Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Every year at All Saints, I remember a telephone call I had a few years ago. It was with an old friend from my home town that I hadn’t seen for a while. After some time of becoming reacquainted, she asked, “How’s your brother Bruce doing? Didn’t he have leukemia?” There was an awkward silence. “Oh, I guess you didn’t hear. He passed away. He was 53 years old.” There was an awkward silence, and then she said, “I’m sorry to hear that. I didn’t know.”
I think about that conversation at this time of year, and the innocent question, “How’s he doing?” Of course I know the answer, and if I was more prepared, I would have rushed in with, “He’s doing great. He was a Christian all his life and he died trusting in Jesus Christ for eternal life. And he’s with Jesus even now enjoying God’s new heaven and new earth. That’s how great he’s doing?” But that’s not what I said or felt. Frankly, I felt more like the English author Charles Dickens who wrote, “And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!” My friends, in those painful times of life when death greats us, God offers you the wonder and comfort of his great eternity.
In the Book of Revelation, St. John of Patmos writes that God is opening a new heaven and a new earth of possibilities full of joy and peace, for all believers, if you will but lift your eyes. Granted, many Christians won’t even read Revelation because they’re frightened at what they will discover there. One older member I knew had read the Bible cover to cover twice, and confessed, that she hoped she would die before she reached Revelation a third time. Yes, there are some sobering and disturbing images in this book which written to depict the violent realities of life in the early Church. But it was also written to comfort Christians who were undergoing fierce persecution, suffering and loss.
In the closing chapters of Revelation, St. John offers a surprising image of the promised heaven In this book, people do not go up to heaven as most of us have been taught, but rather God’s new heaven and new earth comes down to us. “The new Jerusalem descends from heaven” and God makes a home with us.” It is a place where those we have loved hunger no more, neither do they thirst, nor does the sun strike them. Nor is there any danger there.
The portrayal of this new heaven and new earth is quite striking from the images of angels in heaven we have grown accustomed to. God himself is at the center of this new Jerusalem, seated on his throne, and saying, “See, I am making all things new.” God’s new creation is here to replace the old deadly, torn, angry, hurtful, and painful world. And in the process, you and I are invited to welcome what God longs to make new.
Unfortunately, it is hard to let go of the past and what once had been. You can accept that your loved one is in a better place in heaven, a place where there is no pain and their broken and weakened body has been made whole again, but it is hard for you to imagine that you will ever be in a better place here on earth again. Yes, when I was asked, how my brother was doing, I could have answered, “He’s doing great. In fact, he’s better than ever, and so am I. ” But I couldn’t say that. For those who are left behind, it is often impossible to believe that God can make anything good and new. That is why God’s word in Revelation is so important.
My friends, the promise of a “new heaven and new earth” should offer you a radiant image of resurrection and renewal. Never, does God say that you have to forget those you have loved and move on. Nor does he say that they were once important, but he has something better in store. No, instead, he promises simply and wonderfully to make all things new. God knows your weakness and your need, and from his limitless resources he will pour into your broken and parched life the comfort and healing and spiritual strength you need, so that truly all things can be made new.
It’s a favorite story of mine. There was an old man who everyday would take long walks with the Lord. On these walks, he and the Lord would talk about all kinds of things—about the important times in the old man’s life: when he met his wife, the birth of his children, special Christmases, etc. One day while they were out walking for an especially long time, the Lord looked at the old man and said, “We are closer to my house than we are to yours. Why don’t you just come home with me?” And that is what he did! The same was true for my brother, and no doubt for your loved ones as well. . In those last painful hours before death, he was closer to the Father’s heavenly home, than he was to his own.
Life is uncertain and death is inevitable for us all. That’s the bad news. But listen to the good news: we’re not alone, and death is not the end! Lift up your eyes and see the New Jerusalem and see the possibilities of a God who is wanting to make all things new for you here, and even greater for you in the world and heaven yet to come.
My brother? You ask. He’s doing great- and so am I. For truly, God is making all things new. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.