“Forward in Hope”
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. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,‘See, the home* of God is among mortals. He will dwell* with them; they will be his peoples,* and God himself will be with them;*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.’ Revelation 21:1-4 NRSV
When considering some of the troubles of our present day where does hope rise? Where are alternatives to these present realties?
I am reading a book called “In Search of the Church” by Keith Russell. He has some good thoughts about the church including the view that what the church has to offer in this troubled time is a way of life that holds alternatives to hate, violence, greed and destruction. The church can be a place where this sort of life can be envisioned and made real. Consider the early churches as they took shape in different cities and locations in the Roman Empire. They were all similar in that they offered a different way of life. They lived in the Roman Empire that said Caser was god and the state should have your greatest allegiance. The church took shape with a different allegiance, namely to Christ. A different community shaped by Christ that said blessed are the poor, that welcomed the immigrant, the stranger, the exile, the slave, the widow, the orphan as full members of the community of Christ. These were not, and I would argue, are not our culture’s values today. It is no wonder that these early Christians got into trouble often. Case in point is John of Patmos who is said to have penned Revelation. He was exiled, in part, for calling the Church to be allegiant to Christ only. He rejected the worship of state and its life-draining values. This is the way things are now but Christ is making a new reality possible unfolding in John’s time and in ours today. The scripture from Revelation, listed above, is a passage with words dripping with hope. Speaking to life that exists now as God dwells with God’s people and creates a community where love is the agenda; love meaning right relationships with one another, respect, and service extended to one another.
Russell, shares in his book a ‘Parable of Possibility’ about a community that New York Theological seminary has sponsored at Sing Sing prison. Sing Sing is a maximum security prison and they have a master’s level theological training program for prisoners. Men who are prisoners prepare for a various aspects of prison ministry. In doing this they have to learn how to pray together, work together, and live together. The overall environment of the prison is violent and negative. Within this environment is a church community that in the midst of their current situation finds hope. It is a community not based just on what they have in common but what they are becoming in Christ. Instead of despair, hate and destructive behaviors, Christ followers are being shaped to dream new dreams and live into a future hope. If it is possible to build communities of faith and hope in such a place as Sing Sing prison- think what could be accomplished in the church today.
Russell goes on to share some options for the church today. We can look to the past and say weren’t the good old days so good, but glorifying the past will never lead us to the future. We can be despairing about our present situations or we can look to the Lamb who leads us onward. We can look to what might be as Christ works through the people of the church here and now. We can look to the Lamb who walks through the world with us and says you don’t need to settle for the mess that is around us now. We can look to Christ who leads us to be church, which is a place where alternatives to the life draining ways of our world exist. This offers the world a future not determined ultimately by gun violence, economic fluctuations, injustice, or terrorism. The future is determined ultimately by Christ as he is known and experienced. We are invited to follow our lamb to this future. He has already conquered and continues still to conquer ways of sin, destruction and despair. Our lamb is conquering…will we follow him?