Sunday, May 5, 2013

6 Easter

May 5, 2013

Revelation 21.10, 22-22

+ A few weeks ago, our own Stephanie Parrott, hearing that our reading from that Sunday, was from Revelation, said, “Ewww, Revelation…”

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “What’s wrong with Revelation?”

“I have been to too many churches,” she said, “in which Revelation is seen as some kind of prophecy of things to come, and is an opportunity to preach some fire and brimstone.”

I responded by saying, “Well, welcome to the Episcopal Church and our very non-fire-and-brimstone understanding of Revelation.”

Still, I think there are a lot of Christians who feel this way about the Book of Revelation. Revelation is a strange book. It can be a frightening book. But I don’t see it as a book of prophecy. I don’t see it saying anything definitely about future governments or some messianic Anti-Christ in our midst or that we are living in the so-called “last days” or what have you.

What I do see it doing is speaking to us through some beautiful and powerful poetry on what is happening in our lives, right now, as Christians, and about how, in the end, Christ is victorious.  I think it is important for us to re-claim Revelation in this way —and, in doing so, re-read it.

In our reading this morning from Revelation, we find some very strange esoteric images—not an uncommon thing when we read Revelation. We find this morning these images of angels, of the holy city of Jerusalem, of a place without moon or sun, but a place of incredible light. It is a glorious vision of what awaits us in that place in which God and the Lamb dwell. It is a place of beauty and glory.  It is a place of unending life. And that is the important thing to take away from our reading today.

In these last few weeks, I feel as though I have been living under a pall of some sort—a death pall. I’ve been dealing with a fair share of death. Of course, yesterday was my cousin’s memorial service. Later, after I got home from the committal service, I received the call that Jack Schwer died yesterday afternoon. And then last night, our own Janie Breth called and asked if I could give her grandmother, Camille, “last rites” at the hospital. Camille passed this morning.

Of course, death is a part of life, and certainly it’s part of my job as a priest. I knew that going into it.  But it still is hard, often.  And for people who have to deal with this mystery of death on a regular basis, there have be ways to find strength and comfort in the midst of death.  

One of the ways I find my way through this pall of death is by turning to the scriptures. William Stringfellow, the great Episcopal theologian, saw that a common theme in all Scripture is the defeat of death.  Or as Stringfellow called it “authority over death.”

I agree with him.  I think he is right about that. Stringfellow saw it most profoundly in the life of Jesus.  There we see this authority over death most profoundly. We see it every time Jesus healed the sick, calmed the storms, cast out demons, ate with sinners, cleansed the temple, raised the death, carried the Cross. And of course, in the Resurrection, which we are still celebrating in this season of Easter.

This view of life over death speaks to us most profoundly during this Easter season. During this  season, what we have found most vital to our understanding of living into this Easter faith is the startling fact that death, truly does not have power over us.

We, as Christians, cannot let the power of death control and direct our lives.  As Christians, as followers of Jesus who crosses that awful boundary between life and death, and comes back, we must truly be defiant to death.  Of course, that ultimate victory over death happens only when we can face death honestly. True victory over death is when we can see death in the light we hear about in today’s reading from Revelation. Only then do we realize that death has no victory over us.

Because of what happened on Easter, because of the Resurrection, because Jesus did die, yes, but he rose from that tomb, and walked victorious upon the chains of death, we know now death does not have the last word in our lives.

 Over these past several years, I can tell you, it would’ve been easy for me to just give into this victory death strives for over life. Mourning does that do us. It weakens us and saps our energies from us. We all get stuck in mourning patterns.  But, for us Christians, we can’t be stuck in such death. We must live. And we must move forward.  We must  stand up against death.

I can tell you that, right now, in my own life, I am tired of death. I am tired of dealing directly with it. I am tired of dealing with its after-effects. I am tired of dealing with its seemingly overpowering presence.

But, standing up to death, even when we’re sick of it, is not easy. Choosing life, with all its uncertainties, can be scary. Even when moving forward into life  and living our lives fully and completely, we realize it can be frightening. We are, after all, heading into the future which is unknown to us.

But that, again, is what I love about Revelation. What Revelation promises to us, through all that poetry and imagery, is that death will lose, hatred will lose, violence will lose, evil will lose, war will lose—and goodness, and holiness and LIFE will be victorious.  That isn’t wishful thinking.  That’s isn’t being na├»ve.

Rather, this is what it means to be a Christian.  This is what it means to follow Jesus. Yes, following Jesus means following him to the Cross and to that dark tomb.  And to death, yes. But it also means following him into the great unknown on the other side of the Cross and the tomb—into that glorious, light-filled, unending life that swallows up death and darkness and war once and for all.

“And there will be no more night,” John tells us in his Revelation. “they”—we—“will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be [our] light, and [we] will reign for ever and ever.”

Those are words of absolute and glorious victory. But more so, they are words of life—of a life that goes on forever and ever.

As we travel through these last days of Easter, as we head into this week in which we celebrate Jesus’ ascension to that place of life and light, let us do so with true Easter joy. Let us do so rejoicing from the very core of our bodies.

We are alive.  This morning, we are alive. Life is in us. And it is good.  We have much to be thankful for and in which to rejoice.

So, let us be thankful for this life. Let us rejoice in it.  And let us realize that in rejoicing in our lives and in the life within each of us, God has truly prepared for us, as we heard in our collect this morning, “such good things as surpass our understanding.”



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