Sermon Easter 6
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Rivers are important to us. We all live near a river. Most cities are built near rivers. Grand Island is on the Platte River. Omaha is on the Missouri.
Last year we were all concerned when we could see more sand than water in these rivers. People were even driving their trucks over the riverbeds. This year, we are more hopeful since there has been more rain in the last few weeks. But, we are still praying that the drought will be over.
Our second reading today helps us connect the rivers that run through our lives with John’s vision of the Holy City, also known as Zion, or the new Jerusalem. John uses beautiful pictures to help us imagine the glory of God. In his vision, one of the angels carries him to the top of a high mountain to show him the holy city coming out of heaven from God.
When we go on vacations, we like to see the sights of the city. We can see the tall buildings and the bright lights of New York. We watch for the Statue of Liberty in the Harbor. We wander through Central Park. Let’s use our imaginations and tour the Holy City with John and the angel.
The first thing you might notice about the Holy City is that there is no Temple. In the old Jerusalem, the Temple is the focal point of the city. Everyone who goes to Jerusalem, goes to Temple Square. The Temple in Jerusalem was God’s house. Everyone knew you went to the Temple to find God and bring prayers and offerings.
The new city has no temple. Instead of a temple in the center of the city, there is a throne. The throne is the throne of God and the Lamb.
God’s presence fills the city. God’s people are everywhere, too. The people of God reign with Christ as priests. They don’t reign over anyone the way a king reigns. They share in God’s reign. They share in God’s work wherever they go, whatever they do.
The old city of Jerusalem had a wall around it. There were several gates, but they were small. They were so small they were often called “the eye of a needle.” You remember the remark Jesus made about how it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven? He was talking about the city gates.
The new Holy City has a city wall, too. The walls are made of jewels. There are twelve gates. I am sure you remember hearing that the gates are made of pearls. Each gate is a single pearl.
That is not the only difference between the pearly gates and the gates of the old city. The old city locks the gates and guards them at night. In New Jerusalem, the gates are always open. Everyone is welcome, even foreigners. People enter from all the nations of the earth and walk together on the golden streets.
The Lamb of God is the lamp of the Holy City. The light of the glory of God streams through the open gates. That light guides the people in, from every nation on earth. This is a very multicultural city.
It is a very clean city, too. Nothing unclean can enter it. No one who practices abomination or falsehood may enter, no sinners allowed. The only ones who may enter are the ones whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Next, our angelic tour guide shows us the river. Naturally, this Holy City has a river. The water is crystal clear and it flows from the throne of God. This river is the center of the city. It runs right through the middle of it. This river is the water of life. Those who drink from it will never thirst.
An enormous tree spans the river, growing on both sides. This is no ordinary tree. It isn’t special just because of it’s size. It is special because of what it does. It bears twelve kinds of fruit, a different fruit each month. This is the tree of life. Everyone who eats its fruit will live forever.
The leaves of this tree are no ordinary leaves. They have healing properties. They don’t just heal individual sickness, though. These leaves have the power to heal entire nations.
Imagine that – the power to heal a nation. Last Thursday was National Day of Prayer. As we prayed on the courthouse lawn, we prayed for a long list of problems in our country. Imagine having the power to bring peace and healing to a nation. The power to bring people together, the power to eliminate violence, the power to solve political and economic problems, the power to heal our environment, the power to bring people hope.
Imagine a place where people share in God’s reign. They do God’s work to feed everyone, so no one is hungry. They do God’s work to bring about healing for all nations. They do God’s work to bring about peace for all nations.
They do God’s work to preserve the earth and all its trees and rivers and plants and animals. They pray and work continuously that the reign of God will come on earth as it is in heaven. All the peoples praise God from all the ends of the earth.
Our angelic tour guide has given us a view of a beautiful, green, park-like city. The fruit tree makes us think of a garden. It takes us back to that first garden, to Eden. There were important fruit trees there, too.
There was that fruit tree that our first parents weren’t supposed to eat from, but they did. We can’t go back there. That gate is guarded by angels with flaming swords.
There was another important tree there. That was really the reason we were thrown out. God didn’t want us to eat from that other tree. That tree was also called the “tree of life.” God did not want us to eat from the tree of life and live forever in our sin.
This Holy City has the same tree as the Garden of Eden. God was there, too, in the midst of the garden. God has forbidden us to return there because of our sin. No one who is unclean, no one who has sin can enter the Holy City, either.
Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life may enter the Holy City and eat from the tree of life and live forever.
Our sin has made us unclean. There is only one way we can ever enter the Holy City. We must be washed in the waters of the river of life. That water flows from the throne of God. That water has the power to wash away our sins.
We have been washed in the waters of the river of life. In Holy Baptism, our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life. We were marked on our foreheads with the cross of Christ forever. We are the servants who also reign with God, sharing God’s work and praying that the reign of God will come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Many of the ideas in this sermon are from Barbara Rossing’s commentary on this passage. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1695