“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with humankind”
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year C by Tom Mundahl
Reading for Series C: 2012-2013
The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year C
Acts 11: 1-18
Revelation 21: 1-6
John 13: 31-35
It is almost as if the remaining readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter are animated by the ‘spirit’ of Psalm 148. As the praise of the LORD moves from the heavens to the deep habitat of the sea monsters on the way to the dust of the creeping things, a ‘cosmic choir’ is formed whose voice and timbre defy imagination. They remind us once more of the new song Easter brings.
That newness oozes from our First Reading which continues Peter’s sermon that we heard on the Resurrection of Our Lord. Peter’s learning that “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10: 34) and welcomes Gentiles has now made its way to Jerusalem where the reception has been chilly.
Having been given the “the cold shoulder” by the Jerusalem community (“Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”) (Acts 11: 3), Peter reprises his earlier vision and the voice claiming “What God has made clean, you must not call profane (“common,” “unclean”)” (Acts 11:9). Continuing the narrative, Paul teaches the Jerusalem community “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us” (Acts 11: 12).
As we suggested in our comment on Acts 10: 34-43 (Easter Day), it may be time for the same expansive energy that moved Peter to embrace the Gentiles of Caesarea to move us to welcome concern for all of God’s creation within the scope of God’s renewing mercy. That certainly is the direction Psalm 148 moves us—far beyond anthropocentrism!
This same movement is affirmed in our Second Reading, which is from Revelation. Nowhere in the Christian scriptures is the sense of the wholeness and interdependence of all things sung better than in the vision of the New Jerusalem shared by John in Revelation 21--22. As a perfectly realized city, it fulfills the hopes of creation and overcomes the ‘urban violence’ begun when “the city builder,” Cain, killed brother Abel. It truly is a “garden city” built on the banks of a clean—running river that nourishes vegetation designed for the healing of all nations (see Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (Fortress, 1996), pp. 314-315).
One of the major themes of the Apocalypse is a New Exodus promised to beleaguered believers of Asia Minor. This time, the Exodus is not from Egypt, but from “Babylon,” John’s rather obvious ‘code word’ for Rome. This is why John reports a voice crying “Come out of her (Babylon--Rome), my people, so you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues . . . .” (Revelation 18: 4) But where will they go; what ‘land of milk and honey’ will be their destination. In John’s ‘view’ the destination is the New City. In the logic of apocalyptic, this future vision may appear to be “otherworldly” (see Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic (Fortress, 1979), pp. 9-12), but nothing could be further from the truth.
This new city “comes down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21: 2). As opposed to the Earth-hating “rapture” theology of Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind “novels,” as Barbara Rossing suggests, “this is rapture in reverse” (Rossing, The Rapture Exposed (Westview, 2004), ch. 10). John of Patmos’ vision here completes what we might now see as implicit in John the Evangelist, “the Word became flesh and ‘tented’ among us” (John 1: 14), by announcing: “See (behold!), the dwelling place of God is with humankind” (Revelation 21: 3).
This new city home of God extends resurrection life to its ultimate conclusion—tears will be dried and death will be no more (Revelation 5: 4). Just as all creation has been praising the Lamb in prior readings from the Apocalypse, so now “all will be made new” and “to all who thirst I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21: 5-6).
While this vision of the ideal polis is startling, in another view it does little more than “flesh out” the “grace and peace” from the salutation of this remarkable writing (Revelation 1: 4-8). To confirm the relationship between the beginning and conclusion of this remarkable document, we hear the words of a new creation, “It is done” (could it be: “It has come to birth”?) (Revelation 21: 6), followed by a refrain of the conclusion of the salutation: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21: 6).
In the context of surrounding texts, the Gospel reading from John 13: 31-35 loses its Maundy Thursday feel. In light of resurrection life and new creation, it seems almost ‘sensible’ that the “glorification” (John 13: 32) will be become incarnate in the relationship of love and service exemplified by both Jesus’ washing of feet and the act of drawing all to himself on the cross (John 12: 32).
That is, the congruence between “knowing” and “doing” (service) will show the presence of the Risen One in a transforming world. Once more, we begin to hear the psalmist’s choir celebrating the interdependence of all creation. And, we feel the energy that sends those who “know” out to serve in “loving” care for creation.
One can think of few better examples of this than Bill McKibben, who ended his work at The New Yorker writing weekly ‘casuals,’ in order to research and publish the first widely-read book for the general reader on climate change, The End of Nature (Anchor, 1989). While a spate of books and articles from McKibben followed, this pioneer, who also served as a Methodist Sunday School teacher, reacted to the call to combine “knowing” and “doing” by: founding 350.org, one of the most effective climate change action groups; by organizing the largest civil disobedience action in the U. S. since the civil rights movement to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline; and to begin a movement for divestment from carbon company stocks on the part of college, universities and non-profit groups. While McKibben’s story is certainly exemplary, in another way, it simply involves hearing the psalmist’s choir, internalizing this new vision, and putting it into action—all central to this week’s readings.
Tom Mundahl, Lutheran Church of the Reformation, St. Louis Park, MN
For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288