Revelation 21:1-6 and 22:1-5
Sunday, June 21, 2015
First Congregational United Church of Christ – Sermon by Rev. Caela Simmons Wood
All month, we’ve been following the book of Revelation. We’ve tried to understand why it was written and to whom it was written. This past Thursday morning, many of us awoke to the news of the terrorist act at Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina. By noon, many of us were gathered together in our sanctuary with people from other congregations and the wider community. We observed silence for 10 minutes while our tower chimes rang.
For nine minutes, we lit a candle for each person who died on Wednesday evening. Now that we know their names, it is important that we say them out loud, remembering that each of these names represents an entire life – an entire universe – taken from us in an act of hate:
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Depayne Middleton Doctor
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney
The Rev. Daniel Simmons
For the 10th minute, we spent time in individual prayer. Many of us made confession for our participation in the death-dealing systems of our nation. Several of us knelt in the front of our sanctuary together, bowing ourselves low and begging for God’s help. We heard the words from Ecclesiastes earlier today, reminding us that there is a time for everything. And if there is, then when is the time for our nation to move past our original sin of white supremacy? When, O God? How long?
Towards the end of the service, a young woman named Jessica, who is a member of Bethel AME, said she felt led by the Spirit to share some words with us. And when she got up into the pulpit and opened her Bible, the words she shared were from the beginning of the Book of Revelation.
Revelation was written to bring comfort to a people who were oppressed, afflicted, persecuted, terrorized. God knows, people of color in our nation today need these words of comfort and hope. The majority of the book is filled with violence, which is part of the reason most of us don’t read it often in worship. But the other reason, I think is this: the people who created the Revised Common Lectionary mostly look like me. They are mostly white, middle-to-upper-class Protestants. What do they know of terrorist acts aimed squarely at their loved ones? Not much. And it is clear in Revelation that God is on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressors. It is hard to find a word of hope in this book if you know you are more closely allied with the oppressors than the oppressed.
But even those of us with white skin have some choice. We were born into a racist society, but we can choose to actively work alongside people of color in exposing and dismantling racism.
Today, we hear John’s final words of hope in the Book of Revelation. Just as the Bible begins in paradise, it ends in paradise. After all the terror, the violence, the horror…..John paints a picture of hope. From the 21st chapter: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; 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.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”
This morning, I want to invite you to live into God’s call to be co-creators of this new heaven and new earth. There are three stations set up around the shelter. You may wish to visit all three or just one or two. As you move about, I ask that you keep silence.
The first station is a hand-washing station. This is a place for confession. For many of us here today, repentance is the first step to repair. If we are to be about the work of building the Beloved Community, we must begin by recognizing our own sins. If you wish to confess, you might want to simply wash your hands or sit for a while by the water. There are also markers – you might want to write your confessions on your hand and then wash them off.
The second station is for building. You can use the sand to create land and then make a river through the New Jerusalem. As you do so, please spend time meditating on our foundation in Christ. What holds us up, keeps us steady, and is the very ground of our being in the midst of evil and pain?
The third station is the Tree of Life which spans the river in the center of the city. John says, “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Using the leaves and permanent markers, write a word or two of hope, or draw a picture. You may want to take your leaf home as a reminder or you may want to set it free in the park so someone else will find it.
Come, let us work together to build a new heaven and new earth.
STATION ONE: Confession
“Nothing accursed will be found there any more….And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.”
As you confess your own sins and our communal sins, you may wish to wash your hands.
There are markers if you’d like to write or draw pictures on your hands before your wash them.
You may also wish to sit silently by the water.
STATION TWO: Building
Working silently together, use the sand to create a solid foundation for the New Jerusalem. You can add water to make the sand firm.
As you mold the sand, reflect silently on our foundation in Christ: What holds us up, keeps us steady, and is the very ground of our being in the midst of evil and pain?
Once the sand is formed, please make a river in the center of the city.
STATION THREE: Leaves of Healing
“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Using the permanent markers and working silently, write a few words of blessing or draw a picture of hope on a leaf.
You may wish to take the leaf home or give it to a friend who is not here. Or you may want to take it out into the park and leave it so someone else will find it.