City of peace

1 May 2016
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter 6C (RCL)
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5
John 14:23-29

A very rich set of readings. John’s vision of the new Jerusalem is one of the most sparkling in biblical literature, and bears allusions to much of the rest of the biblical story. One almost wonders if the author knew he were writing what would become the closing chapters of the bible. The bible opens in a garden, from which humanity is expelled, and prevented from eating of the fruit of the tree of life. Here in this last vision, the tree of life grows freely in the new city, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. With this at the end of the bible, the point is being made that salvation is not a simple return to the innocence of the garden, but that human cultural endeavor participates in God’s economy of salvation.

A river flows from the garden, and now flows from the throne down the street of the city. This is like no city we have ever known, for the water sparkles bright as crystal (imagine being able to drink the water in the gutters). Also, interestingly, the spirit takes John to a high mountain from whence he watches the city come down from heaven. Moses looked over into the promised land, which he would never enter, from the top of Mount Nebo. I believe the author is suggesting to us that we may never enter that city, but that it is the reality God intends and stands in judgment against all the cities we have ever built.

The passage from John’s Gospel is Jesus’ answer to Judas’ (not Iscariot) question how it has happened that Jesus will reveal himself to his disciples but not to the world. Jesus responds that whoever loves Jesus and keeps his word, Jesus and the Father will come and make their “dwelling” with that one. The word translated dwelling is mone, which I have translated elsewhere as “truck stop.” It is based on the same root as the verb meno, which means “remain.” When the first two disciples follow Jesus, he turns to see them and asks, “What do you seek?” They reply, “Rabbi, where do you remain?” He answers, “Come and see.” That word, menein, becomes one of the major themes of the Gospel. Mone means a remaining, a staying, or more concretely a way station. When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many dwellings,” it is this same word: In my Father’s house are many way stations.”

John imagines the Christian community as the new people on the desert way. Jesus’ first instruction is “Come and see,” and after his resurrection, he tells Mary not to hold on to him, because he has not yet set out to the Father, but instructs her to go and tell the disciples that he is setting out for his God and our God, his Father and our Father. We are being invited to join him on the journey to God. And if we love him and treasure his words, he and the Father will come and make their way station with us, just as God tabernacled among the people in the desert.

Jesus has told us about this journey before it happens, so that when it does happen we may trust that it is in God’s purposes, and not be afraid or let our hearts be troubled. In this sense, the vision of the author of the Revelation fits perfectly: he sees the new city, and knows its reality, even though he never enters it. We know that this reality is not ultimate, even if we never enter the ultimate.

And shalom characterizes that ultimate reality. The author of the Revelation also alludes to the Isaianic vision of all the nations bringing their glory to Jerusalem no longer because of Jerusalem’s military might, but because of her teaching of peace. We are a long way from that city, but we know that is the real city and our cities stand under judgment — the judgment of hope — and we know that Jesus and the Father join us at our way stations on the journey to that city.

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