Revelation 21:9-27 / Easter 6C / 5 May 2013 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” – Revelation 21:9
In among our wedding day superstitions, it’s considered “bad luck” for the groom to see the bride before she gets to the altar. Some couples still follow this superstition today, even if they’ve seen a lot more of each other before the wedding day. Still, it’s bad luck and all.
The superstition goes back to the day when marriages were contracted by the fathers of the bride and groom, essentially a property deal involving heads of sheep and cattle along with acreage. The idea was that the father of the bride didn’t want the groom to see his betrothed until it was too late to back out. So he put a veil over his daughter’s face and kept her hidden from view until the very last moment before the fateful handshake between the father of the bride and the groom. You might recall Jacob and his scheming Uncle Laban who pulled the big switch at the last minute and sent Leah to the wedding tent in place of intended Rachel much to the surprise of unsuspecting Jacob, who discovered only too late that he got the wrong girl.
For the Church, the wedding was Good Friday. There the Son of God left Father and mother to cling to His Bride who was formed from His wounded side. The marriage supper of the Lamb is not the wedding but the party, the reception, in which Christ shows off His Bride in all her radiant splendor.
But now the Church is mostly hidden. We say in the creed we “believe in the holy Christian church.” We believe because we do not see. The Church is a matter of faith not sight. There is not much of the Church to see, and what we do see is not always a pretty sight. We see divisions, scandals, heresies, schisms, corrupt clergy, power struggles, and more. It causes some to turn away in disgust and disappointment at times. You would think the Bride of Christ would be more glorious.
That’s our view “from below”. That’s how we see the Church under the cross as it is here and now. But that’s not God’s view of the Church. His view is the view “from above”. And viewed from above, the vision of the Church is much different. Her sin is washed away. She is without spot or blemish or wrinkle. She has been washed and clothed by Christ, and she appears radiant and glorious.
That’s the view that John received in the Revelation and that he shares with us. It’s the view of the Spirit who carried him off to a high mountain to see the holy city coming down out of heaven from God. The Bride of the Lamb is a city, a great and holy city whose builder and architect is God Himself. It is not a city built by man. That city is Babylon in the Revelation. Babylon the prostitute. Jerusalem the Bride. The city that man builds, which includes all of our cities, is destined for destruction. The city God builds is destined for eternity.
The Revelation gives us a little sneak peek at the Bride of the Lamb. A radiant and rare jewel. Precious to Him. Purchased by His blood. And clear as crystal. Transparent to the light of Christ, meaning that nothing gets in the way of Christ shining through her. In this life Sin gets in the way. We get in the way. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men,” but what keeps that light of Christ from shining is our own sinful selves. We cloud and obscure the light of Christ with our own egos, drawing attention to what we are doing instead of what Jesus has done.
Everything is “transparent as glass” in God’s city, even the gold that paves the streets of the city and the precious stone that form its foundations. Nothing, nothing gets in the way of the light of Christ. All the goodness and mercy and love of God shines through everything in God’s city, unattenuated and unimpeded by our egos and agendas. Such clarity defies our imaginations. We talk about “transparency” in business and government and religion, but this is a transparency that only God can achieve where even gold is clear as glass. Now we see but through a mirror dimly, like looking through a window smudged with soot and grease. The greasy fingerprints of old Adam are on everything we touch. But in God’s city, the stain of Sin is washed away forever. Clarity is restored.
God’s city is a gated community. It’s not like our gated communities designed to keep outsiders out. In God’s city, the gates are designed to let outsiders in. Twelve gates of perfect precious pearl open to the four compass directions, always open, never shut, never locked. This is where we get the notion of heaven’s “pearly gates.” Pearls are costly and precious, like the pearl of great price that is worth everything one has. Consider the cost. These pearls by which you enter God’s city were purchased not with gold or silver but with the holy precious Blood and innocent suffering and death of Christ. Entry into God’s city isn’t cheap but it’s paid for.
The names of Israel’s tribes are inscribed on these gates, reminding all who enter that they come into the city through God’s Israel as sons and daughters of Abraham. God’s chosen people, His holy nation, His priestly kingdom set apart from the other nations is remembered in the walls of the city. The salvation of the world comes through Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the sons of Jacob. This was God’s plan carried out in Israel and fulfilled in Jesus, the son of Abraham, son of David, son of Israel.
The gates point to the four corners of the earth, three in each direction, open to the whole world and to all of redeemed humanity. God’s building program began in a garden with two fallen human beings hiding in shame and fear, clothed with a promise of redemption. It came through the promise of one man, Abraham, that he would be the father of nations and that through His promised Seed (Christ) all nations would be blessed. It is fulfilled in one life, death, and resurrection – the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the Offspring of Abraham, Jesus the Christ, who redeemed all of humanity in His death and who invites all nations to come through these Israelite gates.
The city is 12,000 stadia in every direction, a perfect cube of a city. The 1st century Greeks considered the cube to be the perfect geometric form. God’s city is perfectly proportioned. Nothing is out of alignment, nothing is off kilter. Our cities are anything but perfection, tossed together and crooked, seemingly without plan or purpose. One thing always seems to get in the way of another thing. In God’s city, all things work together in harmony (shalom) because Christ is the cornerstone, setting the angles with His sinless perfection.
Our cities are built on the rubble of the past, the death of civilizations gone before. With earthly Jerusalem, this is literally true. The new city rests atop the rubble of the old city. But God’s city rests on twelve, multi-colored foundations, each layer bearing the name of an apostle and refracting the Light of Christ in all its multicolored beauty. The foundation of the Church is apostolic. We believe in one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church. We follow the apostolic Word. And we are reminded here that though each of the apostles spoke in his unique voice with his unique color, nevertheless it is all the same light, the same Christ, refracted like a rainbow or a prism, into all the colors of the Gospel’s glorious spectrum.
There is no temple in God’s city. That sounds strange. If worship is the only activity, why is there no temple? Where do you worship without a temple? When you’re standing in the unmediated presence of God and the Lamb, you don’t need a temple. Who needs a temple when you are in the presence of the one whose body is the temple par excellence?
God’s city is a city unlike any we could build with our hands. That’s the point of this vision. God builds His church with Israelite walls and apostolic foundations. He takes the raw and rough material of our history and brings the glory and honor of the nations through those gates of pearl into the endless light of Christ. History is redeemed. Your history is redeemed. Everything looks different when illuminated by the light of the Lamb, when seen through the prism of the apostolic Word. Everything looks different when seen in Christ.
On the eve of His death, Jesus reminded His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” In this life, in our cities, our neighborhoods, our homes, our lives, you will have tribulation, hardship, tears, frustrations, anguish. You may despair that there is any goodness and mercy in this world. You may wonder and perhaps even doubt if God cares, if Christ reigns, if there is any future, any hope, anything worth looking forward to.
Jesus’ answer to you from the cross and the open tomb is this: “I have overcome the world.” Not to destroy it, but to save it. Not to improve it, but to redeem it. Not to renovate man’s city but to build God’s city, His kingdom. You’re a part of it. You’re baptized. Your name is written the Lamb’s baptismal book. God’s city is your city, the place where you belong, the place where you are most at home, the place you already have in Christ by faith.
You will rise on the Last Day to enter those Israelite gates of precious pearl, to stand on solid apostolic foundations, to walk on streets of translucent gold, to see the Light of Christ in all His glory, to worship in the presence of God and the Lamb in the Spirit, to marvel at the perfected symmetry of what God has done with this world and its sorrows. That is your destiny, your inheritance, your hope in Christ.
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ has overcome Sin, Death, the Grave, the world. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here comes the Bride.