Each Sunday we stand and say or sing that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that “he will come in glory to judge the living and the dead and his Kingdom will have no end.” But what does that really mean? Frankly only a few of our theologians and thinkers and saints have tried to unpack it.
The gap that exists has been filled with a kind of dualism that suggests that the ultimate destiny for us is a place out there somewhere, known as Heaven, that is detached from the place we are now. “She’s gone to a better place,” we occasionally hear someone say about a person who has died. The idea being that this place where we are now is not so great, and there has to be something better out there somewhere. And so in this view of things, the whole Christian life – the life of repentance, healing, and amendment of life, the life of service, the move towards holiness, and salvation – is seen in terms of leaving a bad place – this Earth – behind and going to a better place called Heaven.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that this isn’t how the first Christians saw things at all. For them, the Resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of God’s new creation in this world, not the next. It was the beginning of the fulfillment of the prayer that Jesus taught his friends that God’s Kingdom would come “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” And Jesus was really channeling the Prophet Isaiah, who had anticipated God making “new heavens and a new Earth.” I once heard a well-known theologian say, as he talked about this perspective, “Heaven is undoubtedly important, but it’s not the end of the world.”
I mean, the earliest Christians were just not very interested, certainly not in the way we are, in what happens to people right after they die. Think about how little the Bible has to say about that. What the earliest Christians were very interested in, and what the Bible has lots to say about, is the final new creation, the way the new Earth and the new heaven are joining together, and how the resurrection of the body will create new human beings, that’s us, to live in that new and final world. In many ways, that’s what the Revelation to John the Divine is all about, and it was certainly one of Paul’s great themes in this letters to the Romans.
The Bible, beginning with the Creation stories in Genesis, through Isaiah, to the Gospels, the work of St. Paul, and the Revelation to John, tells us that the world is a good place, that God is pleased with the world, and – this is really important – that God’s creation is still unfolding. And we human beings are an essential part of creation. Not as passive agents to be acted upon but as active agents and instruments of God’s unfolding plan.
The Bible calls this unfolding creation the “new Creation,” and John’s Gospel, which we will be reading these Sundays after Easter, makes this very clear. In the Resurrection, Jesus didn’t leave his body behind in the tomb and put on a new one. No, the body that was raised to life three days after it was buried was different, but still recognizable by its wounds.
God took the suffering, God took the pain, and God transformed it into something new. So Easter, the first day of the week as John tells us, is the beginning of God’s new creation that’s happening here and now. This unfolding new creation, which begins with the Resurrection and continues as we live as friends of the Risen Christ, lives in his spirit, which means that whatever we do in Christ and in his Spirit isn’t wasted. Our acts are important contributors to God’s new Creation.
So we don’t know how our work for justice and peace in the world, our work for the care of the natural world, will affect God’s new creation. We just know that God’s new world of justice and hope was set in motion when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning. And I know that God calls us to live in the power of the Spirit, to be “new-creation” people here and now, and give birth to signs of the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.
So we have work to do. Jesus didn’t ask who deserved love. He just offered it. Paul told his communities that’s what the Body of Christ does: it offers love all the time. It’s our part in building this new Creation so that God’s Kingdom might come on Earth as it is in heaven.
So every act of mercy, every act of kindness, every act of justice, every act of compassion for the poor and the ones whom society rejects, every one of these acts is a building block in God’s unfolding new Creation.
When we give to Episcopal Relief and Development for disaster relief, we are adding a brick to the cathedral of God’s Kingdom. When we act for the just treatment of all in this country, we are adding a brick to the cathedral of the Kingdom. When we work for peace in Bellevue, in our cities, or all around the world, we are adding a brick to the cathedral of the Kingdom.
Is Heaven our home? That’s certainly our Christian hope. And home is this Earth, this good Earth that God has blessed us with. So the work we do here and now has eternal consequences. Jesus has called us friends and chosen each one of us to bear the fruit of love. Now is the time.