The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Zoom Evening Prayer      10th May 2020
The Home of God is Among Mortals
Jeremy Fletcher

Revelation 21. 1 - 14

One of the things many people have been doing in their permitted exercise during the lockdown is discovering, or rediscovering, their city. Walking up Hampstead High Street on what would have previously been a traffic heavy lunchtime is a completely different experience now. People don’t normally associated cities with paradise, but traffic free, with the sounds of nature now audible, and with some neighbourhoods discovering community afresh, maybe a city can be heavenly after all. 
Revelation 21 offers us a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, a glimpse into God’s future. It is a city. It’s actually a cube, whose length, width and hight are the same (Rev 21. 16). It is meant to be, literally, all-encompassing. John draws from his roots in his visions, and the Old Testament readings in Eastertide offer us some of them: the stories of the rebuilding of the Temple as a physical sign of the new Kingdom, the restored people of God returning triumphantly from tribulation and exile. In that Temple was the Holy of Holies, the place of God’s nearer presence. It was also equal in height, length and depth, and was so holy that it could be accessed once a year only by one person only, the High Priest. 
Not so in the new heaven. God is equally present in the whole of the City of God and to all its citizens. One commentator says that “this is the holy presence of God on a truly cosmic scale” (Ian Paul, Revelation, 2018). We will hear next week that there is no Temple in this city “for its Temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21.22). This is a gathering, a community, an active place of association. Revelation sees our future as together, in a massive and vibrant gathering encompassing the whole world. Every tribe and tongue and nation will join the song of the Lamb. The vision is of a new city, where God and people are at work together, with no boundaries of sacred or secular, physical or spiritual. 
When we hear in verse 5, “See I am making all things new” it is the first direct speech from God since Chapter 1 verse 8. It’s that important. The world of the pandemic needs that hope just as much as the world of persecution and suffering in which John wrote. “I make all things new.” The pandemic is vast, and its effects are intimate. The fear is all encompassing, and the experience is personal. There is hope for both the global and the individual in John’s vision. 
The measurements are meant to be boundless, and the descriptions of colour and building materials and light sources and music are meant to be breathtaking, beyond imagining. That could be overwhelming, just as the scale of the pandemic. But hear the intimate way this works, the individual care of God the Almighty. As a tear rolls down a cheek, there is a gentle hand with a tissue to wipe it away, one tear at a time. Our devastations and sufferings will not be swept away as if they were too small to matter. They will be acknowledged, taken seriously, treated with care, and brought into the love of God to be restored and renewed and healed. The all encompassing City of the Almighty is the place of the tenderness of God’s care for each individual. If it were not, it would not be Heaven. 
Perhaps, as the lock down lifts, we will be able to preserve the aspects of the city which we have come to love, and to enable them to define our renewed association, commerce, and community. Perhaps we will be able to demonstrate the love of God for the need of each individual, tenderly and courageously, as we have in the support of the poor and the hungry and the lonely.

Perhaps we can have a vision where, as we tenderly wipe a tear, we powerfully assert the belonging of everyone in this society, and work for justice and fairness and equality of treatment. In the heaven to come there will be new life. May we bring that life to bear even now, in all its fullness, and for Jesus’s sake. Amen.  

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