St. Philip Lutheran Church
22 May 2022 + Sixth Sunday of Easter
Rev. Josh Evans
Jesus’s words feel like a hopeful and welcome promise … and, at the same time, such a far off dream and unattainable vision for our time:
As our country (yet again) grapples with the grief and terror of mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York… at a church in Laguna Woods, California… at a flea market in Houston, Texas.
Peace I leave with you…
As our world watches the ongoing violence and war in Ukraine and countless other places of global conflict, only exacerbating a growing refugee crisis of millions of people displaced from their homes and communities.
…my peace I give to you.
As racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia continue to infect our public discourse, deepening political divisions that already feel worlds apart, fracturing our nation, our families, and even our churches.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
As church membership dwindles and pews feel more sparse than they once were, forcing us to confront a trajectory of decline that was in place long before the pandemic made us realize it more.
Do not let your hearts be troubled…
As the CDC’s COVID-19 map becomes increasingly dotted with more bright orange-shaded counties of high community levels, and we wonder if this will ever end.
…and do not let them be afraid.
The truth is we are afraid. I’m afraid.
The disciples knew something of that fear too. In the hours before their friend and teacher’s arrest, trial, and death, there is much anxiety and fear in their questions:
Lord, where are you going?
We have no idea…
How can we know the way?
What’s going to happen?
Their questions prompt Jesus’s reassurance of peace, and yet, in the midst of the crisis, it’s hard to feel that reassurance.
The communities receiving a letter from John of Patmos knew something of that fear and tension too. Living in a political and social climate dominated by the brutality, injustice, and inequality of the Roman Empire, they had to wonder:
Could this fledgling Jesus movement survive?
Is it even worth it?
What’s going to happen?
John’s vision understands their concerns well and anticipates their own anxious questions with a word of encouragement and hope.
Remember Lamb Power? Revelation is the oxymoronic Easter gospel that reminds us: Our Lamb has conquered, and our Lamb will get the final word.
Rome is not the end. Social injustice and inequality and fear and violence are not the end. Instead, Revelation invites its hearers to imagine a future beyond their present circumstances, guided by the certain hope that Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Revelation invites us to imagine ourselves in that reality, too.
At the end of John’s empire-toppling vision, he tells of a new Jerusalem, described in this way by the late Lutheran hymn-writer Susan Palo Cherwien:
Come, new heav’n, new earth descending,
Come, O gold and radiant grace;
To our mortal world attending,
God has made a dwelling place.
Be here now the holy city:
Life abundant, joy in worth,
Words of healing, hands of pity,
Peaceful hearts and peace on earth.
Here God’s people rise beloved:
Christ has freed the heart from fear;
God’s own Spirit brightly hovers
As the reign of God appears.
Now the holy gates are opened,
Past and future pierce us through;
This, the gold of all our hoping:
God is making all things new.
Alleluia be our measure;
Alleluias mark our days;
May each breath, each deed, each pleasure
Choir to God our heartfelt praise.
As if that doesn’t already preach itself, Cherwien also points out her intentional word choice of the first word of each stanza: Come Be Here Now Alleluia.
Come… into this sacred space of worship. As we are, with all of who we are, with all that weighs us down, no prerequisites, no strings attached.
Be… not “do,” just “be.” In the presence of God, in the presence of each other. A moment to catch our breath and remember who and whose we are.
Here… in this space, around this table, and at the same time, together with the saints of every time and place who have gathered around this table and tables everywhere.
Now… today, in this moment, and invoking:
Alleluia… an invitation and a proclamation of resurrection gospel.
Come Be Here Now Alleluia.
Our Lamb has conquered, and our Lamb offers us such peace, not as the world gives, but a profoundly deep and lasting sense of well-being and belovedness.
Because our Lamb has conquered, peace. And because our Lamb has conquered, we are emboldened to bear witness to that good news.
Rise, beloved. Christ has freed our hearts from fear. God’s own Spirit, the Advocate, brightly hovers and goes with us.
God’s reign has come and is coming.
Alleluia, here and now.