Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6
The room was full of locked cabinets and containers. Several items that were normal at first glance stuck out as odd, such as a checker board with numbers on certain pieces. I was locked in this room with several people and a big digital clock was steadily counting down from sixty minutes. This was one of the handful of times I have done an escape room. I do not know if you have had a chance to do one of these, but they are quite the experience. I have been able to do four different escape rooms. One re-created a grandmother’s bed room, another one was a family room decorated for Christmas, and the most impressive actually had built and entire rustic cabin inside a building. Getting out of these escape rooms requires searching, problem solving, and working together to complete puzzles and find various combinations. By and large my experience with Escape Rooms has been a lot of fun, and I have greatly enjoyed doing them. I am not the only one. Escape Rooms have exploded in popularity. At the end of 2014 there were less than fifty Escape Room facilities in the United States Today there are over 2,300. All of these rooms have a wide variety of themes, puzzles, gimmicks, and tricks they employ. However, across the board they share one commonality. The goal is always the same: Escape!
Escape is a good objective for an experience that blurs the lines between game and reality, but escape is a less than stellar objective for faith. Unfortunately, it seems for a lot of people escape is the primary reason for faith. Escapist or Escapism theology is a viewpoint that has a lot of adherents. This viewpoint sees the primary point of faith to escape this world and make it to heaven. It is the concept that the reason we follow God is so that we can escape this mess we call earth and go home to heaven. The primary tenant of an escapist viewpoint is something along the lines of “My home is in heaven, I am just passing through this world.” To be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, I do not think this is the right attitude. After all, if we are just passing through then we do not have neighbors to love. The point of faith, the point of being a Christian, is not to escape to heaven. Christians are supposed to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ came to save the world. The end goal of Christ was not to get to heaven, because he was already there. The mission of Jesus, and by extension the mission of his followers is to redeem the whole world. This morning’s scripture is a reminder to us that there will be a day of no more death, no more crying, or pain. This morning’s scripture is a reminder that there will be a day when we all get to heaven, but today is (probably) not that day. This morning’s scripture is ultimately a reminder that our goal is not to escape, but our goal is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
This morning’s scripture comes from the very end of Revelation. In general Revelation is a tricky book to read and to understand. There are multiple interpretations and very smart people have sacrificed whole forest of trees to print the books that express why their interpretation of the book is the right one. However, when it comes to this morning’s scripture all interpretations are in agreement about the big picture of what this scripture is communicating. This morning’s scripture is eschatological in nature, which is a really fancy way of saying it is dealing with the end. This morning’s scripture is about the end of all things when God succeeds in redeeming all creation and God does this by making it new. The sin, the death, and the suffering that characterizes the world we know will be no more. All of creation will once again be as it was meant to be, in perfect unity and relationship with God the Creator. One of the remarkable things is that this image of a new heaven and a new earth is not just another surreal image like others that appear in the book of Revelation. The language found in this morning’s scripture is found other places in the Bible. For instance the book of Isaiah written hundreds of years before Revelation contains passages that sound a lot like this mornings. Isaiah 25:8 states, “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
Throughout the prophets we find language that speaks of God’s final restoration and redemption. There is a biblical message that there will be a day when tears are only a distant memory, when pain is a relic of a past, and death will never cause sorrow again. This is a future reality that as believers and followers of Jesus Christ, should feel us with hope. Scriptures like this morning’s should serve as a reminders on dark days that light eventually wins. However, escaping to this heavenly future should not be the chief concern of our faith. We should not be so ready to “go home” that we turn a blind eye to all of the people around us who need our help, who need compassion, and who need to be told the good news of Jesus Christ.
I greatly appreciate that the liturgy for the United Methodist Service of Death and Resurrection affirms this viewpoint. One of the prayers from the liturgy that I often use at funerals begins: “Eternal God, we praise you for the great company of all those who have finished their course in faith and now rest from their labor.” I greatly appreciate this prayer because as we remember and celebrate the life of a loved one, it reminds us that our lives are not just about escaping this world. Life is meant to be lived not just endured. I cannot speak for you, but when my time comes I hope those I leave behind can celebrate a life well lived instead of offering the platitude “at least he is home now.” I had the privilege to be part of the celebration of life services for all four people we remember and honor today. It brings me joy that with all four of them we were able to celebrate a life well lived. For those who are baptized and clothed in Christ, a life well lived means following Jesus. It means loving others, it means putting others first, and it means sharing the love of God with others in word and deed. Again, I celebrate that as I think back to the services for Sharon, Judy, Bill and even Martin we were able to celebrate and bare testimony to how all four of them glorified God and put their faith into action throughout their lives.
Another aspect of the Methodist funeral liturgy that I appreciate comes from one of the included dismals with blessings that is an option. This dismissal ends the service of death and resurrection by addressing the assembled congregation as such: “Now may the God of peace who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus . . . make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory forever and ever.”
I like this benediction because it reminds us, those still living on this earth, that life is about more than just waiting for our turn. We are not supposed to be waiting for our time to escape but instead we are to be equipped by the great Shepherd of the sheep and the blood of the eternal covenant to do God’s will, to work among the people, and to glorify Christ through our actions. This morning’s scripture tells us that there will be a day, with no more mourning or crying or pain. This morning’s scripture also tells us that when this happens this will be the day when God’s dwelling place is now among the people and he will dwell them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
There will be a day when that happens, but friends the good news of the cross is that we can begin to experience that reality on this day! In our broken and fallen world we can not escape crying or pain, but we can experience God being our God and us being God’s people. Because of the mighty acts of Jesus Christ the way to God’s throne has been made up and known. We cannot experience the fullness of God wiping away every tear from our eyes, but we can experience the joy of being God’s people and God being our God. The joy that will permeate the new heaven and the new earth can be experienced today. We experience this joy when we claim the blessed assurance that we are forgiven for sins. We experience this joy when we celebrate that our names are written and sealed in the book of lives, that we are new creations in Christ Jesus, and that transgressions have been erased. We experience this joy when we celebrate that perpetual light of Christ shines on our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us.
This joy is part of the good news of the gospel, and while we still have breath it is our responsibility to share that joy with others. It is our responsibility to share God’s love with others by seeing and meeting their needs. It is our responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus by tending hurts and enabling dreams. It is our reasonability to join God in the work of redeeming this world one soul at a time and transforming this world into a more loving place.
For those who belong to Christ Jesus, we can look forward with hopeful anticipation for a day when the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End succeeds in making all things new. However, may we not be so focused on escaping to that time that we lose sight of all the life we have to live. The movie The Shawshank Redemption has a quote that has stuck with me. In the movie the characters endure some pretty rough life circumstances, but it ends on a hopeful note with a statement, “you either busy living or you get busy dying.” Every single day is a gift from God, so may we choose to get busy living. May we get busy following Jesus, seeking God’s will, and sharing the good news of God’s love with others. For every single one of us, there will be a day when we all get to heaven. But until that day comes, may we, may you choose to live life well in a way that glorifies God, shines the light of Christ and transforms this world.