a new Heaven and a new Earth: Easter 5C

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Acts / Eschatology / New Testament / Old Testament

If you’ve been following this blog for a few weeks, you may have noticed a theme. . . I think the juxtaposition of the quasi-continuous readings of the Book of Revelation this Eastertide is a great reminder that the Resurrection of Jesus has personal and cosmic ramifications: everything gets made new. Everything. Even us. Even the whole wide world.

Peter catches a glimpse of that in the lesson from Acts. His personal struggle with the friction between Jewish Christianity (which, honestly, was all he knew) and the budding Christian movement among gentiles caused him, and the newborn church, much anxiety. I’m fond of saying that unless you grapple with the painful arguments in the New Testament concerning these two strands of Christianity then you can’t really get at the heart of what the New Testament is talking about.

The Christian faith was born amidst conflict. No sooner was Jesus Resurrected and ascended into Heaven than Peter, James, and the rest had to figure out what to do with gentiles who were drawn to Christ. Did they need to keep kosher? Did they need to be circumcised? Did they need to be JEWISH? Could they eat food that had been used in pagan ceremonies, even if they knew the pagan ceremonies were a sham?

We see this primal conflict play out in the pages of Acts and the writings of Paul (especially Romans and Galatians).

At first, Peter took a hard line. The Bible (Jewish Scriptures) said that everyone had to be circumcised. The Bible commanded all people to keep kosher, observe a certain dress code, and follow the Torah/ Law. So when gentiles started coming to the faith, Peter assumed the rest of it was necessary too.

And then, in a great vision, he hears that God is doing something new. The dietary laws of the Old Testament were over. What God had made wasn’t to be called unclean. Everything was different.

Of course it was. The tomb was empty. All things were being made new.

In the lesson from the Revelation to John we find the new heaven and a new earth. The first things have passed away.

There’s some really great work being done around these verses lately, especially by Bishop Tom Wright (aka N. T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham). He, and others, point out quite correctly that the new earth isn’t somewhere else, but is right here. Life eternal in this new heaven and earth doesn’t have a new address, what’s here is made new.

In a time when there’s so much ‘evacuation’ talk (“Warning in case of rapture this blog will be unmanned”) – and when such evacuation talk lays the groundwork for lackadaisical environmental attitudes and policies (I mean, who cares, it’s not like we’re going to be here much longer anyway!) – good theology is so desperately needed.

Let’s get this straight: in the Book of Revelation there is NO rapture. I dare you to find it. It isn’t there. We don’t get beamed up. We stay right where we are, and where we are is made new.

When Jesus was raised from the dead he wasn’t a different Jesus, with a different body. That wouldn’t be resurrection. We believe in the Resurrection of the body. Jesus’ corpse was Resurrected. He was made new. So new in fact that people had a hard time recognizing him. But, he still had his wounds.

It was still Jesus, but things about him were different.

And that’s the model for the Resurrection of All Things. Same world, same heaven, same God, same Lamb – but all things are made new. We’ll have a hard time recognizing things, but when our eyes are opened (and we break bread? – and Jesus calls us by our name?) we will see where we are.

And what will this world look like? God will be here, dwelling with us. There will be no crying, no death, no mourning, no pain.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See I am making all things new.”