Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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” ~ Revelation 21:3
As someone who loved both medieval and church history throughout high school and university, the lives of Saints played a significant part in my education. Even a secular study of history cannot ignore the impact that ‘saints’ and their legends had on communities, the church and the course of history. Often we revere saints for the miraculous deeds they performed, or at least that’s how we remember them – remarkable feats of strength, endurance, miraculous healings or in the case of St. Patrick his ‘driving all the snakes out of Ireland’.
While it is easy to be enamoured with or fascinated by the miraculous and often fantastical stories that we tell about saints, we also revere them for their holiness, their dedication and commitment to God even in the face of intense opposition, persecution and even violent death. Whether we mean to or not we often raise saints onto a lofty pedestal, as if they were so much more than us, so holy and committed to God that we can never compare or even get close to their status in the eyes of God. When we do this we forget that they were merely people, just like us, people who made mistakes, but also people who had real-world impacts on their community beyond merely their devotion to God.
Whether it was St. Patrick and his role in the conversion of the British Isles to Christianity or St. Francis and refinement of itinerant preachers that changed monastic life, or St. Teresa of Avila or St. Julian of Norwich and their exploration of the mystical aspects of the Christian faith – saints, whether we believe in their miracles or not, had a tremendous impact on their local communities and the shape of the Christian tradition throughout the centuries.
The Saints of the church caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, like the one we heard in our reading from the Book of Revelation this morning.
Our passage from Revelation is one of the most recognizable passages from the enigmatic book, partly because it is such a glorious and beautiful vision but also because it is often read at funerals. Revelation 21 offers mourners hope that the future of their loved ones is one without tears or pain or any of the challenges or obstacles that plagued their departed loved ones while they were on Earth. The promise of renewal and life in the presence of God forever, are comforting and give hope to hearers that their future beyond the grave also has this as its ultimate end – after all Revelation 21 speaks of the end and fulfillment of all things, of earth and heaven coming together centred on God and his wondrous life and light.
While there is undoubtedly a place for reading our passage as a promise for the end of time, the reality is that the promises that God makes in Revelation 21 also promise to be lived out here and now, in our lifetime, on this earth.
When the very life and Son of God came to dwell among us, in the very human person of Jesus – the vision of earth and heaven being united in one was accomplished. In Jesus, in his life, in his death and his resurrection, the new heaven and the new earth were born and untied in his very flesh. Jesus’ life was a living, breathing outpouring of God’s gracious and merciful reign. Jesus quite literally was the Kingdom or Reign of God breaking into this world.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus began to transform this world, one person, at a time – with each person who was restored to health, restored to community, restored to right relationship with God and their neighbours Jesus was creating windows into the glorious Kingdom that we glimpse in our passage from Revelation this morning.
Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, was the embodiment of John’s later promise that God would dwell amongst mortals, Jesus was a sign pointing to this eternal reality and a foretaste of what it would mean for God’s home being amidst us forever.
And as we see in our reading from John this morning, Jesus is also the one who will wipe every tear from our eyes. Jesus knows the depths of sorrow that we as humans can experience, he knows true grief, as John tells us that Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit, that Jesus wept – not merely cried – but wept for his friend Lazarus and for the impact his death was having on his sisters Mary and Martha.
And so Jesus’ Kingdom once again broke through as he reached into the grave and called Lazarus back into life, into relationship once more with his sisters and Jesus himself. This kingdom act turned the tears of sorrow that filled their eyes into tears of joy. It is the one who knew sorrow, the sorrow of losing a dearest friend like Lazarus, who is faithful in offering us this glimpse of the kingdom which is a foretaste of God’s promise that He will wipe every tear from our eyes in the eternal kingdom.
While Jesus might not be physically with us as he was with the disciples, the gift of the Holy Spirit ensures that the church, the gathered community of Jesus’ disciples are the body of Christ here on earth. The Church is the physical presence of Jesus in our communities and it is in our life, our life together as the church and as individual believers, that we too are called to offer a glimpse of the kingdom, we too are called to bring about the glorious vision of Revelation into the midst of our neighbours, into the midst of this community of South Scarborough.
We are called through our ministry, through our acts of service and outreach to be the ones that wipe the tears from the eyes of one another and most importantly our neighbours; we are called to offer comfort and support to the grieving; to share the love of God with those who feel they are unloved or unlovable; to bring community to those who are isolated and alone; to bring peace to those whose life is dominated by pain and violence; to bring hope to the hopeless.
As we bring these glimpses of the Kingdom into our community, that is how we can live into our calling to be saints, saints of God who are committed to changing our communities for the better, committed to being heralds of the Kingdom who bring it into the midst of our neighbours.
We might revere saints for their holiness and their miraculous deeds, but in Jesus, each of us can do greater things than that, each of us can be a part of the transformation of the world, the transformation of our communities in the glorious kingdom where there is no pain, no suffering, no tears and only joy.
God is here dwelling in our midst; you need only look into the face of your brother or sister in Christ that is sitting beside you to know this truth. You are all saints; you are all heralds of God’s Kingdom – God bless you as you walk this path so that you can bless all those who you meet upon it.