Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
May 22, 2022
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5
Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus, Christ, the Risen One. Amen.
Please pray with me. …
Over the years, Earl and I enjoyed many musicals and Broadway productions. Most recently, our favorite was Les Miserables. He and I saw it together perhaps four or five times and I’ve seen it another three. I think I can sing almost every word of every song. Before that, Camelot was one of our favorites. We watched our good friend Greg in our college’s production and then we saw the film and then we went to see it on stage in Chicago. So many images and imaginings. The hopes and dreams of a King for a kingdom with a ROUND table instead of the hierarchical rankings of the knights that was so typical of the time. And the love story of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. And as she was traveling to Camelot to marry him, a song was sung (ironically by King Arthur himself) to describe the place to which she was headed.
A law was made a distant moon ago here
July and August cannot be too hot
And there's a legal limit to the snow here in Camelot
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot
By order, summer lingers through September in Camelot
The rain may never fall till after sundown
By eight, the morning fog must disappear
In short, there's simply not a more congenial spot
For happily ever after in than here in Camelot
Simply perfect, doesn’t it sound. Camelot. And of course, a Camelot that is totally unrealistic. Yet, perhaps one that we yearn for. A pipedream.
The text for our consideration today is the second reading from the Revelation to John. The angel carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Throughout the reading, we heard of some amazing images. Listen again to some of them again – no temple because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb is the temple – no need for sun or moon because the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb and all nations shall walk in its light. The gates will never shut and nothing unclean will be found in it. And the river of the water of life through the middle of the street of the City and on both sides is the (singular) tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit every month and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
What are we to make of this??
First, this isn’t a “place.” It is not located on some distant shore. One does not travel there. This holy city, this new Jerusalem, is the culmination of the ultimate goal of God’s redemptive work in God’s creation. This my friends is the final scene of the final act in the final play and the play does not end but goes on into eternity. For God so loved the world….the cosmos… the creation… all that is, seen and unseen. The last hurrah that is a shout for joy! Because “He is Risen!”
Second, the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John – what we call the Revelation – not plural, rather, singular. One revelation. One divine vision given to inspire hope among the believers who needed a word of hope so desperately. And a word for us today as well because I daresay that we too need that hope as we live in a world full of violence, deceit, distrust, selfish individualism, power grabs, uncertainty – in a word, sin. Hear the words of promise contained in this vision, this revelation.
This Book, this writing, has been so very misunderstood over the ages. Let me tell you this – it is not a cryptic timeline of the end of times. It is not a puzzle to be solved. It is not veiled in secrecy. There is no code to decipher. It IS full of amazing symbolic imagery, a foretaste of the feast to come. Poetic. Rather like a symphony with recurring themes. Think of Beethoven’s Fifth – da da da DA, da da da DA….. The theme is repeated throughout. What are the themes and images here? The Lamb is the Temple. God’s glory is the light. Leaves for the healing of the nations. The nations will walk by the light of the glory of God. We don’t know what these mean but we tiptoe in to the majesty and wonder and assurance.
Third, some years ago some of us were parsing out what it meant for the people of Israel that they were being led to the “Land of Milk and Honey.” What does that even mean? Milk and honey. Well, milk means that there are cows and other mammals and mammals mean that there is meat and mammals mean that there is forage. And honey, honey means that there are bees and bees mean that there is pollination and pollination means that there is fruit. And fruit means that there are trees. So a land of milk and honey means that there is much much more than that. There is a land of providence and abundance.
So, in this new Jerusalem there is no temple. What does that mean? In the Holy City there is no use for a temple, for a place to worship, for a place to offer sacrifices -- because the fullness of God’s presence – the light and the glory of God – is unmediated, fully present, right there in the midst.
The gates will not be shut – not during the day nor at night because there is no darkness at all. The gates wide open, not excluding, not shutting out, not protecting – because there is no need for excluding or protecting. Because all is in the light.
Into the city, all the nations and kings of the earth will come. Huh. Earlier in the Revelation, the nations and kings of the earth were in war and conflict against the Lord, but now here they come, into the Holy City, bringing their glory with them. What does this mean? Can there be this kind of reconciliation? Is it even possible? Do you mean that the time will come when the powers of this age, the forces of might will yield to the Lamb on the Throne? Yes. That time will come. In the times to come.
And then the Revelation tells us that we don’t need to be worried about open gates and unsecured walls – because nothing unclean or detestable will enter in. My dear ones – know this. These words do not refer to those whom we may fear or find off-putting or detestable. These words – “nothing unclean or detestable or false” – refer to you and me. All that is unclean in us is cleansed because of the grace of God who has written our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is not our righteous deeds, as beneficial as they may be, not our pure living as wholesome as it may be, not our sanctimonious “thank you Jesus that I am not one of THEM” – no, none of these writes our names in the Book of Life. It is the grace of God poured out in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, the one who redeems the world.
We go on to see this amazing image – one of my favorites in all of Holy Scripture – the image of the River of the water of life bright as crystal flowing from the Throne of God through the middle of the street of the city and on either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Incomprehensible.
Too often we settle for seeking after imaginary Camelots than we do living into the Feast that is to come, the Feast of the Holy City – the New Jerusalem. As Lutheran Christians we live with many tensions – we live as saints and sinners, we live in the law and the Gospel, and we live in the already but not yet. Yes, our life in this Holy City has begun already in the waters of our baptisms and will be fully realized in the times to come.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.