Things Fall Apart

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 15, 2022

Revelation 21:1-6

“Then 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. And I was the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1). What a vision, what hope. Heaven and earth rejoined. Like a wedding, like a couple walking down the aisle to marry each other. All the pain, all the heartache of the past will become history. “See, I am making all things new,” God says (21:5). Imagine that with me – all things restored, recreated, renewed. But I don’t know about you, because right now, I would settle for a bridge over the Causeway.

I know that sounds glib, but there is something going on here with the I-45 fiasco, it’s an icon for us to learn from. Of course, it’s this reminder that the whole world is interconnected. Though we live on an island, we don’t function that way. We don’t, and can’t grow on our own food here. We have to pipe in our water. We may grouse about the tourists and the traffic they cause and the short term rentals, but we depend upon them, and they depend on that bridge. No man is an island, and neither are we.

But the other lesson here is that things fall apart. Philosophers call this the “asymmetry of time.” That things always go from order to chaos. Think about it – you can’t uncrack an egg. A tree falls in the forest and it starts to rot, it doesn’t unrot. Bridges don’t miraculously uncrumble or fix themselves. Even the best medicine, the best healthcare, the best diet, only delay the inevitable, it doesn’t stop it. Similar things happen in our emotional relationships. It takes a long time to build trust. And it takes no time to lose trust. Building a congregation takes years, I know because I’ve done it. But tearing a congregation apart can happen overnight. All things fall apart. That is the natural order. 

And I’ll admit it – I find this deeply unsettling. This the root of some of my deepest fears. What if the bridge is down and there’s a hurricane? What if I get horribly sick, go to the emergency room, but the doctor is stuck in traffic? What if I preach a bad sermon or make a some dumb joke and people leave the church? What if the stock market continues to slide, what will happen to my savings, what will happen to what we’ve saved for our daughter’s college? The angst in town about the traffic and the bridge, I think, is not angst about the traffic and the bridge. It’s all rooted in these deeper fears. It comes from knowing that things fall apart.

That’s what makes this vision from the book of Revelation so startling. A new heaven, a new earth. The first things have passed away. Death will be no more. “See, I am making all things new.” This runs directly counter to everything we know about nature, about creation, about our lives. Sure, we might have little renovation projects around the house. You might plant some new flowers in your garden. You might go on a health kick and feel better. But that’s not what the vision is here. We’re talking about everything becoming new again. 

Of course, we see this mostly in the resurrection of Jesus. On Easter morning, Jesus got up from the grave. The ancients knew, probably better than we do, that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. And they had words for seeing ghosts, for having visions – but that’s not what they meant when they said, “Christ is risen.” They meant, risen. Jesus ran against the asymmetry of time; he became alive again. He ate and drank with his disciples, he was not a ghost, or a fond memory that the disciples had. Jesus was made new.

Though it sounds like lunacy, though it just doesn’t happen in nature, this is our hope as Christians. That what happened to Jesus on Easter morning is what will happen to all of us and to all creation. That there will be a new heaven, a new earth, a new me, a new you, a new everything. Scrambled eggs will become whole again. Trees which had rotted will grow again. Bridges which had crumbled will be good as new. Broken down bodies will be raised up and fractured relationships will be made whole. If things fall apart now, in God, things will come together.

So it’s with this great hope in mind that we live as Christians. This is how, with God, we overcome those deepest fears. We don’t overcome our fears by accumulating more, by becoming even more afraid, by locking ourselves in and hunkering down on our little islands – real and proverbial. No, we overcome our fears by knowing that there is still more to the story. By trusting that God can, has, and will make all things new. 

I think that’s the challenge most of us face. We are content to do some minor renovations, when what we need is wholesale renewal. Indeed, that seems to be where we’ve settled with this bridge drama. We’re just patching it up, kicking the can down the road, making plans to fix it later. In our relationships, rather than forgiving someone we’d rather just avoid someone. For our physical health, it’s a lot easier to go on a fad diet than it is to actually change your behaviors, what you eat and how you move. I know this, too, from congregations. It’s a whole lot easier to put together some slick programs that get people excited in the short term, rather than putting in the emotional energy to build a community for the long term. 

But this all falls short of the grand vision, the great hope that we have in Christ. God will make all things new. So we may as well just go ahead and get started on it. The construction plans are ready, the blueprints have been made, the construction equipment is all lined up. We’re just waiting to get started. This is the point of Easter. In Christ, through the resurrection, and in fellowship with the Church, we have everything we need to get started on the great renewal. And not just the renewal project that is ourselves; no, the point is that we are remade so that we remake the world in the name of God. Rather than looking at our impoverished neighbors and thinking that’s the way things have to be, in Christ we can remake our community. Rather than looking at the partisanship and the divisiveness in our civic discourse, in Christ we have the courage to forge a new way. Rather than looking at the Church, and dreaming what it could be, it’s time to start living into what it should be. It’s time to stop tinkering around the edges; it’s time to stop painting over the cracks; it’s long past time to give up the repair and renovation. It’s time for renewal, even if it’s a massive headache, a massive heartache, and a long of hard work. But that headache, that heartache, that work now will bear fruit, fruit that will last.

I’d like to end today with a prayer, a meditation written by Sir Francis Drake. He captures the essence, the crux of all this; of living now as it will be in the new heaven and the new earth. He writes,

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

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