Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6
In June of 1918, the US Marines fought what up that point in their storied history was their toughest battle. While Iwo Jima in WWII would eventually replace it as the Marines’ deadliest battle, the battle of Bellau Woods was a tough fight with a lot of casualties. Over the course of the month, the marines had to go over the top multiple times to push the Germans further and further back until they were able to completely take the woods. In the initial offensive the marines had to cross a no-man’s land full of waist high grass. This made it impossible to see what exactly they were running into. Understandably a lot of the men were hesitant to charge forward, but first sergeant Daniel Daly, a two time Medal of Honor recipient, was able to rally them forward when he famously shouted “Come on- do you want to live forever?”
It is kind of an odd question, because for a lot of people the answer is “yes”. Daly’s question is a question that reminds us of our mortality, because we know that even if the answer is “yes” it also is not going to happen. This is why for the warriors, Daly’s question inspired them to push forward. If living forever is not a possibility, then they might as well face whatever is coming with bravery. Unfortunately, a lot of young men did die in those woods and while it was a victory it was a costly one. One of the inevitable realities of life is that we will all face death. No matter how good modern medicine gets, no matter how many times God answers our prayers for miraculous healing, there will be a time when we draw our last breath and our soul departs. Even though we know this is inevitable, for those who follow Jesus it is not a reason to despair. One of the promises of our faith one of the great hopes that we hold to is that death has no victory, the grave no longer has a sting. We believe that because He lives we can face tomorrow. This is true even if tomorrow brings death because for Christians death is not the end. It is not a period, simply a comma. On this day as we remember those who have gone before us, we celebrate that because of Jesus- the alpha and the omega- we do live, new forever in a world without end.
Revelation can be a tricky book of the bible to discuss, especially with any amount of brevity or succinctness. This is because the interpretations on the book are so wildly different. On one side you have people who understand Revelation to be a prophetic book that foretells future events still unfolding before us, while on the other side there are people who understand the book to be an example of apocalyptic literature and all of the events included are references to happenings in the first century. It can be easy to get lost in the weeds parsing out the differences or arguing the value of understanding Revelation to be the recording of a literal divine vision or poetic allegory. Fortunately, this morning’s scripture is able to rise above most of the controversy that normally surrounds the book. No matter how one personally understands and interprets the book of Revelation the message of this scripture is the same.
This morning’s scripture lays out a vision for God’s end game. Reading this morning’s scripture is a bit like sneaking a peak at the last page of a novel just to make sure everyone makes it to the end. During his ministry Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God, and this morning’s scripture describes what the kingdom looks like fully realized: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
The kingdom of God fully realized will be a place where there will be no more tears because there will be no more death, mourning, or pain. This is because the fully realized kingdom of God is the total redemption of all creation. The curse of sin, the fallen nature of the world, has been fully healed. Creation will be restored to how it was meant to be, perfect where we are in full, unfiltered relationship with the creator who loves us and cherishes us. As this morning’s scripture reminds us this new reality is possible and is ushered in because of Jesus. This is why for Christians death should always be a mixture of grief and celebration.
Our grief at the loss of a loved one is genuine and important. It needs to be felt because in our grief we acknowledge and mourn our loss. Often what we are mourning is lost time, we are mourning memories that will not be made, and we are mourning the loss of our loved ones presence in our daily lives. It does not matter if the loss was recent, a year ago, or years ago that mourning and that grief is valid. At the same time though, our grief should not be a reason for despair, defeat, or hopelessness because for those who are in Christ Jesus we do live forever and we will be reunited one day in a world without end.
While that is the future we fully anticipate, we need to not get carried away with looking to that future. This world now is not just a waiting room for heaven, and we are called to do much more than longingly wait our turn. We absolutely believe that there is a day when Jesus will come back, when he will judge the living and the dead, and that God’s heavenly kingdom will be established over a new heaven and a new earth forever and ever. However, if wishing that day would come sooner than later becomes the most important aspect of our faith, then things are a bit out of balance. We need to be cautious of Christian escapism. This is where instead of engaging a broken, fallen, and scary world we look instead to the future when Jesus comes back. Christian escapism leads to the major focus of our life being just waiting for the day Jesus comes back or calls us home, because we would rather escape this world then love it. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to make disciples of all the nations. If our focus is on escaping to a more prefect future then we are not truly following Jesus because we are not keeping his commands
This morning’s scripture tells of a day when God’s kingdom is fully realized, when God makes his dwelling with his people. That day is not yet, but Jesus has already won the victory, death has already been defeated and the messiah already offers the water of life to the thirsty. We live in a time in between, the kingdom of God has come but it has not yet been fully realized. The kingdom of God both is and is yet to come. As followers of Christ we will have eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom so there is no reason why we cannot begin living out that eternal life in the here and now. Looking towards this morning’s scripture for inspiration, there are two key ways that we can begin living kingdom life now.
The first way comes from verse 3, “They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God.” The first way that we can live out the kingdom of God more fully in the present is almost so basic that we can take it for granted. We need to live as if we are God’s people and he is our God. When a major international sporting event comes around like the Olympics or the World Cup, it is very easy to tell who belongs to which country. People clothe themselves from head to head in the colors of their country. It is very easy to tell who belongs where. In the same way, the way that we live our lives should make it obvious that we are God’s people. This does not mean that people know we are Christians by the T-shirts we wear, but they know we are Christians by the way that we love others, show mercy, display forgiveness, and walk humbly with God. We should live authentic lives so that in everything we do, wherever we are we stand out and can be easily identified as God’s people. We should be a people who are quick to share the good news. When we live as God’s people and we live that way authentically, then the good news becomes good. People stop trying to figure out what the catch is, the stop trying to figure out what our sale pitch, or when the other shoe is going to drop. When we authentically follow God we display the good news lived out. We give a glimpse of the more realized kingdom of God where we are his people and he is our God. By living as God’s here and now, this day and every day we help make the kingdom a reality.
The second way comes from verse 4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” A survey of this last week’s (or any week’s really) headlines will show that we live in a world that is full of pain, full of crying, full of heartbreak, and full of death. This way of things has not yet passed away. It is naive to think that there is anything that we can do as individuals to change this. The systemic systems of violence, bigotry, and hatred are too strong for any one person to tear down. However, that does mean we do nothing. As much as we can we can seek to bring about this aspect of God’s kingdom a present reality. We cannot wipe away all of the tears, but we can certainly be a comforting presence for those we know in pain. We cannot right every wrong, but we can seek to do what is right in our community. We cannot single handily end crying or pain or wipe away all of the tears, but we can do it for some. We cannot single handily change the world, but by God’s grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit we can change a person’s life. We can make an eternal difference in the life of one person, and for that one it matters. The kingdom of God is not measured by square miles, it is measured by changed lives, and every time we can show compassion, every time we can bring peace, every time we can love unconditionally we bring about the Kingdom of God on this earth.
This morning’s scripture gives us a glimpse of what God’s heavenly kingdom will be like. None of us quite know what it will be like in God’s eternal kingdom, but I like how C.S. Lewis puts in the Chronicles of Narnia. In the book the Last Battle, the main characters who begun as children, die and go to heaven. This is how Lewis describes it: “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning . . .And for us [the readers] this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: Which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
On this day we remember and celebrate those from this church that have begun the great adventure in the story that goes and keeps getting better and better. There will be a day when God’s kingdom is fully realized and we can celebrate that, yes we will live forever. Until that day though may we embody the good news of Jesus Christ and may we comfort those who are in pain. May we live into the truth that the Kingdom of God is both here and is still to come. May we live so that our lives proclaim “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, Amen.”