Updated: Sep 29, 2022
In John’s vision, he sees “a new heaven and a new earth” and a “new Jerusalem”! This is good news! New and improved is always good news, right?!
May 15, 2022
Dr. Todd R. Wright In John’s vision, he sees “a new heaven and a new earth” and a “new Jerusalem”! This is good news! New and improved is always good news, right?! In 1892, the World’s Fair opened in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the new world. It was also a celebration of the rebirth of the city after the great fire of 1871. Twenty-seven million visitors were treated to a stunning sight: the protype of what the organizing architects thought a city should be, with “neoclassical architecture principles based on symmetry, balance, and splendor.” Thanks to the dazzling use of electric lights and white stucco, it became known as “The White City”! Of course, we do not need to look back 130 years for such inspiration. This past Monday, the newly renovated downtown public library was reopened to the public! Tom Heywood, president of the Kanawha County Public Library Foundation, gushed, “All of us who call Kanawha County home, should be proud … that this is truly cutting edge. This is the vanguard of libraries and something that will be an asset to our community for decades to come.” What makes it cutting edge? Not just the 20,000 square feet of new space and the sky bridge; not just the expanded children’s area and additional public meeting spaces; but also the tool lending library with everything from hammers to a cement mixer; the Idea Lab with 3-D printers and robotics; and the coffee shop operated by local business, Mea Cuppa!
There is much appeal to the “new” that John sees. We know all the ways our current earth could be improved, restored, made new: When he says the sea will be no more, he is describing an end to the chaos of the waves and the danger of the deep. When he says God will wipe away every tear and banish death, he is promising a place where there are no more bombings of movie theaters or mass shootings at schools, no more unmarked graves or empty spots across the table, no more loved ones succumbing to a pandemic or little ones who do not live more than a few hours. Of course this is good news!
But what does he mean when he envisions a new heaven? What needs to be fixed about heaven? Do the pearly gates need a shine? Do the streets of gold need a road crew to fix the potholes? Do the angels need a voice coach? Does Disney need to share some ideas for reducing entry line wait times? Don’t be silly! But John is clear, heaven will be made new. It will no longer be a distant place, an exclusive address, a dream for those who die. Instead, God says, “I will dwell among you!” and the relationship that was always meant to be, will be restored – the Lord will be our God and we will be God’s people!
It is a lovely vision, but what would a new heaven and new earth really mean? Artist James Janknegt stepped into John’s shoes and wrestled with that question as he painted the piece you see on the cover of the bulletin. According to one scholar, in “Make All Things New”, he envisions “the risen Christ standing triumphantly over the pit of death and under the blessing hand of God, sweeping up the things of earth into a whirlpool of color. Birds, balls, and bicycles; musical instruments and charcoal grills; plants and houses, pets and people, mowers and swing sets — all are on their way to the New Jerusalem. Beauty, work, and play.” But look closely. “Also present in the cosmic swirl are a loaf of bread and a [cup] of wine, symbols of God’s broken body and spilt blood, the activators of the new covenant. [God] transforms common, earthly elements into means of grace.”
You may not care about the architectural impact of the White City; and you may not ever step into the newly renovated downtown library; but John’s vision is not trivial or optional. He is giving us a vision of a transformed world we are called to live in right now! As followers of the Risen Christ, we partner with God to birth into existence a new heaven and a new earth! You do this … every time you pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven …”; every time you bravely and boldly echo Kelsey in promising to “devote yourself to the church’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers …”; every time you feed the hungry, or comfort the grieving, or stand up for justice; every time you paint a picture with words or deeds, with paint or poetry of what will be. The first hearers of John’s revelation ached for something new. The world still does. God delivers it. And we help! It is one of the joys and obligations of being a resurrection people! Amen
 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_Columbian_Exposition#White_City  See https://wvmetronews.com/2022/05/09/this-is-the-vanguard-of-libraries-renovated-downtown-charleston-library-opens-to-public/#:~:text=CHARLESTON%2C%20W.Va.&text=The%20library%20was%20officially%20reopened,Sky%20Bridge%20across%20Quarrier%20Street.  From “New Heaven and New Earth” by Victoria Jones for artandtheology.org, 4/21/16