The Absence of Chaos – Rev. Amanda E. Wagner
May 19, 2019 (Fifth Sunday of Easter)
Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35
In the book of Revelation, John relates a vision he experienced of what awaits us after this life is over. He reports that in the final days, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and a holy city – the New Jerusalem. But John doesn’t go into much detail around what the city will look like.
Perhaps all of the wonders and amazing sights in the holy city were too much for John. Maybe his vision was too wonderful to put into words. Or maybe his human mind couldn’t begin to comprehend all the splendors that the New Jerusalem held.
Despite the lack of details about what will be in the city, John does make a point of telling us what will not be there, starting with the sea. The first heaven and the first earth had passed away, John writes, and the sea was no more.
The sea is a biblical symbol for chaos. The Sea of Galilee, which was a central location for much of the gospels, was notorious for its chaotic storms. The wind could kick up in a matter of minutes, and with it the waves would rise, swamping boats before the fishermen knew what hit them.
Once, when the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee, a great windstorm arose, and the disciples were so frightened that they woke Jesus up and begged him to calm the storm and save them. They were sure they were going to drown in the chaos of the sea.
At an earlier time in Israel’s history, the people of the world were all working together to build a giant tower reaching up to God. They got pretty far too, until God gave them different languages. The ensuing chaos brought their construction to a standstill and divided the people. Families were torn apart as they could no longer understand each other and left to seek out others who spoke their new languages.
Yet in John’s vision of the new heaven and new earth, that chaos is gone, along with everything that separates us from one another, as well as what separates us from God. Those things that keep us separate now, things like language, race, class, and age, will no longer have that chaotic separating power in the holy city.
That doesn’t mean that we will all look and sound alike, all stamped from the same mold. It means that judgment, assumptions, stereotyping, and bigotry will cease. Those things that we use to compare ourselves to others will no longer be a cause for jealousy, fear, or greed.
I spent my last semester of college taking classes in Philadelphia, on what was called a “cross cultural experience.” And having grown up in a town of less than a thousand people, Philly was definitely a new culture for me. The population of that one city is larger than the population of the entire state of New Hampshire.
By the end of the four months I lived there, I was ready to leave. There were people everywhere, and I learned quickly not to walk the streets after dark unless I was with a group of people. Cities can be frightening and overwhelming, bearing their own kind of chaos.
It might seem a little strange that the first humans originated in the peaceful Garden of Eden, when John’s revelation indicates that we’re all going to end up in one big city. But cities are places where people live together and depend on one another. A city only works when everyone does something to contribute to the greater good of all.
Humans started out in garden, thinking that they could handle things on their own, but instead they found themselves in over their heads after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. In the New Jerusalem, we will not be living on our own, but as a community, sharing, living and working together. And God will live among us.
When we talk about heaven, we all have some picture of how we think it will look. Often those visions include streets of gold, beautiful mountains, flowing rivers, animals, plants, and big mansions. Most of the time I’m content with not knowing what haven will really look like. But sometimes it’s fun to think about.
I’m sure it will be more beautiful and wondrous than I could ever imagine. But I occasionally wonder if we will look the same or be able to recognize each other. Will we really have mansions and banquets every night? Will we even need to eat? And perhaps most importantly, if we eat, will we have to use the bathroom?
Sometimes it’s fun to think about those things, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not too concerned with figuring out what heaven will look like. I know we’ll all get there eventually and see it for ourselves. And most importantly, God will be there, living among the people.
Recently this community has been touched by a number of sudden and unexpected deaths. And although the initial shock and grief is so sharp it takes our breath away, eventually that pain will subside somewhat. But it will never pass away completely. Not in this lifetime, anyway.
But John’s vision gives us hope that the pain and sorrow of this lifetime will not last forever. John states: God will wipe every tear from the people’s eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things will have passed away.
Death is not permanent. It is not the end. Death in this world brings pain for those who are left behind. But there will come a time when we are all brought together in the New Jerusalem, when God will wipe the tears from our eyes, when death, pain, and sorrow will be abolished forever.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And God saw all the things that were created, and God declared that they were good. In the final days, these creations will pass away to make room for a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, and a city which will be the New Jerusalem. And just as things were good in the beginning, in the end things will also be good.
It seems then, that if all things began good, and all things will end good, that everything in between should be good too. But we know that’s not the case. If all things were good now, our loved ones wouldn’t die. And Jesus wouldn’t have been killed for bringing a message of peace to the world. And hatred, and bigotry, and shootings, and hurricanes, and disease wouldn’t happen.
But those things are all the chaos of this world. Those are the things that divide us as humans and pull us away from God. And in the midst of the chaos, God’s voice resounds: See, I am making all things new.
This is the promise of the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was at the beginning and will be with us at the end: when this world has drawn to a close, and all tears and pain and heartache cease, God will remove the sea of chaos, and we will be given the water of life to drink.
God will wipe away the tears from our eyes, and we will be joyfully reunited with our loved ones. All death, mourning, crying, and pain will be gone. And together we will drink from the spring of life everlasting. Amen.