Acts 11:1-18 Psalm 148 Revelation 21:1-6 John 13:31-35
“Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.” He said to me, “They are accomplished. I (am) the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
This is a continuation of the reading from Revelation that what we just heard in our gospel selection. The “rest of the story” sounds so much more harsh than the “I make all things new part:” – “their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”
We hear that the Alpha and the Omega brings new life, a new city; it is a promise. We can picture the life giving water; it has a “radiance like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal.” There are walls of jasper, a city of gold. The good news: “The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God.” These beautiful words sit alongside the other.
The other is “the burning pool of fire and sulphur, … the second death.” In that pool we find cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, deceivers. Will anyone be in the gleaming city of gold? Here is where we get “tangled up” in the book of Revelation. The words are telling us about an interplay going on between heaven and earth – the new Jerusalem is the city that replaces a dreamed-of fallen Rome. The victors are the remnants of Judaism – people, families, flung far from their homes, longing for peace; longing for new life. We are hearing about this hope of a new life mixed with dreams of death for the oppressors. We hear visions of grandeur, of vengeance, of hope.
The only resolution to the visions, the only real victory, is in the alpha and the omega. The answers of God are the ones that matter. Grandeur and vengeance are not ours to give, as desperately as we want to dole them out. We will be judged, but our judgments of one another are not what stand before the Lord. “They are finished. I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.”
That it is God who is our beginning and our end, our judgment and our ruler, is good news. To be within the alpha and the omega means that we are never outside the realm of God. This is God who sent God’s son to be with us. This is God who watched God’s son die that we might never know eternal death. This is God who is victorious over everything – everything we fear, everything we claim (like power and glory and success) – even death itself is trampled into defeat.
It is very hard for us to live a life that God alone enfolds. We want vengeance and revenge. Who hasn’t hated the monsters of the world? And so, WHEN we are cowards, when we are unfaithful, when we are murderous in our hearts, we are called to repent. It is in our baptismal vow; we promise to turn away from evil, to turn back from this second death. We are called to new life. We are called to new life as often as we stray from our vows.
Sometimes we see the new heaven break through here on earth. We have glimpses of heaven in some unlikely places: in strangers who bandaged the injured and saved lives last week in Boston; in children who bring us flowers from the yard, from prized and carefully tended roses to drooping yellow dandelions; in a particular diner on a southern highway in rural Mississippi. I have seen heaven in the way that a group of God’s people invite a variety of priests into their family, welcome a stranger, invite the broken and pray together.
The Holy Spirit is present and at work in this parish. We will find out together what is next for St. Peter’s. Pray with me every day for God to guide us, lead us, and hold us and sustain us. Pray within the arms of the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Pray that heaven will break through in ways that we know the new Jerusalem in this life, that all will know the depth and breadth and love of the alpha and the omega.
Oh, springs of living water, come!