and I, are eagerly awaiting and working for a new creation. We are not to be distracted from the current one. As the saints of God on earth we are to be salt and light. We are not here to help anybody escape the world, we are here to bless, preserve, and enlighten the world with the love of God in Christ.

When you leave this place today, and go back to your work and your schools and your lives, remember that someone is always pulling back the curtain, looking at you. They want to know what all the fuss is about; they want to know why you love your neighbors and why you love the Lord God. They are desperate for something real, because the world is done with being fake. They want something that you can hope for, and that’s what we have for them. By your life, by your love, you can offer them a vision of God’s renewal and restoration. Empowered by the Spirit of Jesus you can show someone what it means that God promises to renew them. By the grace that you give, by the hope that you provide, you can show them what all the fuss is about. You, the saints of Jesus, are living proof that God is making all things new. 

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