NEW JERUSALEM ON EARTH
6th Sunday of Easter
Revelation 21:1-6, 22-27 & 22:1-5
People often ask me the question: where is home for you? Is it here in Australia or back in Indonesia? Well, for me, home is not necessarily here in Australia or back in Indonesia. Home is not a specific place. For me, home is wherever I’m with my loved ones.
When my wife and son were still in Indonesia, and I was in Australia, I regularly flew to visit them. At the time, my favorite airline to fly was the Singaporean budget airline, Scoot. I remember that every time we landed, there would be this song played on the speakers inside the plane. The song was by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and it went like this:
“Ah, home, let me go home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Ah, home, let me go home
Home is wherever I’m with you”
That song spoke directly to my heart because, yes, home was wherever I was with my loved ones.
The same question can be asked to us as Jesus’ followers. Where is our true home? Is it up there in heaven? Or, is it down here on earth?
For us, Christians, home should not be a place like heaven or earth. Home is supposed to be wherever we are with God and God is with us. And, that can happen later in heaven or it can happen right now here on earth.
One of the flashpoints in the Middle East, if not in the world today, is the ruin of the temple in Jerusalem. The site has become a source of conflict especially between the followers of Judaism and Islam.
The site was where the Jerusalem Temple - the Jews’ spiritual, social, and political center – located. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the temple to retaliate against the Jewish revolt. What we have now is only the ruin of that temple. Nevertheless, the place is still considered as the holiest site for the Jewish people.
But, on the site of the ruin now stands the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque was built in in 705 CE and is now considered as the third holiest site for Muslims. It is believed to be the site where the Prophet Muhammad was taken to during his night journey.
So, you can see why this particular place has often triggered conflict in modern time. The followers of two of the most powerful religions in the world claiming the site as their holy place. The Jewish tradition even prophesies that, in the future, the third temple will be built on the site.
But, in John’s vison that we hear from Revelations, the New Jerusalem doesn’t even have a temple. The site that has become the source of so much hatred and violence doesn’t even appear in the city. In the New Jerusalem, there is no need for a t a place that acts as a bridge between God and the people. There is no need for a middle-person who mediates between God and the people. God’s people will have direct access to God’s presence. God will live side by side with the people and dwell with them.
In this new city, there will be no need for a sun as well because God will be their light. There won’t be night anymore because God will become a constant and direct presence in people’s life.
The vision reaches its climax in the proclamation that the people can see God’s face in the new city. According to the book of Exodus (33:20), no one can see God’s face and live. That was why the ancient Jews needed the temple that acted as a mediation between God and people. But, in the New Jerusalem, the people will be able to meet God face to face. There will be nothing that separates them from God anymore.
John’s vision is consistent with Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel. When Jesus left the disciples, he didn’t leave them orphaned. He reminded them that he would always be with them as long as they followed his commandment. Even more: if they kept Jesus’s words, he and the Father would make their home with them.
So, the disciples didn’t have to look for a place where they could call as their spiritual home. There was no need for them to build a magnificent building like the temple in Jerusalem. They would be at home as long as Jesus and their heavenly Father were with them.
So, let’s go back to the question at the beginning of this sermon. Where is home for me? Here in Australia or back in Indonesia? Well, I tell you what: sometimes when I’m in Australia, it feels like home is back in Indonesia. I miss my family, the food, etc. But, when I’m in Indonesia, it feels like home is back in Australia. I think that’s human nature, isn’t it? We like to long for a place we can call as home. And, that place is often not the place where we are right now.
I recently watched an interesting movie called Passengers. It tells the story of Avalon, a spaceship on a 120-year journey from earth to a new planet. The spaceship carries more than 5000 people sleeping in hibernation mode. But, 30 years into the journey, it was hit by powerful asteroids and it malfunctions temporarily. As the result, two passengers are awakened from their sleep, 90 years too early.
In other words, they are trapped in the ship. They can’t go back. It’ll take another 30 years to return to planet earth. So, they choose to carry on. The movie tells how these two passengers make the best of what they have inside of the ship. I particularly like the final words said by Aurora, one of the passengers who wakes up too early. She says,
“A friend once said, ‘You can’t get too hung up on where you’d rather be that you forget to make the most of where you are.’
We got lost along the way, but we found each other.
And we made a life, a beautiful life.
Likewise, we don’t have to wait until we die or until the end of the world to experience the New Jerusalem. We can experience heaven here on earth. Wherever and whenever God is in our midst, we have already arrived in the New Jerusalem. Wherever we shape ourselves and our community according to Jesus’ commandment, we are in heaven.
And that is what vision is all about. Vision is not only about the future. Vision is also about the present. Vision is about how we can shape the present according to the future.
God has given us the blueprint of what a community of believers should be about. We can see parts of that blue print in the vision of the New Jerusalem in John’s vision. We can also see parts of that blue print in the commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples. Our role is to implement that blueprint into our daily lives: in our family, our church, our community. The fullness in life can be experienced when we conduct ourselves according to Jesus’ commandment.
Friends, we don’t’ have to wait until Jesus returns at the end of time to experience the New Jerusalem. Interestingly, John’s Gospel sees Jesus’ second coming differently. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, John didn’t emphasize Jesus’ second coming in the future. For him, Jesus ‘second coming’ was whenever his followers lived according to his commandments. Because, whenever this happens, whenever we love like Jesus did, he lives with us and amongst us.
Having said all these, we still need to acknowledge that we live in a imperfect world. Yes, the New Jerusalem can be experienced in the here and now. Yet, we still long for the time when all people on earth would follow God’s way. When all the corners of the world would praise God’s name.
Our attempt to reflect the glory of the New Jerusalem will never be perfect. It will always be pale compared to the real New Jerusalem that God will bring in the future.
As such, we are never to be satisfied with what we have achieved. We are to continue refining our ‘Jerusalem’ here until it reaches its true potential, like it is in heaven.