by Brian Walsh
A meditation on Rev. 21.9-14; 21.22-22.5 delivered in the Wine Before Breakfast community on September 20, 2011
Grief is the doorway to hope,
tragic endings give birth to surprising beginnings,
lament gives way to praise,
and death is overturned in resurrection.
That’s the good news this morning.
That’s how the failed, painful reality of Babylon
meets the restored city of Jerusalem.
And it is all there in the very first line of our reading.
“Then one of the angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me….”
Man, by the time I’ve got to the end of the book of Revelation
…the last thing I want to see is one of those angels
…with their bowls of plagues.
The last thing I want to hear is any more bad news
…from one of those angelic messengers.
But this time it is different.
This time, that angel of woe, that angel of judgement, that angel of endings,
…brings news of blessing, of restoration and of radical new beginnings.
Instead of ‘come look at the whore of Babylon’
…the angel says “Come, I will show you the bride,
…the wife of the Lamb.”
And instead of presiding over the fall of Babylon, this angel
…shows St. John “the holy city of Jerusalem
…coming down out of heaven from God.”
No wonder we sing,
…Love divine, all loves excelling
…joy of heaven to earth come down,
…fix in us thy humble dwelling,
…all thy faithful mercies crown
In this vision, the joy of heaven comes down,
…the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven
…as a bride adorned for her husband.
And in this city, God dwells with his people,
…God moves into the neighbourhood,
…God tabernacles with his people as he did in the wilderness
……so long ago.
No wonder John can’t see any temple in this city.
…Who needs a temple when God is dwelling with you?
…Who needs a temple when the whole city,
……indeed the whole creation,
……is the temple?
If Babylon symbolized the city as a failed construct of idolatrous humanity,
…then the New Jerusalem is a city that comes directly from the hand of God.
If Babylon was a place where the sound of the minstrel will be no more,
…and the sound of industry will be no more,
…and the sound of lovers in erotic giggle will be no more,
then the New Jerusalem is the city where “death will be no more
…mourning and crying will be no more
…for the first things have passed away.”
If Babylon was a dwelling place for demons
…and foul spirits and all foul things,
then the New Jerusalem is the dwelling place of God
…where no foul things can exist.
If Babylon was an economy of opulence coupled with exploitation,
…if the kings of the earth weep over Babylon in her fall,
then the New Jerusalem is a city of rich cultural diversity and abundance
…as the kings of the earth bring the wealth of the nations into her,
…gifts of gratitude, not the avails of greed and injustice.
If debased Babylon was a city of unbearable lightness,
…superficiality and vanity
then the New Jerusalem is a sight of glory,
…this is a city infused with the weighty, presence of God
And note that this is a city with walls and gates,
…but the gates are never closed.
Those gates are named after the twelve tribes of Israel,
…because it is Israel’s story that gains access to this city,
and the city is erected on the foundation of the twelve apostles,
…rooted in the gospel of Jesus and his Kingdom.
But the gates are never closed.
…This is a city of radical hospitality,
…this is a city of welcome.
And it is a gardened city,
…with a river of the water of life,
…bright as crystal,
…cascading from the thrown of God and the Lamb
…right down the middle of the city.
On both sides of this life-giving river grew the tree of life,
…producing twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month,
…a city of sustenance, a sustainable city,
…a city of urban gardening.
And here is the bit that blows me away,
…while the fruit is good for eating
…(unlike a tree we meet at the very beginning of our story in a different garden),
…the leaves of this tree were for the healing of the nations.
Those very nations that fornicated with Babylon,
…those very nations that wept over Babylon’s collapse,
…those very nations subject to the same judgement as Babylon,
…come to this city of God for healing.
No more trees felled for battering rams
…to lay siege to other cities.
No more trees cut for sailing masts
…to power colonial warships.
No more trees pulped for propganda
…to fuel the fires of ethnic cleansing and ideology.
This tree is for life.
This tree is for the healing of the nations.
This tree is for shalom.
While Babylon paints a picture of the brokenness of our urban reality,
…the New Jerusalem is a vision of urban life restored.
While Babylon depicts our urban present,
…the New Jerusalem gives us a vision of a possible urban future.
While Babylon captures our urban nightmare,
…the New Jerusalem offers us an urban dream.
While Babylon embodies our most distorted desires,
…the New Jerusalem fulfills our deepest and most abiding longings.
My friends, I don’t know how I could continue to survive in Babylon,
…if I didn’t have a vision of Jerusalem.
I don’t know how I could face the urban brokenness of the present,
…without a hopeful vision of an urban future.
In this vision,
…St. John is offered a glimpse of the Holy City,
…he is offered a glimpse of urban life under the banner of covenantal renewal,
…just beyond the range of normal sight he can see a city
……of unspeakable beauty,
……of shared abundance,
……of hospitable welcome,
……of homecoming in the temple of the Lord.
And maybe he can hear a voice singing:
My kingdom’s built with the blood of my son
selfless sacrifice for everyone,
faith, hope, love and harmony.
So, all you slaves, be set free,
come on out my child and come home to me,
we will dance, we will rejoice,
if you can hear me than follow my voice.
And to hear that voice,
…to join that dance,
…to come home to Zion,
…is to live with that vision before us,
……to work towards the coming City of God,
………in the face of the Babylon in which we live,
………seeking the peace of this city in hope of the city to come.