A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2022
Let’s focus today on the end of time.
The final judgment.
The Revelation to John.
We don’t often spend a lot of time with Revelation in our lectionary cycle. We’ll get the odd reading here or there to further draw out themes, but it is only in this current year, Year C, that we get to spend several weeks hearing from Revelation. It’s no accident that these weeks are the weeks of the season of Easter.
It feels especially pertinent to spend some time speaking about the apocalypse today in context of what we have faced and are facing.
The past two years have been a challenge unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lives. The world literally stopped for a moment two years ago, and as we learned and adapted, we began to return to some forms of normalcy, but this has, or at least it should have, forever shifted how we view our neighbor, our connections with one another, our impact on people we will never meet, our impact on this world and creation. Even now, as we return to a state of “mostly normal,” we do so under the auspices of personal liberty, taking a risk, even here, gathering with others in an indoor space without masks, as variants and illness continue to go around. Thankfully it appears that right now, getting sick is not the death sentence it was at the beginning, and hopefully the variants continue to evolve into weaker and weaker versions of their predecessors, but that doesn’t mean that we all didn’t face our own mortality these past two years and wonder if this was perhaps the end of times.
And then, just as we began to have hope that we may be getting out in front of all of this, Russia invaded Ukraine, for no other reason then to terrorize. That war continues to drag on, with casualties piling up, with the future ramifications only beginning to be guessed at. War feels like creation’s best attempt to usher in the end of times early.
Then this past week, injustice reared its head here in our own country. The leaked Supreme Court decision which looks to be overturning the landmark and legal precedent setting Roe v. Wade is marked purely by partisan wrangling and decision making and not with care or concern or compassion for those who will be impacted, causing a wave of unnecessary trauma and fear among us. It is understandable for women in this country to feel today that perhaps they are living in the end of times, having their autonomy and agency over their bodies taken away, even for moments in their life where they are already experiencing incomprehensible (at least for men) fear, grief, and trauma.
It is in this reality of the world that we are confronted with the Revelation to John as we celebrate the resurrected Christ in this Easter season, as we celebrate that our sins are forgiven, as we celebrate that creation is reconciled to God, as we celebrate that there is a different way, a different path to follow in this world.
The Revelation to John calls us to imagine what it will look like when Christ makes his triumphal return at the end of time to weigh creation one last time, passing a final judgment, holding up the balance of our time amongst one another and this creation.
“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb…for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life…’”
Here we have the blending of this language of sheeps, lambs, and shepherd that is present throughout our scriptures.
Jesus today tells us in the gospel “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
We read Psalm 23 today, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.”
It echoes what we heard last week from the shore over breakfast, “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
This language was used to provide a great source of comfort for those who originally heard it. Those who explicitly understood what it meant to shepherd sheep.
I wonder if we’ve lost the understanding of how comforting this relationship example is?
We have become increasingly siloed from others, we have become increasingly focused insularly, focused on ourselves, focused on our individuality.
We forget that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we can choose to be part of something bigger than ourselves, that God wants us to follow the path of something that draws us out into the world to share the Good News that we don’t have to be so self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-focused that we lose our relationships with one another, with this beautiful creation.
But, what if we broke free from this hamster wheel?
What if we embraced our identity as the sheep who know the voice?
What if we embraced our identity as the ones who shout out “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”?
“They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
This is the Good News of following the way of love that is found when we answer Christ’s call to “Follow me.”
This is the Good News of following the way of love that is found when we tend and feed the sheep, when we help others realize that there is a different way of being in this world, that there is an answer to the fear and anxiety they are experiencing as the world appears to come crashing down around them.
This isn’t an answer that will solve everything for them.
It is an answer that does something else.
It is an answer that loves them, fiercely loves them, without judgment, no matter what is going on in their life, no matter what trial or hardship or fear or burden they are carrying.
It is an answer that loves you, fiercely loves you, without judgment, no matter what is going on in your life, no matter what trial or hardship or fear or burden you are carrying.
It is an answer that stands up and advocates for those who are targeted, who are treated less than, who are attacked for their personhood.
It is an answer that creates safe spaces for anyone who needs it to experience love, to explore what it means to be in community with others, to explore what it means to live into their true and authentic self.
The Revelation to John may be about the end of times, it may be about what will transpire when Christ comes again to pass a final judgment, but it is also a challenge to us to ask how we are living into the way, here and now, so that when Christ comes we will be counted among those “who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
We can start by ensuring that none more go hungry, none more thirst, that none more are left outside to be beat down by the elements with no safe place to live, and by being ready to wipe every tear of those who face challenges, trials, traumas, and attacks, as a sign of the always present love of God in our lives and in the lives of every person.