The Old Order has Passed Away
January 30, 2005
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no more sea. I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with humanity, and God will be with us and be our God, and will wipe away all of our tears. And there will be no more death, no more crying and pain, for the old order has passed away." And the one who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." He said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."
Reading from Swedenborg
Marriage love corresponds to the marriage of the Lord with the church. This means that a husband and wife love each other in the same way that the Lord loves the church and wants the church to love him. It is well known among Christians that there is a correspondence between these things, but so far no one knows what sort of correspondence it is. It is mentioned here so that it may be seen that marriage love is heavenly, spiritual, and holy because it corresponds to the heavenly, spiritual, and holy marriage of the Lord and the church.
This correspondence also follows from the source marriage love being marriage of good and truth. The marriage of good and truth is what makes the church with a person. For the marriage of good and truth is the same as the marriage of kindness and faith, since good has to do with kindness, and truth with faith. . . . Now since the church, being from the Lord, is his, and since marriage love corresponds to the marriage of the Lord and the church, it follows that this love comes from the Lord. (Marriage Love #62)
Revelation 21 goes on to describe the city coming down out of heaven from God: glorious, radiant, jewel-like, high-walled, with gateways on all sides that are always open; a huge, generously sized city with streets of gold, the River of Life flowing, and the Tree of Life growing along its banks; God is the source of its light.
This is not just any city. It is a holy city: it is from God, who makes us a promise, saying, "Behold I make all things new." With this, we reach the fulfillment of the Christian religion. The Bible journey begins in a garden, but it ends in a city.
Revelation is the last book of the Bible. It begins with Christ sending words of instruction to faith communities. To some he says, "Don't do any less, and you'll be okay." To some he says "You're doing pretty well, but I see room for improvement." In the middle of the book there are occasional scenes of the glory of heaven, but the bulk of the book is an almost unrelenting series of stories of the bloodiest, grossest, scariest, wildest scenes of destruction you'd ever want in a few short pages. Then the descent of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes at the end of the book--after all the mayhem.
The formal name of our denomination is "The Church of the New Jerusalem." Several of our congregations call themselves "The Church of the Holy City." I know many of you are still struggling with how to say "Swedenborgian" correctly; but if you look at the sign out front you'll see our other identity: The Portland Society of the New Jerusalem.
We claim this symbol as a statement of "where" we are. Yet there is general agreement that we are not, in fact, "there." But why are we not there? Where are we on the journey? Are we making this trip as a solo performance, or are we traveling together? Can we even see the city's light in the distance? Are we even facing the city? Do we even want to go there?
Let's look again at the path to the City. We begin with Christ cheering us on, saying, "Do the right thing!" We see a glorious heavenly throne scene--which, frankly, may mean little to a modern, free-thinking, intellectual, democratically-oriented person.
We are then told about the final stages of preparation for the new heaven and new earth--those bloody, gross, scary stories of war. It is told in a way that would allow a person to go into "us and them" mode: "Us" is going to be protected from all the slaughter, and "Them" is going to get what's coming to them. But we have been taught that the Bible story is our story. The unholy, unrepentant "people" who are undergoing trauma of this spiritual cleansing on the losing side of the war are the unreformed, co-dependent, resistant elements of our own psyches--the monsters under our own beds. So before God can send down the holy city, what, specifically, do we have in store?
- Death and Hades wage war, bringing famine and pestilence
- The sun is blackened
- The moon is like blood
- Stars fall
- The sky rolls up like a roller blind
- Mountains and islands fly away
- We are plagued with sores and sunburn
- Hailstones the size of Volkswagens fall on us
- Locusts the size of horses from the bottomless pit torture us
- Wild beasts roam the countryside
- Creatures in the seas die
- Rivers and lakes are poisoned
- Lightning and thunder crash all around
You might be tempted to respond, "I was thinking of something kinder and gentler. Something warmer and fuzzier. Instead I'm offered poison and pestilence?" Well . . . yeah. Even though we're speaking symbolically, the pycho-emotional process of cleaning up our acts can be accurately described in just such terms.
