Maddie is coming home this weekend. Rhys comes home in three weeks. The world changes yet again. It won’t be as dramatic as the first time they came home. That was world changing in almost incomprehensible ways. I was not prepared for that. I thought I was prepared, but wasn’t, not really, not for the transformation that was before me, before us. That was seismic, cataclysmic, never to be the same again sort of scale. This one will be ... an adjustment. Like finding someone in your pew at church. Oh, you think, but that’s where I usually ... Well, hmm, I guess I’ll ... adjust ... survive ... make do ... sitting over here.
Maddie asked the other day if we were excited that she was coming home. I said yes, and then realized that excited didn’t cover it all. Yes, of course we’re excited to have her home safe and sound, to hear all her adventures from her semester in Europe, excited that she is a part of us again. But also uncertain, who will she be? Every time she goes away she comes back herself, but not quite. Or herself and something more. So, what will this chapter hold for her and for us. We’ll be the family we have been, except we won’t. None of us are the same. And that’s good! That’s what is supposed to happen. But it doesn’t mean I’m not a little nervous about it.
Rhys graduates from college in a few weeks. Sorry, had to sit and stare at that sentence for a few moments. It seems incomprehensible to me. It hasn’t been that long since his world was Thomas the Tank Engine, or books about hyenas. Has it? Years you say? Wow. Where did they go. And no he isn’t sure what he’s going to do. Graduate school is in the plans, making some money, spending time away from academia so that he can go back to it with new enthusiasm. It will be feet on a path that leads who knows where. Somewhere. Away, I know there is that, and I’m OK with that. I think. It is what is supposed to be. He has a life to live and his world will be bigger than me, than us. It already is, I know. There is excitement about that too. And concern. Yeah.
It’s what is supposed to be. I know that. It’s just that I’d like to know. You know? I’d like to know that the path they put their feet to is a good path. A path that will lead them to a good place, a happy place, a satisfying, life-affirming, soul enriching place. I believe in them and in the God that shaped them and gave them into our care. I believe in the minds they have cultivated and the hearts that they have grown and tended. I am amazed at them both and trust that they will find their way. But still. I’d like to know. To stand on a mountain and look over the promised land they are about to enter. So I could know. And maybe relax just a smidge.
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. ... 22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day-- and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Amen. It just seems like you need to say Amen after reading a bit of Revelation. Not necessarily a word of agreement. But a liturgical act, a response drawn from the sense of being in the presence of something you can’t quite understand but somehow know is significant. It’s why you whisper when you walk in a cathedral even though there isn’t a reason to do so. It is why you stand silent on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or the skywalk from the Willis Tower in Chicago, or the bank of the Mississippi River or ... well, you fill in the awe inspiring vista you’ve encountered.
The Book of the Revelation to John is an awe-inspiring work of literary art. Amen seems the least we can do in response. “Thanks be to God!” That might work too. An acknowledgment of the gift, of the vision that is provided, even when it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Revelation is the book that comes to mind when hearing that quote, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain – “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me, it’s that parts I do!” There is plenty here that stumps full-time, life long biblical scholars. And yet there is also plenty that a child could grab hold of without too much trouble. The beginning of the book is like a splash of cold water to our sleepy faith, a two by four upside our dull discipleship. And then the end of the book is a warm comfy bed we just want to crawl into and pull the heavy blankets over our longing for home. It’s the middle bit where things get wonky. Kinda like our lives. It’s in the middle bits where we’re not too sure about things, we’re apt to lose our way, or at least to lose our grip on where we’re going and who we’re called to be. And the only solution is to get carried away.
John was carried away, repeatedly it seems. And so he gave us this vision. He used a language we don’t know all that well anymore. And no, I don’t mean ancient Greek. I mean the apocalyptic language of codes and symbols used to communicate something profound and - believe it or not - ultimately comforting to the people who first read this book. But to us it reads like the script to a Wes Craven film or a Stephen King novel. At least until we wade our way through the rivers of blood and find ourselves in the last couple of chapters of the book.
John reminds us he was carried away. And now placed on a mountaintop to view the end of all that is. Not the end as in time, it’s all over, that’s all folks. But the end as in the destination, the vision of what we are heading toward, what we are trying to emulate as we follow the path that Christ trod for us. Heaven, that’s where we’re going, that’s where we’re bound.
And what we find is restoration. God restores paradise. Not as a garden, but as a city. As a habitation for all the people. Restores. There is a garden, but it is there to feed and to heal, not to test and to challenge. And in the garden there is a river, crystal clear waters of life, the living waters that Jesus promised the woman one hot and thirsty day outside the Samaritan city of Sychar. Go back a few chapters in Revelation and you’ll see the waters are poisoned, dispensing death. But here is restoration, refreshment, life.
The kings are restored. Now they can bring their glory into the presence of the greater glory that is the Lord. Earlier they were diminished, destroyed, darkened. But now restored they enter into God’s presence with rejoicing. And with them the nations they represent walk in the light of the Lord. Just like Isaiah promised, just like they all promised, those who spoke the Word of the Lord. Restored.
It also strikes me what isn’t there. What heaven is lacking. Did you notice? No temple. Because the temple is the dwelling place of God and now God is present everywhere, no need to locate that glory, it’s all around. No sun or moon, because the light is everywhere, no need to gather it into one place when it can be in all places. No night, because night was always the place of the absence of God, and God will never be absent again. No loved gates because there is nothing to trouble us, nothing to disturb us, and all are welcome into the dwelling place of God.
There is more, more there and more not there. More that John saw, but maybe that is enough. Maybe all we need is a glimpse to carry on carrying on. Maybe once in a while we need to get carried away so that we can be reminded that we are heading somewhere. And then come back off that mountain and put our feet on the path that winds ahead of us in ways we cannot see. But we trust. We rejoice in the journey because we trust the destination. And we celebrate the companions on the journey. I’m excited they’re coming home. Because we’re all heading home. Together.