The End is a City

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2022
Revelation 22:10, 22-22:5

Today I want to do something a little bit different for our sermon. I want to walk through the reading from Revelation with you. I don’t do this often, you know, but sometimes it’s good to have a bit of teaching instead of preaching. So let’s dig in. The reading starts on page X of your worship bulletin.

“In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” Anytime anybody goes up a mountain in the Bible, alarms bells should be going off. Something big is about to happen. Moses and the Ten Commandments. Jesus and the Transfiguration. Here, it’s St. John seeing the holy city. And notice something here – the holy city Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God. It’s not that people are sucked up into heaven at the end, it’s that heaven comes down to earth. Well, that’s different. But also what a gift, right? God doesn’t want to destroy the earth, this isn’t about God talking all the righteous people away and letting everyone else live in a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max, wasteland. Instead, God loves the earth so much that God is willing to donate heaven to the earth. Let’s move on.

St. John sees “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” There is no place to carry on the sacrifices, because Jesus Christ the Lamb is the sacrifice. There is no particular place to worship because it is all a place of worship. “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Let’s stop there for a bit. The lamp is the Lamb? I mean, lambs don’t glow unless they’re radioactive or something. So I don’t think this is meant to be a literal image of Jesus the Lamb of God emitting light as we understand light. This is a vision. This is poetry. I don’t think we should be making all these too literal. Let it breathe a little. In God there is no darkness at all, like that great hymn says. This is both good news and hard news. The good news of course, is that at the end there will be no darkness. No wondering around blindly. No trying to see God and missing it. The Lord God will be clearly known to everybody and there will be no night. The hard news of course, is that means that everything will be revealed. We won’t be able to hide anything anymore. We’ll have to be our real selves. There won’t be any place or way to hide or deceive. Everything will be out in the open. But we have to press on. 

“The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” God is choosing to bring all peoples, all nations into the holy city. There are no longer outsiders and insiders. There is no us and them. There is only the people of God. And watch out for this zinger, “Its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there.” This is what God has in mind for us – the gates are always open. Access to God is free to everyone. The gates here are not to keep people out, but rather to show people how to get in and the gates are always open. I mean, they would shut the gates at night but there’s no night because the Lamb is always shining. This is so different from how we live. We build physical and emotional gates, fences, walls to keep people out. But God has a vision in which all people come in. And think of this as an Epiphany image. You know Epiphany, twelve days after Christmas the “We three Kings of Orient are” bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus. This is the same thing but on a bigger scale. All people, all nations, will bring their offerings to God. “People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

Now of course, it does say that, “nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Well, I think that’s because the light of God will burn away all our sins, abominations, and falsehoods. God is Holy, and God will not tolerate anything unholy, so the unholy will be burned away. Again, good news and hard news. But there is more.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” So check this out – we’re at the very end of the Bible. But suddenly, we’re back at the beginning. This little bit is like the Garden of Eden all over again. The river of the water of life, the tree of life. And whereas the tree of the knowledge of good and evil caused the downfall of humanity, here the tree of life is for the healing of humanity. In a way, the Bible is a big circle and we’ve made our way back to the beginning. And then this last part.

“Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” You should hear Handel’s Messiah there – and they shall reign forever and ever. But more than that, the servants of God will see God face to face. Again, this is getting back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. When they saw God face to face. This is the last time I’ll say it – good news and hard news. The good news is that we’ll see God face to face. The hard news is that God’s unblinking, unwavering, eternal vision will be fixed on us. Nothing accursed will be found in the holy city because would see it and burn it away.

Like I said, I don’t plan on doing this type of bible study sermon often. But I couldn’t resist today. This passage is just too good. So let me end on with a broad comment. Heaven is a city. That’s the image given to us. Cities – all packed in with people, with busyness and bustling and things coming and going. The vision is not heaven as a farm, or a ranch, or your place out in the country on the river by yourself. The vision is not heaven as your beach house to get away from it all. It’s a city. Packed with people. With gates that are always open. With the lights always on. And that really is the story of humanity, isn’t it? We started in a garden, out in the wild, but we’ve evolved and made our own habitats, cities with buildings and streets and places to eat and hang out. That’s the big thing I’m taking away from studying this passage this week. Our hope, the vision that God has for us, is that we’re together. Living shoulder to shoulder. In this day and age when we do everything we can to divide ourselves, to segment ourselves into this category or that category; as we still struggle with issues of identity – God has something very different in mind. A holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, with all the nations living together in perfect harmony and in perfect peace. Not because we’ve figured out how to get along, but because we’re all looking at Jesus; because we’ve all eaten of the fruit of the tree that is for the healing of the nations. We will be together, one people living in one city under one gracious God. 

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