While our children are likely quite familiar with the Creation stories from Genesis, I’ll bet that they are less familiar with the stories of the New Creation. Like the Genesis stories, these are also deeply poetic narratives, with imagery that points to the same beauty and justice that we have been observing all year. Listen to this story now, in the words of Eugene Peterson’s bible paraphrase, The Message:
From the Hebrew Scriptures (Isaiah 65:17-25)
“Pay close attention now:
I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain
are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy.
Anticipate what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,
create my people as pure delight.
I’ll take joy in Jerusalem,
take delight in my people:
No more sounds of weeping in the city,
no cries of anguish;
No more babies dying in the cradle,
or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime;
One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—
anything less will seem like a cheat.
They’ll build houses
and move in.
They’ll plant fields
and eat what they grow.
No more building a house
that some outsider takes over,
No more planting fields
that some enemy confiscates,
For my people will be as long-lived as trees,
my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work.
They won’t work and have nothing come of it,
they won’t have children snatched out from under them.
For they themselves are plantings blessed by God,
with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
Before they call out, I’ll answer.
Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard.
Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,
lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,
but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt!
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says God.
And now from the New Testament, Revelation 21 and 22:
"I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.
I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”
…Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age."
We read these passages at funerals, as if they are blueprints of the afterlife. To make them all about “heaven,” however, short-changes their importance for this world. These are images of God transforming this whole earth and all that it is in it, renewing God’s whole creation. These are images of “God’s dream for the world,” as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry likes to say. Rather than representing some “pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by,” these images assume that real-world problems have answers, and that God cares deeply about them.
This is a world with universal health care: babies do not die and the elderly are taken care of.
There is an economy that allows for everyone to have his or her own property, free from debt and war and confiscation. Unemployment is a thing of the past, and everyone can earn an honorable living.
There are no countries or groups despoiling the environment.
Animals are not exploited and harmed, and humans care for one another. The power of death is no longer in charge.
And in timely language for the news these days, vulnerable people are no longer exploited by huge enterprises and governments, and the children of refugees are no longer torn from their parents' sides: "They won’t work and have nothing come of it, they won’t have children snatched out from under them."
The new creation is a garden in a city, an urban garden. Nature is empowered to serve as a source of healing throughout the world. Creatures and Creator, nature and city, are all brought together as one, bound in restorative relationship. The natural abundance of God overshadows our human fear of scarcity. Grace pours out freely upon us all.
The world is a distressing place for many of us these days. We seem so far from God's dream, and we feel helpless to change the path of destruction on which we find ourselves. It is easy to forget that wholeness does not depend on us human beings alone, and that God's light does indeed still shine through all of the cracks.
It is my hope that this year of “Imagining Wholeness” has allowed us all to catch glimpses of the world that God desires for us, the hope that our scriptures paint for us. I hope that our children might have taught us where to look for shalom/ peace/ wholeness as we go about our busy, adult lives. It is my prayer that we can learn to live as if we truly believe the Good News that life does not need to be earned, or purchased, or deserved--by us or by any of God's creatures. It is my prayer that we can each make room in our lives to be blessed by God, and to be a blessing for the world around us.
This month’s challenge: Read aloud these passages from Revelation and Isaiah with your children. Talk about the images that you see when you imagine this world. Keep your eyes open this month for glimpses of the New Creation that are peeking into your lives. Take a picture of one of the glimpses that you have had this month of God’s dream for the world. Post your image to Instagram with the hashtag #imaginingwholeness. Have your children think of a second hashtag, if they'd like. (If you don’t use Instagram, just email it to me at email@example.com.) I will continue to post any pictures that I receive. Even if you haven't had a chance to take any photographs this year, you can still notice and comment on the whole and healthy places that you come across each day, and thereby teach your children the power of hope.
Image found at http://www.surreychristian.com/wp-content/uploads/Global-Crosswalks-May-2009.pdf