During the season of Easter (which lasts into June, not just one Sunday), we will gather in worship under the theme New Heaven, New Earth. This image set the tone in the very first reading of scripture we heard as Easter dawned. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)
This new creation is evidenced in all four of the gospels as they tell of the resurrection. Each state that the women went to the tomb “on the first day of the week” either very early, or while still dark. The language launches us backward to the opening verses of Genesis where creation begins on the first day of the week in chaos and darkness. A new creation is happening in the resurrection of Jesus.
What this new creation is all about is anticipated in other places. Isaiah sees the end to violence and lives lived in oppression; a creation where wolf and lamb peacefully coexist (Isaiah 65); where swords are beaten into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4); where all the nations of the world are gathered in peace at the feast table of the Lord. (Isaiah 25).
In 2 Peter 3:13, we hear of a world where God’s agenda of peace justice and righteousness are the norm and standard: “But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”
Perhaps the most compelling vision of the promise of God’s creative activity is in the last book of the New Testament. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1,3-5)
So, how do we respond to these visions and proclamations of a “new heaven, and a new earth?” On the one hand, if you love life the way it is and hope that heaven is simply a continuation of all that already is, this word of newness can be unsettling. We humans hate change and the loss of control. It sounds like lots of change beyond our control. It is.
One of the spiritual challenges of faith is to always be discontent with the status quo. I am not who I shall be, and certainly not what God calls me to be. The world may seem comfortable in front of my TV watching Netflix, as I much snacks I don’t need. But that patina of comfort and success is very, very thin. It rubs away with even a tiny amount of reflection and spiritual elbow grease. My comfort is often at someone else’s expense. My “happiness” is a mask for the anxiety, pain, and trouble boiling beneath. I’ve just gotten good at denying it.
If we are aware of suffering – our own and the world’s, then these images of a new heaven & earth might make us throw up our hands in joyous dependence and passively wait for God to just get ‘er done. I can surrender to my helplessness and wait for God to install the big fix.
The truth is that this new creation is already begun. In the resurrection of Jesus, God began the process of pulling, pushing, recreating us and everything into something new. The signs of that new creation are all around us if we look. When healing happens – new creation. When peace triumphs over war and violence – new creation. When tears are wiped away and mourning turns to dancing – new creation is already here.
That said, the new creation is not yet a fulfilled reality. We are living in the already/not yet of God’s new heaven and new earth. That means we are anything but passive. We have seen verified the veracity, the truth, of the vision of a new heaven and new earth resurrection. Knowing how the future will unfold, what the outcome is, we become active in anticipation of a new heaven and new earth that will triumph over the brokenness of this world.
We are to live as joyful malcontents. Malcontent because we are dissatisfied with every rotten and stinking thing about this world and refuse to accept it as normal. Joyous because we know how the story ends. Our ethics and moral values are shaped by the future vision of peace, justice, healing, life, and everything else shown in the vision of a new earth and heaven. We wait, not passively, but actively bringing about and proclaiming God’s new creation. We are part of the process of creating a new heaven and new earth.
Pax Christi, Tim Olson
copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church