the penultimate WORD
for Lent - See, I am making all things new

"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 be with them;
he 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."
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
"See, I am making all things new."              REVELATION 21: 3ff.

You know the genre of humour that is built on the good news-bad news formula.  The story teller generally begins, "First, the good news." and we are told a simple story that is characteristically good news.  "Now, for the bad news." the story teller continues, and we are struck with the ironic negation of the good news that went before.  We are shocked by the resolution of the story and the awkwardness in which we find ourselves.  We laugh, but our laughter is only on the surface.  We cloak our fear in laughter and we feel protected and secure.  It's not unlike whistling in the dark, walking in unexplored places.

For all that, we want to hear the bad news.  The good news is not enough; it is never enough!  To satisfy our taste for bad news, we want to hear it.  Our hunger is insatiable.

I have known for a long time that our interest in the Book of Revelation extends to the bad news that we have heard about and that we want to hear again.  The role of the gospel of Jesus the Victor is lost.  The jaded reader is more intrigued by the coded metaphors and frightening images than by the unambiguous good news that is trumpeted throughout the writings of John.

As Anglicans, we engage the scriptures publicly, corporately and liturgically.  Since Easter, we have engaged passages from the Book of Revelation.  These passages have provided us with an opportunity to hear words of encouragement, of hope and of redemption.  We have studied these scriptures in my parish in home groupings.  We have learned a great deal, sharing our insights, our experience.  But we have had to struggle with it every week.

Inevitably a lake of sulphurous fire was more interesting than a river simply flowing with the water of life.  It was a temptation to be fought: being distracted by the spectacular and extraordinary.  The colourful arrests our attention and we risk not seeing the hope that John heralds.

Let me illustrate.  John tells us, "God will wipe every tear from their eyes."  And he then goes on: "Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

Up until recently I read the passage narrowly, applying it with the exclusive strictures of mortality.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes," John writes.  Not simply each and every one of our tears, but each and every kind of tear that streaks our cheeks and wets our pillows.  Tears of sorrow will be wiped away as will tears of shame.  Tears of anger, bitter tears will be wiped away.  Tears pleading for justice ignored and tears anguishing over disappointment and regret. They will all be wiped away.

We shed tears of every sort -- they need to be allowed.  As we allow the saltiness of our tears, we allow God to touch our lives precisely where we need his comforting assurance.

"Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away," we read.  And on the surface, it appears clear enough that our greatest dread, our greatest fear, Death is overcome.  I've read it that way a long time.  It's become clear to me that I've limited both myself as well as the scriptural account with my narrow focus.  It occurred to me that I might better understand the breadth and width and height of this passage by reading it backwards.  I don't mean that it be read in some sort of dyslectic pattern.  I mean that we simply read it in the reverse order: that there will be no more pain, that there will be no more tears, no more mourning or sorrow and that death will be no more.

Every kind of death will be no more: the various deaths experienced and expressed in our tears.

We have all experienced pain and many of us have found pain difficult to endure.  Our emotional endurance varies from one person to another, as does our spiritual endurance.  Our pain wells up and overflows in tears, sometimes openly expressed and at other times, hidden and private.  Each pain, washed with tears inevitably reveals the numerous losses that visit us: disease, unemployment, divorce, retirement, limitations attributed to age.  Lost friendships mourned will be made new.

Aspects of our lives have demanded endurance and faithfulness and are somehow more difficult for us to acknowledge and accept than are those anticipated fears that lie ahead of us.  The tears that we have shed are ignored, repressed as we peek over the horizon to see what's coming.

The good news is clear enough to me -- and I hope that it's clear to you -- and it needs to be proclaimed:  "See I am making all things new!"  In its specifics, you and I are being made new.  Beyond that, redeemed disappointment is made new. Diminished esteem is redeemed.  Estranged relationships are restored.  Every tear is wiped away; no pain is ignored, neglected or unnoticed and every mourning is made new.

That's Easter recognition worth reclaiming.

Copyright 2001 James T. Irvine

Series 2001

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton

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