Tuesday, April 26, 2016

4th Sunday after Easter

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling of God is with men

The Bible does not have an abundance of things to say about heaven, but in our first lesson this morning from St. John's Revelation, we have a beautiful image of what heaven is. Building on imagery from the prophet Isaiah, John sees a new heaven and a new earth, and then a new city, descending from heaven. Its descent from heaven is a symbol of its origin in God. He reports, I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. It is interesting to talk to geographers who study where cities are established and why. One major consideration its proximity to water for a supply of fresh water. In New Mexico all almost all of the major towns are on the Rio Grande because of the importance of this water supply in the desert. Before the advent of modern shipping—when eating grapes from Chile in the northern hemisphere would have been unimaginable—easy access to grown food was also important. For provision of housing, forests and trees that can be harvested are needed to make shelters. These considerations have to do with preserving and perpetuating human life, seeing that all the members of the polis have food, water and shelter. Cities are also established for economic reasons. Many of the great cities of the world are on the ocean or on major bays with access to the ocean in order to expedite trade. A region's natural resources can become a boon for a local economy and see the flourishing of new cities. Many of the cities in Oklahoma and Texas have grown to their extent because of oil. Cities are places for the preservation of human life and for commerce, but they are also for communion and fellowship. A visitor to New York City is invariably impressed by the number of languages overhead by simply walking the streets or taking the subway, and yet all these millions of diverse people manage to live together in relative peace.

This New Jerusalem shares some of these considerations in common. For example, we are told that there is stream in this city. In the following chapter of Revelation, St. John reports, And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. These fruits and this stream symbolize the fulfillment of all human longing. No longer will there be the numbing pain of empty stomachs or parched throats. The cycle of hunger, hunt, and satiation will have an end because we will no longer be subject to these bodily needs and will know the ultimate satiation of joy in the Lord. Similarly, though there will not be in this city the clamor of ambition and greed, there will be a kind of commerce. Again, we are told that, the gates of the city shall not be shut at all by day. . . And the kings of the earth shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. There is powerful symbolic value to these images. The glory and honor of the nations are all the good things that human culture has produced that are not in opposition to the one true God or his glory. All that is beautiful, noble and true will find its home and fulfillment in this city because it is the city of God who is himself, Beautiful, Noble, and True, the source of all human good, whether artistic or moral. Finally, this city will be about communion and fellowship. John is told earlier in Revelation that among the citizens of this city, he sees a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues. It is a New York City but with greater diversity and certainly more peace. But the greatest fellowship of this city will not be with humans, but rather with God. Of this city, we are told, Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. The God who is throughout all eternity who does need or want anything, wills to be in communion with us, and has made a way for us to share in that communion through the joining of divine and human natures in the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Mortal human existence has been taken into the godhead to be transfigured and redeemed.

Today, this communion with God and each other is what we celebrate with the baptism of Charlie Belle is just a few moments. The Bible relates how in the fall of human nature, man has sought to live apart from God and from his brothers and sisters. First Adam and Eve choose to decide what was good and evil, and to live by their own light rather than the light of God in an implicit rejection of communion with God. This breakdown in fellowship was succeeded by its fruit: Cain slays his innocent brother Abel. These are the two principal human lies documented in these opening chapters of Genesis: first the lie we tell ourselves when we say we don't need God, and then, the other lie we tell ourselves when we say that we don't need our brothers and sisters. If you're looking at your fellow human being and saying I don't need or want you, this is more the spirit of Adam than the spirit of the new Adam, our Lord Jesus. Today, we commit Charlie Belle to this communion with God, knowing that today she receives the greatest gift she will ever receive: the Holy Spirit, communion with the body of Christ here on earth, and a place in that heavenly city, New Jerusalem. Thanks be to God.