Saint Andrew's Presbyterian Church

Blackrock

God in Christ has made all things new

Revelation chapter twenty-one and verse five: The words of God himself spoken from the throne of heaven -- "Behold I make all things new."

The climax of the Book of Revelation is the vision of the Holy City. John, the Christian prophet, exiled on the penal colony that is the island of Patmos, glimpses the New Jerusalem. This renewed and restored and radiant city is coming down from heaven as God's supreme gift to his beleaguered people. It is breathtakingly beautiful. John describes it as "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." As this vision is revealed to John, God himself speaks. This is the first time that God speaks in the whole of the Book of Revelation. And God's words underline, emphasise and drive home the divine victory which no evil can thwart. All distance between the Awesome One and His children is abolished. At last amid dangers and darkness and dread God addresses us directly, addresses us directly with a word of hope.

It would be a worthwhile exercise to go through the Book of Revelation listing the different sounds to be heard page by page. John's weird and wonderful collection of dreams and visions is deafening with the noise of chaos. Turning John's pages our ears are assaulted by many unpleasant sounds. We hear the roaring of unchained beasts, the vicious blasphemy of God's enemies, the crackling of flames of destruction, the pounding hooves of the doom-laden four horsemen. We hear the thunder clap as whole empires disintegrate. But none of this rumbling and roaring and rampaging drowns the songs of the church. The sound of God's people singing his praises rises above the chaotic scene. "Holy, holy holy," they sing, "Lord God almighty." "Worthy is the lamb that was slain," they sing. They sing the " Hallelujah Chorus," "Alleliua: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." Amid the sheer bedlam that John describes these hymns function rather like that dramatic photograph of St.Paul's Cathedral taken during the worst of the blitz on London. There is the famous dome with its spire tipped by a cross soaring above great billows of black smoke, still triumphant. So at the climax of John's shocking, gobsmacking and mind-boggling vision, at last God speaks. And God says, "Behold, I make all things new; I make all things new."

Well, what would you expect God to say? What kind of divine utterance would you presume as a climax to a book predicting chaos and destruction for all the world's greedy systems and evil empires and grasping conglomerates? What would be an appropriate pronouncement to encourage the faithful and establish hope in the heart of a downtrodden church? God promises to make all things new. Of course he does. Is he not the creator? Is he not the giver of life? Is he not the one who puts flesh on dry bones, the one who leads his people through the wilderness to the promised land? Is he not the one who raised Jesus from the dead? And is not the resurrection of Jesus a pledge and a promise leading to the presumption that we also will be raised to new life both beyond the grave and on this side of it too? God is in the creation business and also in the re-creation business. God is in the redemption business and in the restoration business and in the removal business, removing every obstacle to life abundant. That is why John the author of Revelation ends his bizarre and baffling and bewildering book with imagery that reassures the faithful. There is the holy city described as a bride on her wedding day; there is the promise of drinking from the fountain of life; there is that gleaming new City of God with all its life ordered and harmonious; there is a river flowing through the city with fruit trees on either side and the trees have healing properties. Of course God makes everything new. To renew heaven and earth is God's very nature, his character; his essence.

Mind you, even the faithful waver and give way to doubt. Even God's own become full of misgiving and hesitate to trust him. Even those who have had a vision of God's goodness forget it in the cut and trust of life. We have invested too much in the systems of this world and we don't welcome the One who makes all things new. We pray, "Thy kingdom come," but what we really mean is, "Thy kingdom stay away!" And we get tired. The church of Christ becomes tired of preaching with little response, tired of sowing seeds that as yet show no signs of sending up green shoots, tired of lonely witnessing to God's kingdom in a society that is dedicated to Mammon. Saint Augustine defined sin in three Latin words: "INCURVATUS IN SE." It means "curved in on itself." That is what happens when we get tired on the Christian way, we become curved in on ourselves with disastrous results. The opening lines of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" sound frighteningly modern. The play opens with the lines: "In truth I know not why I am so sad. It wearies me." And a more recent poet W.B.Yeats sums up our generation in a frightening indictment: "The best lack conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." "Where is this renewal?" we ask. "Where is this new life?" Even the faithful voice doubts, doubts and misgivings.

But the words from the throne of the Awesome One still sound with authority in our ears. God's pronouncement gives birth to hope. At the grand finale of the great opera that is the Book of Revelation God says, "Behold I make all things new." It is as if God glances back at the previous twenty chapters of mayhem and madness and mass hysteria when Satan does his worst and God says, "Even in the midst of all this, even in the midst of all this my renewing work is not frustrated." Of course it is costly this renewal, costly to God and costly to us. Earlier in Revelation John shows us a lamb bearing still the marks of sacrifice. Of course the lamb is Christ, Christ crucified. The Lamb is worshiped by the heavenly host who celebrate his sufferings in a joyful hymn, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." Our redemption is costly. Birth is accompanied by pain and rebirth is no different. Rowan Williams assures us, "Christ will not wipe the tears from our eyes until we have learned to weep." Rowan Williams also has issued a warning to the faithful. "The church needs to be broken," he proclaims, "The church needs to be broken on the rock of Christ." And Dietrich Bonhoeffer, like John of Patmos the prisoner of an evil empire, made this alarming claim from a Nazi prison cell. "God allows himself to be edged out of the world," he said, "edged out of the world and onto the cross." God gives birth to renewal in his people and in his world, but the birth pangs are agonising. Renewal is costly.

Nevertheless, God's renewal of all things is life-giving. God's renewal of all things is an endless source of joy. God's renewal of all things is nothing less than a continuance of his creative act in individual lives, in faithful communities and in a needy world. Professor Richard Bauckham claims that the Book of Revelation was written "to purge and refurbish the Christian imagination." What a noble purpose for any book written for the church! Revelation purges and refurbishes our too dim vision of what God is doing in the world. At times Revelation assaults our imagination with imagery that is vivid and bizarre and grotesque. But as John reaches the summit of his achievement depicting the new Jerusalem and the Holy City he paints pictures to soothe and comfort and revive us for service. Look again at the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The adornment of the city is the lives of her citizens. The fine linen of the bride is the righteous deeds of the saints; the gold and precious stones worn by the bride represent the works and witness of her members, built on the foundation of Christ's sacrifice. These pictures are all the more powerful for us when we remind ourselves that John was a prisoner, that the church was being persecuted, that the future of Christianity was utterly precarious. Yet John's negative thoughts and negative attitudes and negative fears are overwhelmed in his vision. It is a glorious gift from God which he gladly passes on to the church he loves. His vision speaks of creation and re-creation, of building and rebuilding, of birth and rebirth. The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann recalls his time as a prisoner of war in England. Shortly after the end of the war an army chaplain persuaded him and some of his fellow prisoners to attend a conference at Swanwick organised by the Student Christian Movement. When he arrived, Moltmann discovered that it was an international student conference and some of the students were Dutch. He felt very uneasy. Moltmann had fought in Holland at the Bridge at Arnhem, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. But he was reassured when he got into conversation with a young Dutchman. "Forget the Bridge at Arnhem," he was told, "Jesus Christ is the bridge - all can stand on it." All things new, Church of Christ! He that sits on the throne of heaven makes all things new. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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