But let's get to the point: The Lord wants to marry us. God is marriage: the marriage of Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. Have you ever noticed how Swedenborg talks in pairs? Good and truth, faith and charity, will and understanding; these are all marriages. The universe is constituted of these kinds of marriages; and God wants to marry us. The Lord is standing there with our engagement gifts--a new heaven and a new earth, and the jewel-encrusted golden and crystal way of life--waiting for us to disengage from our monsters, scrub up, and put on our wedding garments!
The Holy City exists. It exists now. We don't have to say "in the sweet by-n-by." The old order has passed away. We are living in the era of the New Church, already given to us by God. All we have to do is move there.
How? By going through all those trials and tribulations? Yes.
Why? One answer is: because the errors and dysfunctions and off-track elements of the earth-plane like being married to us, too. They like being married to us so much that they will fight for their place in our lives. And we can become dependent on our familiar ways of living, knowing, discerning, ordering, relating. After all, we know how to work the earth-plane; but this New City is foreign and strange.
Saying that enduring plagues and poison is what separates our current comfortable lives from the unknown heavenly life doesn't sound like an invitation; it sounds more like a threat. But it is really a promise.
And that leads to the second answer to the question, "Why? Why endure the mayhem?" Spiritual warfare is not really the prerequisite of the relationship with God; it is the result. When we commit to conjoining with Love and Wisdom, everything that is against Love and Wisdom has got to go. The natural result of turning on a light is the destruction of darkness.
Look again at the story. The battles we endure will not leave us battered and bloody, but as beautiful as a bride . . . because we have a secret weapon. Imagine the Lord before you on one knee with a bouquet of roses asking, "Will you marry me?" The answer is entirely up to you. You have complete freedom to say yes or no.
And if you say yes, all hell will break loose. All hell will break loose . . . will break away from you, because it no longer has a place in you. And it will look like the sun blackened, the moon turning to blood, and the sky rolling up like a roller blind . . . and it will be so good! Spiritual warfare is God's work. The tribulations are a result of God's working in us.
When, out of our freedom, we point our wills toward the Lord, we do the deciding, the Lord does the rest; we do the material, the Lord does the magic. It's teamwork. God can't clean up our act unless we think we're cleaning up our act. Our will is evidenced in our action; God's presence is evidenced in the results.
We will come beautiful off the battlefield when we hold the Sacred more sacred than our busy and distracting earth lives . . . and when we commit to our interdependence with each other.
This is a city we are given, not a cell in a monastery. It is a relationship with God and with each other--which means that not only are we going to get to deal with our individual earthquakes and hailstones, but our collective ones as well. Because God wants to marry us: all of us who find common faith in love for the Creator and for the Creator's creation.
We won't have to worry about the direction from which we come to the city, because there are gates all around. We only need to point ourselves at the city. And that direction is inward: "The kingdom of heaven is within you" (Luke 17:21). It is not buried; it is not confined; it is not lost. It is certain.
We have what we need to be the betrothed. We just have to get rid of the stuff, the baggage, that is not the betrothed. This requires honesty and courage. It requires action and commitment. But mostly it requires faith and kindness: faith that God does dwell within, does love us, will rebuild us; and kindness toward ourselves and each other while we are under reconstruction
So look at the person next to you. You need that person. Within that person also is the kingdom of heaven. That person is also created to be a citizen of the Holy City. What might you do today to attest to the reality of the Holy City?
- Together ask for or offer forgiveness.
- Together make creative use of conflict.
- Together ask for help in naming and taming the current wild beast or tempest in your life.
- Together make a plan to volunteer together somewhere to just make the world a better place.
- Together promise you will both show up at the next all-church gathering, regardless of how you feel about the topic.
- Together ask for and give help in matters of faith.
- Together share your faith by taking a turn with Sunday School.
- Together ask for and give kindness.
- Together discover and embrace a new paradigm for earth that accurately reflects the love and wisdom of heaven.
This is not just any city we've been offered. It is a Holy City. And it is not hubris that we call ourselves the Church of the New Jerusalem. We call ourselves that because the Holy City is real, our fitting destiny, and God's desire is that we live there.
"Now the dwelling of God is with humanity. There will be no more death, no more crying and pain. For the old order has passed away." Amen.
O Lord our God, it is almost inconceivable to us that you would want to marry us, with all our faults, all our struggles, all our hell breaking loose. Yet you have proposed to us, and are awaiting our answer. Help us to say yes to you with all our heart--and then help us through the battles on our way to your Holy City. Amen.