Sunday, April 24, 2016

It Is Done

It Is Done

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

April 24, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

Revelation 21: 1-6

Ezekiel 47: 6-12

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

I never give the Lectionary folks enough credit, but it is impressive what they’ve done. It is a herculean task to break up the entire Bible into segments, and then put those segments in an order that covers all parts of the Bible on a three year cycle, and to do it well you would want themes to correspond throughout, and if you could you would want certain motifs and sub narratives to constantly be working. And I think they do. You don’t necessarily see it, until you start to go through it, committing to the discipline of following where they lead, and I’m not sure that they put these things in on purpose, but I see it. Going through the entire season of Lent I was driven to adopt a desert, or a journey out and into the desert, through the desert, and to the other side theme, by what readings they put forward, but then I was stuck this week, and it is a repeated theme throughout Revelation, and that is “To the thirsty I will give the water of Life.” It almost always comes after, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and I will give water to the thirsty. But before that common refrain, we hear the words. “It is done.” The one on the throne tells John to write these things down because he is making things new, and that these words are trustworthy and true, and then he says “It is done!” not it will be done, but it is done.

I can’t help but think about how this seems to mirror some of the words of Christ in the gospels, especially when from the cross he says “It is accomplished.” And now here we have, it is done. And throughout the gospels every time he says that the kingdom of heaven is near. Could it be that these things have already come to be? That these promises have been fulfilled in Christ, that the cross is sufficient for these promises to be, that the Revelation symbology and metaphors about a battle and a beast, and a lamb, is not some future happening, but a description of what the Christ event is and means, what Easter is and means, what the Resurrection is and mean not for the future, but now.  I’m not sure, but I don’t see the harm in posing the question and investigating the idea, so  today I want to go through that idea, as if it is. If we put this book in its context, and that it works very much like an Old Testament Prophetic work, that it seems to echo the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel, Revelation would expose a problem, like those books did, have God promise to act through that problem, that there would be a period of devastation, and then God’s promises would be revealed and would come to pass. The Gospels go out of their way to connect Christ as the fulfillment of the promises of those Old Testament Prophets, that Christ’s torture on the cross, is just like suffering servant that Isaiah describes. That Isaiah says, all we like sheep have gone astray, but that Christ as the Good Shepherd comes, knows his sheep calls them by name, and even goes after the one, leaving the 99 behind. Now look at what is promised in this little passage. I love that the NRSV sets it off as poetry, because it reads like that, and the prophetic books are usually written in poetry too, so it makes sense. It says,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Think about this, and the context of Jesus himself as the fulfillment. God did come to dwell with us, and now he is risen, and the Risen Christ, and the Holy Spirit is very much dwelling in and amongst us. Christ himself has cried tears, and of course has wiped tears from the faces of many, he knows us, he knows our pain, he has felt our pain, he understands, he bore our pain already. Jeremiah says when these things come to be, there will be a new covenant, and this covenant will not be one of stone, but a new one, a covenant not of stone, but written on our hearts. That’s what this is all about, a covenant written on your heart, to love, to believe, to have faith, and so to have hope. . . but this hope gives new eyes, to see what is new in the world, because these things have come to pass already. Christ is the fulfilment.

What would it be like if that were the case, that Christ is not only the fulfillment of the Old Testament Prophets, but that Revelation too was a prophecy fulfilled by Christ, and description of the past, in terms of the future, to effect the people of John’s present, that they are to believe, that they are to trust, that they are to witness, right now, to what God has done, the great amazing wonders that God has done, if that were what was meant by this passage from Revelation. That John’s vision is a vision of saying what has already come to pass. That the victory has already been won by God, that what is to come, has come what would that mean?

It seems like we are taking this passage backwards, that we looked at the man on the throne saying, I am the Alpha and Omega, and that all who are thirsty can drink from the tree of life, we looked at that first, and we have to admit that this was also always promised by Christ, and also it was promised in Isaiah. . . so you see again full circle. Then there was the voice saying, it is done. . . and that this was a voice that was trustworthy and that these words were true. Then we went through the death, and mourning, and tears being no more, that death would be no more, that God will dwell among the peoples. And now let us go back all the way to the beginning. Look at the first thing that goes on in this passage, John sees a new heaven and a new earth, the first earth and the sea had passed away, and now the holy city was descending, and the new Jerusalem coming down to be the bride. Now all of this echoes the Old Testament prophets again. Jerusalem destroyed, and then rebuilt. Promise of destruction, then promise of rebuilding, and then it coming to pass. Can we even imagine it?

