Texts: Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-7; John 13:31-35
What we almost always look past in this vision of “heaven” is that this is not heaven at all, but earth. “I looked, and I saw the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven…” “I heard the voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.’” Heaven is actually being emptied out as God makes God’s home on Earth with us. This is not a vision of salvation for only a select few, or even for only humanity; this is a vision of salvation for all creation. As my New Testament professor in seminary once said, “God is not interested in saving a handful of individuals; God is saving the whole frickin’ universe!”
This sounds pretty great, but it raises the question: if this was God’s intention all along, why didn’t God make the world this way to start out with? Well, maybe God did. In Genesis, we hear that God spent six days creating the world and everything in it. On the seventh day, God rested—not retired. On the eighth day, we are left to imagine that God got right back up and went back to work, just like all of us do. In fact, we read that story just a few weeks ago, how on the first day of the week, Jesus got right back up and went back to work.
But God was not alone in that work. When God created humankind, God created us in God’s image so that we might join with God in the work of “tilling and keeping” creation. (Gen 1.26-28; 2.15) In other words, God has given us the task of being God’s partners in creating the world about which God has dreamt. From the very first God has always been working towards this vision of a world free from death and evil, and that work continues even now; and we are the helpers God has chosen to bring that world into being.
Needless to say, we are pretty poor help at times. We hurt and destroy and exploit God’s creation as much as we heal and create and honor it, but God knows this. Just like the rest of creation, we too are a work in progress. Even as God has been working toward the wholeness of creation, God has been working toward the wholeness of humanity. God has given us the Law, the prophets, and even God’s own Son to help guide us and grow us into the people God intends us to be.
We have come to understand both creation and ourselves as “fallen,” believing that there was a time when everything was perfect, a time to which we must work hard to return; but what if the opposite is true? What if, instead of trying to return to the past and “make creation great again,” what if instead of working backwards, we were to focus our attention and our energy on moving forward with God and bringing into being the goal toward which God has always been working?
Why didn’t God create everything perfect to begin with? I don’t know; but I think that maybe it’s because life is a journey, not a destination. Maybe it’s because we will never love the world and everything in it the way God does until we have poured our blood, sweat and tears into making it thrive, like God has. Maybe true salvation for us and the world is found more the process of creating it rather than the end product.
Whatever the answer may be, God has been guiding us through this process from the very beginning. God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, God led the Israelites through the sea with a pillar of smoke and fire, God anointed kings and spoke through prophets, God even took on flesh and became human. When John writes “God will dwell with them; they will be God’s peoples, and God godself will be with them,” he is both writing about what has already been true from the beginning and about what is always in the process of becoming ever truer.
We continue to learn by trial and error what makes for a “good” person, a “good” society, and a “good” creation, and all the while God is with us, guiding us. The Holy Spirit dwells among us, and at this table we are fed with the body and blood of God’s own Son—strengthened for this work and made to be the Body of Christ ourselves. We continue to grow and learn together through the love of God which sustains us through the wilderness, guides us with prophetic words, opens its arms to us on the cross, and invites us to put our fingers in its nail marks. God’s love fills us and fuels us so that we might continue dreaming and working with God toward a world in which all the forces of death have been defeated, in which mourning and crying and pain are no more.
Most days this reign of God seems a long way off, so distant it will never come to be, but God reminds us that these words are trustworthy and true. The voice from the throne says, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.” God always has been and always will be working towards this vision of wholeness, justice and peace for all creation. God’s work will never be done until not only every person, but every rock and tree and bird, every breath of wind and ray of light, every atom of every molecule of creation experiences the fullness of God’s vision for creation, because God is saving the whole universe.
To begin to understand how God intends to accomplish this, we need look no further than Jesus who, when faced with evil, did not resist with violence or force or overwhelming divine power, but instead met evil with love. He freely gave his life to the work of the gospel, trusting in God to be with him to the end.
This is what he taught us to do. It is written in John’s gospel that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” and he commanded us to do the same. (Jn 13.1) “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Revelation promises that “those who conquer will inherit these things,” reminding us that the one who has conquered all is Jesus, the Lamb who was Slain.
Hear these words, and listen as the voice from the throne says, “It is already done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. To the thirsty, I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life, because I am saving the whole universe.”