This has been a long, slow spring for us here in New Jersey.
The flowers and trees have blossomed in a more sedate way that what we have become used to, and people have been slow to set out their deck or patio furniture – not quite ready to commit to making the shift towards more outdoor living that comes with the advance towards summer. As it turns out, this year spring and the Easter season have coincided beautifully. As Easter unfolds week by week, and we celebrate Christ’s resurrection in many ways and from many different angles, the spring weather has brought some new growth or development each week, almost to keep pace with our spiritual and liturgical season.
We are really very blessed in this, because in much warmer climates one doesn’t get that same dramatic transformation of the natural world from the barrenness of winter to the abundance of spring. And in the southern hemisphere it is autumn, facing into winter – but it is Easter, nevertheless. But here in New Jersey – at least this year – the natural world and our spiritual season have been developing in sync with one another.
In the reading from the Book of Revelation this morning we hear the imagery of John’s wonderful vision of the world’s future in God’s hands: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”
Making all things new… this is what God does through Jesus’ resurrection, this is the meaning of Easter – that all things, all people will be made new after the pattern of God’s purpose and intention for us.
Just to be clear – there is a lot about the Book of Revelation that is confusing, hard to understand, even a little frightening as dreams often are. It grew out of a time when the then-Roman emperor Diocletian had renewed the penalty for subjects of the Empire who did not practice the Roman state religion, and who were not willing to publicly acknowledge the Emperor’s claim to also be divine. Jews and Christians both were harassed and imprisoned, and John – a Christian leader – was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he had the vision or visions that became the Book of Revelation. It was written to encourage Christians that the power, pomp and cruelty of the Empire would not have the last word, but that God really was (and is) in charge of the world, despite all appearances. One thing the Book of Revelation is not: a play-by-play plan for the end of the world.
Instead, the imagery John uses describes humankind and all creation as a beautiful, harmonious and well-ordered city where Christ is at the center; where the nations come to be blessed; where there is no sorrow, pain, crying or death; where all is made new by the power and abundance of Christ’s life and love. It’s a poetic vision, a powerful vision: the Roman imperial forces had the power to regulate and control the people of the Empire, but they in no way had the power to renew all of life – only God could do that.
This vision is still true for us today.
The world we live in makes all kinds of claims and promises for itself: medical, legal, political, financial – but it is God who has the ultimate authority, and the power to transform hearts, minds, lives, and the whole created order. And the power that God exercises in making all things new, the power Jesus commands us to use, is the power of love.
God’s love, of course, is not a feeling or an emotion; it is not romantic love or friendship or family love – although they all have their roots in God’s love. Instead, God’s love is all about taking action, like Jesus’ washing Judas’ feet at the Last Supper (from which today’s Gospel passage was taken), washing Judas’ feet even though Jesus knew that Judas would very shortly be slipping out into the night to betray him for mere cash.
God’s love took action when Jesus gave himself up to death on the Cross for us; there is a saying that goes like this: “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much.’ Then He stretched out His arms and died.” He did this to open a way through sin and death and destruction for us, so that we may be made new, and have abundant life. And this is the love that Jesus calls us to have for one another – as Christians, as Jesus’ followers.
Jesus said: “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.”
This is the love that heals us, renews, restores us, makes us whole, prepares a place for us. God’s love brings heaven down to earth, where the home of God is among mortals, and God’s love bids us to tend and care for the people and the world God has made. God calls us and invites us and commands us to be his partners in making God’s love a reality in the world, a reality in the lives of children and women and men who need to know that before anything else – they are loved, cherished by the Author of Life and the Creator of the Universe.
In this Easter season as we reflect upon all the ways that Jesus showed God’s love by dying for us and rising to new life – death and resurrection - we must remember that God’s love is not for us alone, not for our church, not for our families. God’s love, and his purposes of new life, are for everyone – and Jesus calls us to share in that work of loving and healing and transforming as the Holy Spirit directs us.
So this week, as you go forth into the world, to work or neighborhood or school or home – how will you love others? How will your love and presence touch someone else? How will God, through you, begin to transform another’s life? How can you keep this new commandment – and how can we as a parish keep it in such a way that we will be known to others by the love we keep?
These are all questions to ponder and pray about. They are questions to take with you on your commute. They are questions to discuss at the dinner table. But they all have the same root: How is God making you new through the power of his love, and how are you going to share that love with others so that they may be renews as well? Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 28, 2013