Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, May 5, 2013, "A New Heaven and New Earth", Fr. Dick Clifford, SJ


Easter 6 Year C 2013

In our current Easter seasons’ Sunday readings (Year C), the Book of Revelation appears six times. Then Revelation will disappear for a couple of years till it comes around again in 2016. Since we seldom get a chance to hear from Revelation, I thought it a good idea to reflect on the second reading, an excerpt from the end of the book that talks about the heavenly city Jerusalem descending from heaven at the end of time, and light permeating the holy city.

I wonder how many of us pick up Revelation for private devotional reading? I rarely do. But I was recently reading the reflections of Fr. Jude Siciliano, a Dominican priest and skilled preacher. When he was a chaplain at San Quentin Prison in California, he found some inmates who read the book of Revelation regularly. He was surprised at his discovery. But when you think about it, you can easily understand why the inmates he knew in East Block, maximum security, would find comfort in the book’s mysterious visions of evil being overthrown and God comforting His people,

Revelation’s vision of the end time helped the locked-down inmates focus on a future time of release. They hoped that would be in their own lifetime, but some weren’t getting out, so the visions of "a new heaven and a new earth" promised to them by John brought them comfort and a hope of eventual release from their life of confinement and duress.

What was true for the inmates was also true for the early Christians who first heard it. They were the few who clung to their faith as they struggled to hold together as a community surrounded by an often hostile world. Even the book’s author was under stress, as he says, "I, John, your brother, who share with you the distress, the kingdom and the endurance we have in Jesus, found myself on the island called Patmos because I proclaimed God’s word and gave

testimony to Jesus" (1:9). So, the author of the book was living in exile, suffering in a prison of sorts, because he "gave testimony to Jesus."

We don’t have to be locked up or in exile to be readers of the Book of Revelation, to be inspired by God’s Word. Even the brief excerpt we have just heard encourages us when we are shocked at the triumph of evil and random violence. Running through Revelation is the assurance that, despite the apparent victories of evil in our world, God will overcome evil in the end and reward those who have persevered.

21:10[The angel] took me in a Spirit-inspired trance to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 11It gleamed with the splendor of God." (Rev 21:10-11 NAB)

John continues, "I didn’t see a temple in the city because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. The city doesn’t need the sun or the moon to shine on it because God’s glory is its light and its lamp is the lamb."

Is this vision too idyllic and idealistic? Is is believable? Joe Hill thought so. Who was Joe Hill? He was a Swedish-born itinerant laborer and pioneer in fighting for underpaid American laborers. In 1911, he wrote a hymn mocking preachers who promised people a glorious future in the next life without giving them bread in this life. He coined a famous line: "You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get pie in the sky when you die." If that’s what the book of Revelation means, then we should throw it aside, for it would lead us astray. When we look closer, however, we see the book is not meant to offer us false assurance, because it was not generated by human hopes to escape reality. That’s the thinking that Joe Hill criticized. Rather, the book was is a revelation that God’s justice will prevail over

human hatred and rebellion. It’s about what God will do at the end of the present world. Revelation does not disregard or put down the world, but rather reveals its inner dynamic. It tells us where we are headed.

We all know that the book of Genesis speaks about the creation of the world; God made the good world we live in, step by step, as a careful and systematic worker. But that world has been pretty well battered over the many millennia and centuries that rebellious human beings have lived in it. What the book of Revelation is telling us is that the just God has such respect for our world that he will one day intervene and, in as fresh act of creation, remake it once for all, "a new heaven and a new earth." We can assume that the new heaven and new earth will be built from the existing heaven and earth. Practically speaking, that means that God will take all the good we have done--the beauty we have safeguarded or created, the virtue that we have practiced, the love we have put into our lives--and incorporate it somehow into the new heavens and new earth. But most consoling of all is the coming of the new Jerusalem from heaven and the voice from the throne, "Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will always be with them as their God. He shall wipe away the tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. The one who sat on the throne said, "Behold I make all things new." That is why there is no temple in the city, for the Lord permeates every single thing. All is holy and holiness and light are not confined to one place.

That’s not "pie in the sky when you die." No, it’s God’s word about the destiny of the universe we live in. Jesus’ resurrection is the first step in that direction, for it means that we too, through our baptism, will raised up with him. This is our hope. This is why, as St. Augustine said, "We are a Easter people, and Alleluia is our song."

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