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 saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 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.”
“See I am making all things new.” This is not a statement for the future when God’s kingdom is established fully among, but an eternal truth of God’s work through Christ. There is not a day when we do not hear God call from on high, “I am making things new.” In the darkest times of our life, the call still comes and renews our Spirit. For those of us who are in a place where we can fully rejoice the call lands upon us and brings us forward to act and to fully participate in the newness which God has set before us.
To enter into the new creation which Christ has set before us, we must be willing to be transformed ourselves. We all, as sheep in Christ’s flock, know the voice of God. It is our willingness to return to God’s word and respond to the commands within it that allow us to reject our old ways, not being, “conformed to the ways of the world but transformed by the renewing of our mind.” We would be lying to ourselves if we said that we were always sure about what we are supposed to do in life. When a new job prospect arises, a friend comes to us with a problem we do not know how to help them solve, or even more mundane we have the choice between a kind word and a harsh one toward another person – in all these moments we are given a chance to act in a worldly way, or in a heavenly way.
Christ tells us how to live as people who are being made new in today’s passage from John. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This is the essence not only of Christianity but of the New Creation. The entirety of what will be is modeled after Christ and Christ’s life. Everything we know about the world to come is informed by the life of Christ. Last week we looked at what heaven means in the here and now, and we determined that when we bring God into our community that God is among us and we create heaven on earth. Today, let us look a bit more closely about what we do to love one another, and how our visions of Heaven are tied to this.
The most obvious thing about Heaven is that it is a place where “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…” Obviously, we cannot presently escape any of these things. We all must die and we all will feel loss, pain, decay. We do not escape these things through faith, even though we will eventually conquer them through Christ’s resurrection. No, we still suffer today as members of the Church, however, we are able to love one another and in so doing alleviate this pain.
Think of the Christ and his ministry to Mary and Martha. Yes, he did raise Lazarus, but before that, he stood with the sisters. He listened to their pain and was willing to simply be there with them, not to preach or to force their healing, just to be with them. Christ provided a ministry of presence which saw their weeping and their real anger toward him as valid, as worth being listened to. Even Christ, when he walked to the tomb was overcome. Death was so great and terrible a thing, that even Christ took a moment to mourn the damage that it caused him. Even with Lazarus’ raising on the horizon, Christ felt the absence of his friend.
We all in the Church know that feeling. We believe those who have passed on are with God and are awaiting the day Heaven and Earth come together again. That one day the separation brought on by death will be erased. Until then though, we will have tears, we will weep with Christ and with Mary and Martha. The Church makes the blessing come true which Jesus put forward in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The church begins to bring the new creation into the present world when we bring present to those who are in mourning, in those moments when words fail and we become the presence of Christ in the lives of others.
Another way that Christ shows us Heaven in his love is in the way that Christ opened the doors of Heaven to anyone who loves God. As revelation says, “The dwelling place of God is among people.” Not one person, not one group of people, but all people. Heaven is a place where the beloved of God join together and praise their Lord. It is not a place for one denomination, one church, one race, or one kind of background. Heaven is a place where peoples from all over the world will be gathered to praise God. It is the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry to all people.
When Christ went to the Samaritan woman at the Well and spoke to her, he was not just breaking boundaries relating to race, but also gender. Men did not speak to unattended women often, and if they did it was still usually in a public place. Yet, Jesus came to this woman and spoke to her frankly. He did not look at her race and make assumptions about her life, nor did he see her as someone to be bossed around or silence because of her gender. Jesus approaches her, speaks to her about her deepest concerns and all that has happened to her. He speaks to her as he would to Peter or John, she becomes a sort of disciple in that moment.
When we gather as a great multitude together before God. There will be no considerations of where people have come from or who they were born as. This does not mean that God erases our individual differences, those things that make each unique among the united body of Christ. Our culture, the things we love, those individual facets we have built up in this life are not erased when we enter Heaven, they are transformed. All the evils of our life wash away, and we see what God was getting at. That’s right, even in Heaven a love of ramps and buckwheat will have a purpose. What is now takes one form, what will come something unimaginable now – however, whatever it is, it will be an amplification of all things good, one that unites us in our common love for God.
Finally, we see that Jesus gave us a glimpse of Heaven in his glorification of God. As our scripture says today, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” This is a bit of a confusing sentence in itself, but I think that it is helpful to compare it to the language which is used in the beginning of John. Though not 1:1, this text reflects the hymn to Jesus as God’s word – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We are told in John that Jesus has been glorified and that by being God the Father was also glorified in this. The two persons of the Trinity glorify one another through love.
This glorifying of God is something that we are invited to participate in through our love of one God and one another. Whenever we worship God, we glorify God, and our greatest worship is to live a life worthy of Christ. When we love one another fully and commit ourselves to the work of the kingdom then we are glorifying God in our life. This was best put by St. Irenaeus, when he said, “The glory of God is a living person. The life of a person is in beholding God.”
Christ showed us that God chooses to glorify Godself through the righteous lives of the beloved. The greatest example of this was in the work of Christ, a truly righteous and perfect person as much as he was true God of true God. However, in our reception of the Holy Spirit, we are also able to live out a life of righteousness, we become “a person beholding God.” This the way that we are transformed into those who “Thirst for justice.” This is how we are satisfied by the “water [given] as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” For who all those who are transformed by their desire for Justice, there will be eternal life given to the love that has been placed within them. We become those who glorify God, we become those satisfied by God, we become the people of God.
The duty of the Christian, the way that we live in this world, is dependent upon and defined by love. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” This love cannot be partial or hesitant, it does not look for excuses to ignore the object of our love. We must commit ourselves fully to the work of the Church and to loving one another. We break down whatever systems and prejudices we are a part of so that we can open the kingdom-wide and bring everyone into the fold. We allow ourselves to become the vessels and means of God’s glorification on earth.
Everything we do in this life; we do for God. This is the ultimate example which Christ puts ahead for us is a life that is oriented only for the work of the Kingdom. When we sit with those who mourn, we are weeping with Christ by the tomb of Lazarus. When we open our doors and our arms, we are at the table with Christ and the Gentiles. A life lived well for Christ is one that reflects the work of Christ in every way. The reality is that Heaven is a reflection of God’s will, and Christ was the visible God who showed us what that will look like.
When Christ Inaugurates the New Heaven and the New Earth, all will be transformed – we will be perfected. Let us work alongside God in establishing this perfected kingdom. Take up the plowshares, spread the tablecloth over the table of fellowship, and live together in peace and love. This is the simplest, the truest, and indeed the summit of the Christian life. Communion with God and one another lived out not just in the obvious and grandiose, but in the day to day simplicity of our shared lives. – Amen