I want to read the poem that I put in the bulletin for the Prayer of Preparation today because I think it describes one of our biggest barriers to seeing the “It is Done” world, and that is that we have not beaten our swords into plowshares. War still rages. . . . So here is Steve Earle’s song: “Jerusalem”.

Well maybe I'm only dreamin' and maybe I'm just a fool
But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school
But somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back again
But I still find some comfort now and then

Then the storm comes rumblin' in
And I can't lay me down
And the drums are drummin' again
And I can't stand the sound

But I believe there'll come a day when the lion and the lamb
Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem

And there'll be no barricades then
There'll be no wire or walls
And we can wash all this blood from our hands
And all this hatred from our souls

And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Embedded in his song is the idea that there is more to the promise that we just do not see yet coming to fruition, that the world is very much still a war filled and therefore sin filled world, which leaves us wondering, ‘When?”

But how are we to read the “It is done” of Revelation. Which part of the story is it telling, the Old Testament prophetic story about God and his work. Is it a Jeremiad, evoking the prophet Jeremiah, the prophet before the exile, whose message is, turn back, or else. Most Christian churches see Revelation in such a light, or at least use it in such a light. You see the church signs, like Jesus is coming, are you ready? Or How would you like to spend your eternity, smoking or non. . . in those readings of Revelation you have a heavy handed sense that it is time to turn back to God or the horrible readings of Revelation will come true. Is that how we should read Revelation?

Or is it, like I said last week, is it Ezekiel’s vision, that the Exile has already happened, that we are living in the deepest despair possible, and the questions and doubts and fears about God and God’s existence surround us at every level, and Ezekiel’s prophetic voice explains the hardship in terms of God’s will and God’s sovereignty, that there is a plan, though bleak there is a plan and it will get better, there indeed, like our Old Testament reading for today, and that Revelation echoes, be rivers flowing with the waters of life.

Or “Is it Done” already, and the living into that life is necessary, that our feeling should be one of gratitude, not for what is coming, but for what already is around us, that we are already in the promised land, that Christ himself has already defeated death, that the time of the coming Kingdom is already upon us, that the kingdom is now, that we have crossed the river Jordan. It is hard to believe it in our world where the swords are more mighty than the plowshares, and all we see seems to scream, no it hasn’t arrived yet.

Let me read you two poems now, these from Anne Bradstreet, on two very different occasions, two very different circumstances. This first one after the death of her 16 month old grandchild.

No sooner come, but gone, and fal'n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caus'd us weep,
Three flours, two searcely blown, the last i'th' bud,
Cropt by th'Almighties hand; yet is he good,
With dreadful awe before him let's be mute,
Such was his will, but why, let's not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let's say he's merciful as well as just.
He will return, and make up all our losses,
And smile again, after our bitter crosses.
Go pretty babe, go rest with Sisters twain
Among the blest in endless joyes remain.

The loss of a child or grandchild like this would be the depth of personal pain and anguish, akin to the worst of all collective fears like Jerusalem’s destruction and exile. But in her words such, “It is Done!” faith. . . she might not understand it now, but it is very much already done based on her words. And now this next poem she writes when her daughter’s fever abates:

Bles't bee thy Name, who did'st restore
To health my Daughter dear
When death did seem ev'n to approach,
And life was ended near.
Gravnt shee remember what thov'st done,
And celebrate thy Praise;
And let her Conversation say,
Shee loues thee all thy Dayes.

Do you see, there is no change. . . the best of times and the worst of times, the faith and its not just faith,but gratitude is there. This is the “It is done” faith. . . The God of this universe is sovereign, it is now, Easter as done it, The Resurrection has done it. I may not understand it, and at some point I will, but the act itself has already been done.

So you may be asking yourself, and if it has already been done, and this world is still broken, does it mean that the New Jerusalem is not for here, that the power of the redemption does win for us eternal life and a new world, but that does nothing for this world. Maybe. . maybe the perspective the New makes this world bearable, but nothing here will change. I have a hard time believing that, though, and one thing that makes me think otherwise is this. John’s message to the 7 churches is to witness to Jesus’ Lordship here, and I think that witness has transformative powers. Look at what Non violent protest does. It functions on this principle. That a witness showing evil in the flesh, to the eye has tremendous potential for being redemptive. It shows evil for what it is, empty, hollow and meaningless, petty, and small, when compared to the good. Such is the case because, “It is Done,” already. Amen.