Revelation 21.1-7: A talk for a service of thanksgiving and remembrance for those who have died.

Revelation 21.1-7

It has not been an easy year for many people.

COVID is not a good way to die 

People are separated from those that they love

And several of you have lost those that you have loved – and not necessarily from COVID – but you were not able to go where they were when they were sick, and have not been able to go to funerals or memorial services.

I received an email a few days ago from someone telling me about her husband. He went into a residential home at the end of last year because he had advanced Alzheimer’s. His wife has been prevented from going to see him since April, and he would daily ask, ‘When am I allowed to see my wife’. He died earlier this month, not from COVID but, she wrote, ‘a broken heart’, without having been able to see her.

And at times like this, it is hard and painful, and maybe we feel guilty, because we are far away from members of our family

And it is also easy – especially when we have been touched by death – to become discouraged and to think, ‘What is it all about?’, ‘Is this what life and love comes to?’

Our reading from Revelation 21 enables us to lift our eyes up and glimpse a different world: it is a reminder of our hope

It is picture language: how do we describe a reality that is beyond, that is bigger than space and time?

But I notice several things about our future hope 

1. It is new but it is linked to the old.

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (v1)

We are not speaking of people playing harps on clouds, but a transformed – transfigured heaven and earth.

What do I mean by transfigured? Well on one occasion some of the first followers of Jesus saw him transfigured: he became radiant, shining as dazzling light: it was him, but him as they had never seen him. There is continuity and difference. There is what is old but also what is radically new.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul responds to a question that someone has put to him: ‘What kind of bodies will we have in the new heaven and earth’. And Paul replies (and this is my very loose paraphrase), ‘That is a bit of a foolish question. When we discuss what sort of bodies we will have, it is a bit like two acorns deep underground discussing what it will be like to be an oak tree’.

We can’t even begin to understand what it will be like:

I’m sure we will be able to recognize places and people

- think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection of Jesus. They did not at first recognize him, but then their eyes were opened.

- and it is interesting that John calls the heavenly city the new Jerusalem: there is continuity, but everything will be radically transformed

“See”, says Jesus, “ am making all things new” (v5)

2. It is about glory

“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (v2)

It is a picture of the people of God, you and me, as a bride on her wedding day

When I was in the UK, I was vicar of one of the physically largest churches in the country. And we were very popular for weddings. We even had a celebrity wedding – and I have a photo in the middle of an edition of Hello magazine! I would like to say that it was because of me, but actually they came to us because the brides wanted to walk down that long 40 metre aisle.

I remember very clearly one wedding. I met with the couple on two or three occasions and each time she appeared quite plain and a bit tomboyish.

The wedding day came, and I used to encourage the groom to turn round and to look at the bride coming down the aisle. Well when she came into the church, she was stunning. And when he turned round, and saw her, he physically shook and I saw the tears in his eyes.

My friends, in heaven, if and when we choose to turn and look on Christ, we will be radiant, glorious – like a bride on her wedding day.

It is a picture that speaks to us of anticipation and hope, of love and purity, of intimacy and new beginnings, of beauty and glory

CS Lewis writes, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses – to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror or corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare”. He goes on to say, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal – they are immortal horrors or everlasting splendours”

3. It is about intimacy

“God will dwell with mortals. He will dwell with them: they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (v3)

In the Old Testament God chooses the descendants of Abraham to be his chosen people. He says “I will be your God, and you will be my people”

Now, after Jesus, that promise is extended to all peoples. It includes us.

It means that we can know God.

We trust him and his promises that we belong to him, that because he died for us we are forgiven, that we can be his children, that he is with us. Maybe there are even moments when we experience that, when we have glimpses of heaven.

Here we live by faith.

But there, on that day, we will see him. He will be with us and we will be with him.

And there is that precious line: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” (v4).

He will be to us like a parent who picks up a child who has fallen over, and he will say, ‘It is OK. I know. I know what you have been through, what you have suffered, what you have endured. It is over now. I am here’. And he will wipe away our tears.

4. It is about life

“Death will be no more”

There will be no more fear of death, fear of non-being, of condemnation or of futility.

And there will be no more death: no more abandonment, no more separation from those we love.

Earlier on in the book of Revelation, the writer, John, has a vision of Jesus in glory.

It knocks him flat – literally: he falls down as if dead at Jesus’ feet.

And Jesus, who was crucified, who died, who rose from the dead and who now reigns in glory, touches him and says, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever: and I have the keys of Death and Hades”.

When Jesus died on the cross, it looked as if death had won.

Maybe you could say that his legacy lived on in his disciples in his teachings and in his influence. But if Jesus had remained in the tomb, there would come a time when his disciples and his teaching and his influence would be completely forgotten. If Jesus had remained in the tomb, then Death wins.

But our conviction as Christians is that he did not remain in the grave. He rose from the dead. And he won the victory over death.

Death does not win. Love wins. He wins.

This is our hope.

This is our hope for ourselves.

And, however far away they were, however long ago that they died, this is our hope for those we have loved and lost


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