Joy is a slow-growing, steadfast thing. It’s also not as fleeting as I once thought. I believed until quite recently that joy was an infrequent and reluctant visitor in my life. It would occasionally land for a few days and then flit away and I’d be left with comforting memories. I’ve discovered that it isn’t really like that; joy is a constant though it might sometimes be obscured. Strangely enough, the Book of Revelation helped me to come to this new understanding of joy.
Revelation is a book that is either loved or hated. No one feels ambivalent about it. Most mainline, progressive Protestant-types eschew the book entirely, dismissing it as an early form of science fiction or fantasy. Those who love it tend to see it more legalistically and take it as an actual prophecy of the end times. I am drawn to it for its poetic beauty. I can see that loveliness of the crystal city, feel the coolness of the river of life, and taste the fruit of the tree that will be the healing of the nations. Such promise in this vision of a new heaven and a new earth!
This last year has been a challenging one for me. I moved to a new city far away from all the places I had lived before. My mother died and opened old wounds I had thought were healed. These things combined in strange ways and resulted in me having to sort through my self-understanding from entirely new place. I wrestled with sadness, exhaustion, doubts, and a whole lot of pain. Yes, there were moments of joy and I knew that I was not alone. However, I felt I was missing something vital.
In the last few weeks I’ve had a very strong sense that something wonderful is about to
happen. I’m not prone to unbridled optimism. These last few weeks have not been easy ones so this pull toward expectant trust is also unwarranted. Yet, when I sit still and set aside my grief over my mother’s death, my concerns for the future well-being of the congregation I serve, anxiety over some medical tests, the stress that relocation has put on my family, and a few other things, I discover a sense of joy and wonder. I recognize, beyond doubt, that all really will be well, even when it doesn’t feel like it is.
Where does this come from? Well, you know that image in the Revelation text of a holy city? We, you and I and the rest of the Body of Christ, are that holy city. Or could be. All that Light is within us, within our reach if we can get out of the way. The Body of Christ is rooted in the Waters of Life. We are also the tree whose leaves will bring healing to the nations. At our best, the church is the new life described in Revelation and leads the way to peace. At our worst, we participate in the divisions and destructions, the sins, of the world. What might we be if the entirety of the Church committed itself to only speaking and embodying words of love? Healing of the nations, indeed!
I know these images appeal to my poet’s heart and they seem impossible. I really don’t think they are. There is a seed planted deep within each of us. Many of us don’t nurture it well or water it with gratitude often enough. We don’t take much time to notice how it grows or how deep the roots can go, so deep that they connect us to the very heart of the Creator. Sometimes we see its fruits and know that it’s there, at least in the moment. But it’s not a passing moment. Joy is a constant and it is within all of us just waiting for us to notice. It won’t take away the pain and heartache that comes with life, but it is a healing balm in these times of suffering.
Waiting for God to bring about this new holy city isn’t going to make it happen. If we live as though we are the Holy City, then we will become it. Toni Morrison wrote in Beloved, “If you can’t imagine it, then you can’t have it.” Can you imagine yourself as part of John’s holy city where living water flows freely and the nations are healed? There is joy there, joy enough for all.
(If you are looking for more sermon help, you might want to go here.)
RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2016
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9
Top CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe.
Bottom CC0 image by Jill Wellington