1Then 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. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he 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." 5And 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." 6Then 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."
Easter is Fifty Days! This is the Fifth Sunday of Easter—next comes Easter 6 and Easter 7 when we celebrate Jesus' Ascension (Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter is the official Ascension Day), then on the fiftieth day of Easter we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost before we move into the season of the Spirit, time of the Church that will be another green and growing segment of Ordinary Time.
Bookends in the canon of scripture reveal God as origin and end of all things:
• Genesis 1 and 2: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a Garden
• Revelation 21 and 22: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a City that grows out of a well-tended garden
Revelation was written during the reign of Roman emperor Caesar Domitian; very briefly, the book of Revelation shows us how empires everywhere operate. It's somewhat of a guide book for living baptized in the context of empire—any empire. Imperial-style governments such as Egypt, Babylon, Persia in biblical times, Spain, Netherlands, Great Britain, present-day USA later on; trans-national imperial entities such as Bayer and Monsanto that surreptitiously creep into almost every aspect of the planet's existence. This week and next week the passages from Revelation especially show us ways to live baptized into the new creation.
The book's author, John the Revelator, is an unknown individual, but he's not Jesus' cousin John the Baptist or Jesus' beloved disciple John of fourth gospel fame and renown.
Much of Revelation is in the literary style of apocalyptic; we've previously mentioned apocalyptic uncovers/reveals something hidden as it uses symbolic language, physical symbols, and indirect speech. Other scriptural examples of apocalypse include – but aren't not limited to – sections of Ezekiel and Daniel, parts of Isaiah, and Mark's gospel.
We discussed Patmos that may have been a Roman prison island; a class participant who'd visited Patmos later emailed me it's "a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea," though as our quick internet search discovered during class, it's physically close to present day Turkey. Wikipedia provided a link to Patmos' Greek language website.
"Ocean no more" in Revelation 21:1 isn't about ecological disaster! It's a code word for untamed chaos. In the famous passage that opens Genesis 1 the Spirit of God hovers and breathes and speaks over the "deep," the unordered chaotic waters. In our baptism with Water and Word, God calls and enables us to speak words that tame and order the chaos of empire.
Revelation 21:3 where God makes a home with creation uses the same word as in John 1:14 (the gospel according to John). Late Pastor Eugene Peterson describes it aptly as God "pitching a tent," a portable dwelling or shelter that allows God to journey step by step alongside creation. We find similar imagery in the Exodus desert account with evidence of God's presence in a cloud by day, fire by night, in the portable ark of the covenant the people carried with them.