Weekly Meditation: 1st May 2016
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
If we read the context of the passage in Revelation in today’s lectionary, the picture that the writer gives us of the New Jerusalem/heaven/eternal life is complicated and disturbingly unfamiliar in some respects –gates made from a single pearl, streets of gold, foundations of precious stones (21:19-21). I once heard a sermon based on the speaker’s own experience – so he claimed – of spending half an hour in heaven, following a traffic accident. He too recalled pearly gates and golden streets and all the people he saw appeared to have been Botoxed to the gills. It sounded completely alien and made me feel depressed. “If that’s what it’ll be like, I’m not going”, I whispered to my husband. “Nor am I”, he whispered back. It does not seem likely that the description in Revelation is to be taken literally. Revelation is full of imagery, some of it very strange indeed. Amidst all the figurative language, though, are some wonderful promises that we can truly believe.
First is the presence of Almighty God and his Son, “the Lamb”. They give light to all, to illuminate and guide, and there will be no darkness (21:23-34; 22:5). The means will be there “for the healing of the nations” (22:2), the gates will never be shut (21:25), we shall see God’s face (22:4), and we shall reign with him “for ever and ever” (22:5). These words summarise God’s purpose in sending Jesus into our world. He came to bring the light of truth, to heal, strengthen and comfort, and to give us eternal life.
Our reading from Acts demonstrates Jesus’ redeeming work in action. The apostle Paul received a vision from the Lord, telling him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (16:9). Together with Luke and some others, he “got ready at once” (16:10) to take the gospel to that region. There they encountered a group of women, one of whom – Lydia – received their message with her heart wide open (16:14). Lydia was wealthy and influential, and she offered the missionaries hospitality at her house. More importantly, she and her household were baptised into the Christian faith (16:15). Later, Lydia was able to offer Paul and his companions further help and encouragement before they left to take their message elsewhere (16:40).
In John’s gospel we can see Jesus himself at work in the healing of a paralysed man. He had been ill for thirty-eight years (5:5), spending time by the pool of Bethesda in the hope of being cured. However – and we can probably all identify with him in this – it was never his turn, someone always went ahead of him, there was no one to help him, he always missed the opportunity (5:7). One can imagine his dashed hopes and his longing; one can also visualise Jesus’ compassion when he offered him healing (5:8).
Jesus came to change lives, both in the here and now, and in the there and then. Revelation gives us an image of not exactly how it will be, but of the future scope of eternal life, and of the certainty of salvation. Long before Jesus walked on our earth, the writer of Psalm 67 caught a glimpse of God’s graciousness. Echoing the words that the Lord himself gave to Moses (Numbers 6:24-25), he – like the author of Revelation – speaks of God’s face shining upon his people and providing guidance for the nations (67:2), and he foresees a time when “all the ends of the earth will fear” their maker (67:7). When we speak of heaven, although the details may elude us, what we are truly envisaging is, as Revelation hints at, a future spent in God’s presence, of peace and of complete healing from all hurts of this life.
By Susan Thorne