Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/8Y_x5UUoBH4.
Revelation 21: 1-16
How many of you say Morning Prayer every morning? Those who do will know that the lectionary readings for Morning Prayer have been working through Numbers. In Numbers Moses is leading his people out through the wilderness and they are wandering around. Now a lot of Numbers is about setting up systems and rules. This week there has been lengthy descriptions of the Aaronic Priesthood and its responsibilities, and I have to say that I am glad to be a priest in the new covenant. On Thursday morning however the narrative had recommenced and the Israelites were moaning to Moses. They had been hungry and Moses had prayed and God had sent them manna and now they were complaining about that. They were remembering the cucumbers and garlic they had enjoyed in Egypt, sounds like they were making tzatsiki. The fact that they had been slaves, they seemed to have forgotten and all they could think about was the fact that they were bored with manna. Moses is one of the great heroes of the OT and was present at the Transfiguration of Jesus, and yet his congregation of people were not happy to led by him, were not happy with any of the things that he did, were not happy with God’s answers to their prayers and were generally disgruntled. My sympathy is with Moses. It appears to me that things have not changed much. And yet, I have to say there is one regard in which our situations are different. Moses’ people had a covenant with God, which they continually broke, and in response God God’s-self entered into a new covenant with them, through the death of Jesus. In this Easter season particularly we remember Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension and surely this should make a difference to how we behave?
Jesus himself, gave us some instruction through the words he uttered in the upper room after the meal that they shared on the eve of his crucifixion. We always read this passage on Maundy Thursday, but of course, not all of you were there for that service so I think it is worth going through this again.
The little tiny bit we read this morning has to be read in the context of what goes before and what comes after.
The disciples are gathered in the upper room and they are sitting at the table- or rather they are reclining, as they sat on the floor. They have begun their meal and then Jesus gets up and begins to wash their feet. You will remember that he has a little tussle with Peter about that. Then Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him, one of the people with whom he is sharing the meal. Peter asks who it is and Jesus gives Judas a piece of bread dipped in the broth that they are sharing. Judas, and you have to feel a little sorry for him, who has shared in the foot washing, shared in the meal, gets up and goes out to betray Jesus. And just as an aside, Judas has a horrible but essential role, doesn’t he? Without Judas there would not be betrayal and crucifixion and then resurrection. It is very important to recognise that Jesus shares hospitality even with Judas.
Jesus then says to the others that in what Judas is going to do God will be glorified. Does that bring to mind for you the statement that St Paul makes that all things work together for good? Nobody could describe Judas’ actions as good and yet they fulfilled a purpose in the greater scheme of things. Then when Judas has left, Jesus says to the disciples, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him. God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” Does this mean that in betrayal God’s glory will be shown? Well, yes, I think it does. Jesus’ point is that the glory of God is shown in love. Jesus, who has loved all of his disciples “to completion” as it says just a few verses earlier, is about to love the whole human race, to completion by his death on the cross. It is love, shown in sacrificial action, to all, good and bad. And as we all know we are all sinners. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”. Rom 5:8 And so it is love that glorifies God, love that glorifies Jesus even when hanging on the cross.
Jesus then talks to them about love. I won’t be here for very much longer, darlings, and then you will have carry on the message, so let me give you an instruction: Love one another as I have loved you and then everyone will understand that you are my disciples.
But you don’t have to love the people you don’t like much in the church, and you don’t have to love the leader if you don’t think much of them, and you certainly don’t have to love the troublemakers? Is that what he says? Sadly for us, it is not. It is quite easy to love your friends and think that you are doing a good job of keeping Jesus’ last instruction, but what is asked of you is much more than that. We, all of us, are called upon to love in a radical way, just like Jesus. We are called upon to love each other, here in the church regardless of whether we like each other or not. We are also called in other passages, by Jesus, to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. We are called to care for people even when we don’t know who they are, even when we cannot recognise the face of Christ in them. Remember the parable Jesus told of the separation of the sheep and the goats at the end of Matthew? We are called to radical and real love, for the ungodly, for the unrighteous, for everyone who comes within our sphere of existence. And it is what is to mark us out- radical love. Not the crosses on our foreheads from baptism, though that cross is the mark of radical love. But we are not called to be recognised through our grumbling and backbiting, our judgement of others and our hurtful words.
Another thing to recognise is that the example Jesus gives us is one of service in the context of hospitality.
And in the Acts of the Apostles in the passage that we read, Peter is explaining this to the Jewish leaders of the young church. Peter tells them the amazing story of the vision that convicts him that he is to abandon his cultural norms in the face of the changed relationships. Jesus has died on the cross for everyone, Jew and Gentile and so Peter can now eat with the Gentiles, and not just eat with them but eat in their homes, sharing their hospitality. This is the outworking of love. Love is not just a concept, it is seen in actions. Peter has understood this and when he explains it the others get it as well. God has given him a graphic example of God’s love by giving the Holy Spirit before Peter is ready for it. God teaches Peter, both in his vision and in the subsequent events that love is in sharing, love is in the action of hospitality, love is in accepting the gifts of others. We have to live together in mutual give and take, loving and being loved. Eating with each other and with the rest of the world. And if we can do this, however poorly, we are part of the amazing kingdom of God glimpsed in Revelation.
In this picture of the new heaven and the new earth the first image is one of love and mutuality- a bride adorned for her husband. This marriage of God and God’s people is all about living together, dwelling together in love. And when we are living together, with God, in love there will be no more crying, death will be no more, but neither will unkindness to each other because those first things will have passed away and we will be completely renewed. Jesus is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. There is nothing outside of God and God’s love. And God in his love, will give water to the thirsty as a gift from the spring of life.
We long for this reality don’t we? The new Jerusalem?
And yet, you know we have it here, within us. We have the possibility of living in love, dwelling in God. However, it seems to me that we choose how we will live, day by day. What I don’t understand is why we choose not to live in love, so often.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you. This week and every week I pray that these words will be imprinted in us and form who we are as a church and as a people.