29 Apr “Our God Has Made Things New” (Read)
Rev. John C. Brink
April 29, 2018
Will you pray with me…
As we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, as we hold the MEMORY of the BOSTON MARATHON tragedy from 2013, our lives are connected in so many different ways. These memories are heavy and heartbreaking. As I considered scriptures for today, I was struck by the memory of my first real connection to Revelation and all of the visually intriguing images John creates in this epistle.
Vera Dewar, a longtime member of Dennis Union Church, on the Cape, my first call to ministry, was 100 years old when I met her. We met a few more times as she declined. One day she insisted we read Revelation, and this passage, as she was sure her time was limited and she needed to be ready for her New Jerusalem. She was right about her timing. She was ready.
She questioned whether the images presented were ones of God or Jesus or other Saints of the Bible. She wondered if the images were real and proven, as she said. She was ready to find out. She said she’d let me know.
Vera also said she didn’t want a big memorial service, with lots of talking and such. She said she was a quiet, sort of private person and didn’t like a lot of fanfare. Well….Vera is buried in Mt Auburn Cemetery in Boston…just down the way from Harvard University.
She is buried within about 50 feet or so of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Winslow Homer, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Bernard Malamud. I do believe she is chatting up those boys with her great, grounded questions of Theology and Literature. Thank you, Vera, for the time you spent showing me the beauty of a gentle loving nature prepared to travel to the New Jerusalem to be with God. Vera had this scripture down right…..she was comfortable that she, and all of us, will be made new in some way, with the details left to God.
We’re fortunate that love comes to us indifferent ways: in our parents, sisters and brothers, children, grandchildren and our pets as well. If you have ever lost a beloved pet, you know the kind of anguished emptiness the end brings. Our family lost a beloved dog recently, hit by car in front of our house, as Betsy’s sister and her husband were visiting with us. Riley was a sweet and lively pet to Tracey and Bob, rescued from a kill center in South Carolina a couple of years ago. As she was dying in the street, Bob laid down by her, gently stroking her fur and hugging her, sad that this was the end. Riley was a family member, with great spirit and affection for all she saw and knew.
Tracey and Bob especially enjoyed her company in these empty nest years. Their house is empty again, now that Riley is gone. So are their hearts, at least for now. They will heal slowly, and they will welcome a new coveted friend to their lives when they are ready. NOW THEY HAVE A BALCK LAB….HOBIE..
But we know there is more
Why do we love them so, these vibrant creatures who become so much a part of our lives, when we know they’re going to die? Why do we voluntarily subject ourselves to the anguish of losing them? After all, as some people say….they’re only animals – right?
Why do we love one another so, when we know we’re going to die? More to the point, why does God love us so…we ask ourselves again and again?
Part of the answer to these questions may be found in our Gospel lesson for today: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Coming as they do in the midst of John’s report of Jesus’ last hours with his disciples, these instructions carry special meaning for us. Not quite deathbed instructions, they nonetheless are a marker, a signpost, pointing toward where Jesus wants his followers to go. He has shown them the transforming power of love by washing their feet. Now, Jesus’ words spur them on: Go and do likewise. Love one another as I have loved you. Is this just a symbol…or more?
Part of the answer, too, is in the nature of love itself, as shown throughout so many familiar scriptures. Love that created us in God’s image; love that offered the first human being the chance to name the animals; love that brought God’s only Son to earth, to live and die as one of us; love that raised God’s Son from death and promises to raise us, as well.
Painful as lost love can be, especially when it ends in death, isn’t this love a gift, wherever and whenever we can find it and accept it? I often find myself professing this value of Love in a memorial service. Take heart, we have been loved so deeply….it changes from physical presence to a spiritual presence we know is real. Love is the greatest gift we have and what do we do….we give it away to another…so of course we are broken when the loved one dies.
The season of Easter shows us that love’s redeeming work is physically and spiritually successful – love shown to us in Jesus, love that triumphs over death. This love is not cheap, but comes at a cost: the cost of spending 40 days in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan; the cost of setting His face to go to Jerusalem, waiting to be killed; the cost of losing this life, in order to find new life, resurrection life. What is our journey? A marathon……not a sprint.
Sometimes the best love of all is given to us by small, but treasured creatures like Riley, who reflect the love of God in our lives. Sometimes the best love of all is what we offer them in return. Sometimes the best love of all is the love that connects us with one another – love that, whether given or received, transforms us, makes us into different people. I see this in you folks here at PC, in so many ways.
Just this month, 5 years ago…my wife Betsy attended the funeral of Krystle Campbell, who died in the Boston Marathon tragedy. Krystle’s mother Patty works with Betsy at Harvard Business School. Krystle’s service was amazing. In the midst of the worst pain and inevitable emptiness, Krystle’s family was encouraged by the pastor to see that while life had changed dramatically for them, Krystle’s life is not over, but changed. She was now in a different place with God, in the New Jerusalem.
Krystle’s family is not ready to say she’s in a better place – for them, a better place would be here with them, doing God’s work among us. But they know in their hearts, from love of 29 years, that they would move on with Krystle in their hearts. In the midst of their pain, they try to realize the beauty of Krystle’s place at the right hand of God. This wonderful and wounded family is the embodiment of both scriptures this morning.
They love one another as Jesus loves us, and they are trying as best they can to imagine a New Jerusalem for Krystle.
At Krystle’s Service, they read this scripture from Revelation. I hope they found some comfort in it and in the promise it holds of no more death, no more mourning, no more tears of pain, more of joy. In this scripture we are reminded that the story of God’s Creation isn’t over yet. There is more to come and it will be beautiful.
Yes, sometimes things are difficult here as we live somewhere between the lovely Garden of Eden and the beautiful, shinning New City. If we can do it, we can see this text provides a vision of where we are all going, and it helps our sometimes wobbly spiritual imaginations which often fall short of envisioning God’s Plan and Words.
Jesus neither required nor promoted perfection. He asked us to join Him in His blessing for all of humanity. For there is only really one commandment that will inform all the days and events and relationships of our lives. If we start with this call to love as Jesus loves…….we will have a clearer vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. For if God has made all things new….what will it take for us to hear, absorb and trust to act on these words…….I think we know the answer…..