A new heaven and a new earth

Preached by Brenda Holden on 4 November 2018: All Saints
Psalm 24:1-6; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

The clocks in the UK have gone back one hour and we have to adjust to the daytimes that will become increasingly shorter and darker – time for thinking ahead to warmer sunny days- our holidays when we might possibly visit islands in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece. The writer of Revelation was on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, but he wasn’t there for a holiday – he was there as an exile. He had been forced to be there either by choice to escape, or by the authorities who wanted him out of the way. He might be in the sunshine, but spiritually he was aware of the darkness around him.

While on the island he had visions – some of them seem very strange to us. The one we heard about in our first reading seems to hit the spot for where we are in our world today. It was a vision of a new heaven and a new earth looking forward to a time of order and stability in creation. In the absence of the chaos of the sea, God’s ownership and Lordship over creation is finally asserted once and for all and the damage wrought on creation by humanity is undone. This new creation is a renewal of that which has been damaged. Creation ends where it began as the perfectly restored work of the one who is both the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end.

The damaged creation is something that we cannot fail to be aware of today. The news items about global warming, the pollution of our land, our sea and our air have at long last entered the realm of our popular media – for some of us who were scientists and attended university in the early 1970’s we have been all too well aware of the damage mankind has been inflicting on God’s creation over the last 40-50 years – detailed research has been ongoing, but it has been politically silenced. We should be truly grateful for the incredible book ‘Silent Spring’ written by Rachel Carson that was published at the end of the 1960s that halted the exponential use of pesticides –without that book our springs and summers by now would indeed be silent without the sound of insects and birdsong!

What the writer of Revelation is saying is that there is hope – God is in charge. On the island, reflecting on the chaos of sporadic persecutions of Christians by the Roman authorities, he was having a vision that death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

God is saying, ’See I am making all things new’!

What, you might be thinking has this got to do with the Christian Festival of All Saints that we are celebrating today?

Saints are those who are to come into God’s presence. In fact, in the New Testament, saints are the community of believers who share a faith in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Everyone has the qualifications to become a saint – we don’t have to own a halo and be pictured in a stained glass window!

Fortunately for all of us – we are all welcomed into God’s presence. Many of those who by worldly judgement were thought to be unqualified in Jesus’ time eg the tax collectors and sinners were deemed worthy, perhaps more worthy than the religious dignitaries of the day.

In fact, the Gospel reading chosen for today does not highlight someone whom we would necessarily regard as a saint in the usual sense. Lazarus, as a young man in the household of Martha and Mary, was not considered to be the head of the family as we would expect. Lazarus, who was loved by his sisters and by Jesus, had died and was bound in his grave clothes in his tomb, but he was given life as a free gift from God.

We, like Lazarus, as Christ’s disciples, are called to emerge from our former lives to enter God’s new creation and join in the worship in God’s presence.

This brings us to the Psalm we heard this morning – it also was about ‘Who is qualified to come into God’s presence – who is a saint who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

We are invited to join the singers of the Psalm. They are gathering – coming from far and near like a football crowd merging together towards St. Mary’s stadium to watch the Saints play. We are here to worship the King of Glory. We are all welcome to join the multitude of the saints in the new heaven and the new earth. Amen