Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5
And in the spirit he carried me to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…I saw no temple in the city.
by Rev LeAnn Blackert
Forty-five minutes into our hike, we crest the last steep stretch and find ourselves standing on a flat section of land with limitless views in all directions. The snow covered peaks of the mountains of Wells Gray Park highlight the northern view, while off to our west the sun begins its descent to the horizon. Blue gray hills rim the southern exposure and to the east the city of Kamloops nestles in the valley. I recall words offered to me years ago on a trail leading to the water’s edge in western Vancouver: “Truly we are being held in God’s own pocket.” Our Wild Church group’s experience atop one of the hills in Kenna Cartwright Park in Kamloops, BC, comes to mind when I read the words from Revelation.
For the author, John of Patmos, this vision of the end times points to a time when imperialism will end, and God will return as the central source of life and power. John has been exiled to the Isle of Patmos for his refusal to bow to the imperial order and worship Caesar. His vision offers an alternative to the oppression and inequality of the Roman empire, placing God squarely at the center of life in a complete restoration of the city of Jerusalem, destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans.
This new holy city of Jerusalem is missing the temple, that which has long been the center of the city, and the site of God’s presence in the midst of God’s people. The temple is no longer necessary because the presence of God fills the new Holy City, a city created from elements of the natural world: the river of life and the tree of life, with twelve varieties of fruits and leaves that bring healing to the nations. In the section of Revelation 21 left out of the lectionary reading, the city’s walls are made of jasper, the 12 foundation stones are precious stones found deep within the earth: sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, topaz, amethyst, and more. The gates are made of pearl, another precious item brought forth from the natural world.
In the beginning, God created and all of life lived together in a “garden” where the presence of the Holy moved in relationship with all of creation. In this ending, the place of relationship moves from a “wild” to an urban setting, but the natural world continues to be the source of location.
In this day of rapid urbanization and mega metropolises, where walls or streets often separate the wealthiest citizens from the poorest, the Holy City offers the water of life to all; the fruit of the tree of life is within reach of everyone; and its healing leaves provide health to all. And all is offered as a free gift – a recognition of the equal value of each living thing. This is a harsh contrast to a world in which many communities do not have access to clean, safe drinking water; where people starve while excess food is discarded in horrific amounts; and where universal health care is not considered a basic right in the US. John’s vision is one of God’s will on and for earth.
The open gates of the Holy City welcome all who choose to enter. This is not a place for walls of separation. This is not a place where value is assigned to human life by virtue of wealth, skin color, country of origin, sexual orientation or gender. This is God’s kingdom, come to earth, offering a safe place for all persons. The mantra of the United Church of Christ comes to mind: “No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” The Holy City is the place where this is finally realized.
This is a vision of God’s kingdom, come to earth. It is a vision of that for which we pray daily or weekly, using the very words Jesus taught us: Pray this way then: Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)
We who profess to be followers of Jesus are to be those who not only pray for God’s will to be done on earth. We are the ones called to continue the incarnation of God’s will on earth. We must embody God’s “kingdom” on earth. Thoughts and prayers truly are not enough. Action is needed. Our prayer needs to move from “your will be done on earth” to “your will be done through me as long as I am on this earth,” and then we must live as evidence of God’s way on this earth. This commitment marks us as followers of Jesus in a radical way.
John’s vision, recorded in the Book of Revelation, calls us to not only hope for this coming of a new Holy City; it also invites us to live as if it is already present on this earth. Because it is. God’s presence surrounds us – on the mountaintop, watching a glorious sunset and amid the most marginalized of peoples in our cities today. The breath of life that enlivened creation continues to work through energy that exists in literally everything on this planet. The river of life flows through all our watersheds, nurturing the ecosystems that support life in our communities and in the natural world around us. As followers of Jesus, we must live our lives loudly in opposition to empire, working not only for but also with the natural world to manifest God’s radically inclusive love for all of creation.
Rev LeAnn Blackert is an immigrant settler living on the lands of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc peoples in the South Thompson watershed. Originally from the United States, LeAnn moved to Canada ten years ago. She is in ministry with the United Church of Canada, Pacific Mountain Region, to develop a Wild Church faith community in the Kamloops, BC area, where the monthly Wild Church and Wild Pilgrimage gatherings meet to offer ritual, times of reflection on the land, and sharing of stories and experience. For more information, please visit http://www.wildchurchbc.org
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.