A Provocation: Fifth Sunday of Easter: May 19, 2019: Revelation 21:1-6

Revelation 21:1-6
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; 
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, 
and the sea was no more.
21:2 And I saw the holy city, 
the new Jerusalem, 
coming down out of heaven from God, 
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
21:3 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;
21:4 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."
21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, 
"See, I am making all things new." 
Also he said, 
"Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."
21:6 Then he said to me, 
"It is done! 
I am the Alpha and the Omega, 
the beginning and the end. 
To the thirsty I will give water 
as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

A Question or Two:

  • Why will God wipe away every tear?
  • Who do you know that is weeping?

Some Longer Reflections:

When I was thinking about the scene from John for last Sunday, the scene set at the time of Hanukkah, I noticed that the word for the Rededication of the Temple is ἐγκαίνια, and that at the heart of this verb of dedicating is the stem, …καίν…, which means “new.” I wondered about that a little.

Then I looked at the gospel assigned for this Sunday (which I wrote about three years ago; see: https://tinyurl.com/ProvocationFifthEasterJohn ), which also focuses on newness, specifically a new commandment, ἐντολὴν καινὴν. And then I looked at the text from Revelation. Again, newness; again the stem, …καιν….

So I thought about Hanukkah again. It is a feast of Rededicating, of Restoring the Temple after Antiochus IV had polluted it, of Renewing the Holy of Holies in order to stabilize the world. Being a word nerd, I noticed that the prefix “re-” is followed by “-dedicating,” which is a verb form. I noticed that “re-” is also followed by “-storing,” another verb.

That would seem to imply that the third translation I just offered, “renewing,” should also be based on a verb. Now, I verb nouns with the best of them. Just ask my students. So did John Steinbeck, so I don’t feel too bad about it. When someone gets nervous about using “gift” as a verb, I find myself remembering the word “present,” which is both noun and verb . Or the word “display.” Or “exit.” Oh well.

What if “new” is also a verb?

It turns out that it is, at least in Greek. The stem …καιν… shows up not only in the adjective, καινη, but also in the verb καινοω, which means “to make new,” or “to restore.”

So, for the sake of provoking reflection, what if the “new commandment” in John 13 (which is just plain old Torah, as every Jew knows) is a commandment that reNEWS you? That is also something that every Jew knows: Torah renews you, your community, and the Creation. Since, as the rabbis say, God created the Cosmos in accordance with Torah, living in accordance with Torah makes you new, just like sunrise in the spring.

And, to push the provoking further, what if the story of a “new sky and a new earth” also reNEWS? We live in the midst of politics and privilege that do their best to train us to be cynical and hopeless. The people with power hold on to it, in part, by training you to say, “Nothing will ever change, so why bother?” Every time anyone says that, power and privilege are cemented in place, and the world stays old.

What if the story of newness is actually the power that makes the world new? What if when God says, “See, I am making all things new,” it causes the birth of hope, and erodes the power of dry cynicism? Michael D. Jackson, in his book The Politics of Storytelling: Violence, Transgression, and Intersubjectivity, argues that reclaiming the power to tell our own stories is the means by which human beings resist oppression, and that it is the means by which we recover from abuse. As an anthropologist, Jackson has seen it happen.

You have, too.

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