John’s Revelation was a direct message to the seven churches and all Christians who were being persecuted that God was with them and God was more powerful than the principalities that were currently making their lives difficult and painful. Revelation is a vision of a new day, a new reality, heaven and earth coming together. it reminds me that we have, very likely, focused too much of our attention on heaven in the Christian past; the mentality that life is simply to be endured and, because life is so unsatisfying, we must look to the next life for our only comfort and hope. The Gnostics, among others, actually believed that the human body was corrupt and the spirit was longing to break free from the body and soar heavenward, away from the rottenness of this earth-bound body. Gnosticism seemed to hold that Jesus really never occupied a human body; it was a trick of God to make Jesus accessible but he was never more than Spirit (and some hold that John’s Gospel shares this view; I strongly disagree). Gnostics were rightly considered heretics as it is the body and blood of Jesus that liberates us, the humanity of Jesus, as well as the divinity. We are called into the liberated life of Jesus now, to enjoy its blessings now, to see God for who God truly is, now, not later, but now. Heaven is a reality, another reality – it will take care of itself as we embrace God’s healing power among us – the new heaven and new earth – today.
Jesus did leave his body by and took up a new reality after His resurrection, ultimately. But His new reality for us – where heaven and earth merge in this world - is clothed in love, made real and holy to us humans by the loving reality of Christ’s never-ending presence. When the Body deserts us, leaves us, fails us, love never will. As Paul famously says in 1 Corinthians 13: love never comes to an end. the kind of love that Jesus loved with, sacrificed with, healed with, saves with, is a balm that never ends.
There is that old, terribly corny song that sings, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing there’s too little of ....” Truer now than when those words were written, Jesus proclaims that the most certain way that we become connected to the risen One is by our love. If we cannot love, will not love, then it is not possible to become a disciple of Jesus. Unless we know love, we cannot share it either. Opening our hearts up to the possibilities of love is a never-ending task.
I spent part of this last week in NC with my family. That is love, yes? But I went at this particular time to officiate the wedding of a dear, old friend of mine from college days. The marriage was her third; yes, some may think, wow! But she has had a tough go of it. Her first husband left her with a baby daughter, never to be seen or heard from again. Her second husband, with whom she had a daughter, abused the daughter from her first relationship and ended up going to prison. The daughter involved and my friend went through a terrible ordeal that took many years to sort out. My friend, the daughter of missionaries, is a woman of deep faith. She spent a long time being angry at God; I am not certain she still isn’t, a little. But she never gave up hope that God was a God of love, a God of promise. Her eldest daughter is now married and has a son of her own; my friend is a delighted grandmother and they have all come very far.
Last year, my friend fell in love with a man who had lost his wife of more than 30 years to cancer. The two of them forged a bond based on the reality of God’s presence and abiding grace and love. At the beginning of their marriage service the words were prayed: “Gracious God who gives us the longing for love and the capacity for loving ...” I have mulled over the words and they have come to mean a great deal to me. We live in the shadow of an incredibly loving and merciful God. It is certainly understandable why we become so impatient with life and all its many challenges. Life slams us in the gut over and over and not only do we wonder where is God, but why is God ... why is God so detached from our lives.
See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples; and God himself will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away...See I am making all things new.”
We may struggle with this as a present reality but God, in Christ, has already conquered all things. God has given us an endless capacity to give and receive love. Earth is a finite reality that was never intended to be perfect. The only perfect reality is God capacity to love in Christ Jesus – and His offer for us to receive and give that love. Once in human hands, all things become finite and rather difficult. But that does not change the nature of Christ’s love and our call to love, struggle to find the patience to love the difficult and loveless, and to constantly remember that all is made new, each day, in all ways, through the love of Jesus.
Our great challenge is to not lose hope. To share the love that it in us, as disciples of Jesus, with those around us who need it. God calls us to love freely and the world tells us to be careful, to hold back, to be wary in a dangerous and often cold and unforgiving world. Love begins at home, with our beloved families, even if some there challenge us. Love is something we are called to foster in Christian community and then strengthened and emboldened, we share with the world. If Christ is love, and we are called to share and receive love, then we are sharing and receiving Christ, the great gift that heals, saves, and renews any time we extend ourselves in love. Even when life batters us, our great hope is in the power of God’s love that never leaves, never fails - our greatest weapon and strength, now, today.