The scripture for this sermon is Revelation 21:1-6.
Twice our scripture in Revelation mentions passing away. This phrase has become a euphemism for dying. I use it often with families because dying or dead sound so…ugly I guess, but also because I think it sums up well what is going on when someone we know, loved and shared a life with has died. They have passed away. Our time with them is over. They have passed away and taken with them unique memories, gifts and insights.
I hear what has passed when I visit at the funeral home. Susan passed away and with her our memory of Dad taking us to the big downtown Lazarus at Christmas time. Charles passed away, besides me he was the last one that remembers grandpa’s farm in Perry County without electricity or plumbing, shucking corn in the frost bite of the barn, being paid a penny for every five ears. Connie passed away, no one remembers now the fun we girls had riding the interurban to Buckeye Lake on a Saturday. Our loss is not only the relationship we that is gone from us. A part of grief for all of us is having these memories pass away with the people we shared them. Funerals are a reminder that everything around us is passing away, dying somehow, changing always.
Revelation is talking about passing away, too, but there is no grieving here. In Revelation what has passed away is death itself. The waves of life that throw us up on the shores of death, have receded, gained force and brought us up on the shores of a different place. In the poetry of Revelation the writer is trying to describe what this new place looks like when death passes away into life.
Interesting, the writer describes paradise of heaven not as a beautiful garden, but as the perfect city. If you continue to read Chapter 21 you will find the famous description of streets made of gold, buildings of precious jewels, and gates carved completely from pearls. The bible really does mention pearly gates. Heaven is people living in community, in a city that works, a New Jerusalem, different than the old Jerusalem.
It is God’s presence that truly marks this place. God dwells in this new city. God speaks clearly and is understood fully in the New Jerusalem. The mystery of God that marks our world has passed away into a place where we can see God’s face and are not afraid. God sits in the middle of this city. Water flows from the throne of God the splashes of this water bear fullness for everyone. The river of life begins here.
In this description of heaven there is no sea, which I guess means no surfing, searching for seashells or sunbathing on sandy shores. In the book of Revelation, everything evil comes from the sea, including the beast. Satan and his minions lurk in the shadows of the sea. In the resurrection, when death has passed away, the sea will be dried out by the light of God’s presence and the monsters of pain, grief, humiliation, selfishness, idolatry and conflict will be blown away in the wind that is the Holy Spirit.
With death gone, passed away and the forces of evil dried up in the sea, all reason for any tears are gone. The writer wants you and me to imagine life without tears. For me, this is difficult. Not only the disappointments, grief, shame, regrets and worries of my life bring tears easily to my eyes. Your disappointments, worries, grief and regrets bring tears to me, too. I am convinced that I cry so easily because I experience vicariously the pain in your life and the normal heaping of pain in my life. What would life look like if there is nothing ever to cry about again? If the ripples of my sinfulness did not cause pain in someone else’s life to bring tears. If the waves of sin in another person’s life did not cause pain in my life to bring tears. If all this stopped when the sea dried up, what would life look like? Heaven.
We don’t live in heaven though, do we? Tears are all too familiar a part of our life. Our lives are daily passing into death. With every hair that falls from our head or grows in an unwanted place, every joint that creaks and aches in the morning, with every friend that has already passed into death and will no longer answer our call or meet us for lunch.
The first 20 chapters of Revelation, before this beautiful 21st chapter with the grand vision of heaven, are a description of life passing into death. The sea is still full of evil monsters that try to consume us. Our tears are accumulated for good reason. We look forward to life lived without tears, as we bravely, silently wipe away the tears from our face today.
Yet, we don’t have to wipe our tears away alone. When death passes into life the dwelling place of God will wipe them away. When life passes away into death, the presence of God in the church will do the same. In Christ we will wipe each other’s tears away. In chapter 21 the cornerstone of heaven is described. It has the names of the apostles written on it. In some ways, the cornerstone of our church is represented by our memorial wall. The names inscribed are some of the people that are responsible for this church, this dwelling place of God. The water of life flows from our font, because they dug the hole. The bread of life is served at our table because they built the kitchen. They have passed away, from life into death, but before they did they wiped many tears from our eyes. Now, they wait for us with dry faces, preserving the memories that only we shared with them. In Christ we wait for them, together, drying each other’s eyes, as our life passes away into death, trusting the hope of this vision of death passing away into life. Amen