1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
7 “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:1-21 ESV)
These days we know what ‘Spoilers’ are and some people quite enjoy them while others certainly don’t appreciate them. I’ve heard that the Russo brothers went to considerable lengths to keep the latest Avengers’ film ‘under wraps’. They filmed multiple scenes, gave out partial scripts, and misdirected cast and fans because, they believed, the story needed to unfold and take the audience with it. We know of people who record a sporting event and don’t want to know the final score because that’s how a game is played – you get the final score at the end.
Except on many occasions you already know the end. There are numerous stories and dramas and films in which the ending is known and what gets people engaged is how the characters get there. It seems to me that a characteristic of the stories we associated with the genre of tragedy is the forgone conclusion of the ending we all know is coming. Shakespeare wrote ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’ which should give us a clue to what is going to happen as does the knowledge of World War 1 which is why the final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth is particularly powerful.
Much of the philosophies and religions created by people exist to deal with an ending everyone knows is coming – death and the grave – where you might be a memory or two for a generation or two – or longer if you get recorded in some sort of history.
Perhaps because this world obviously ends in death – this message is all around us – people want to take life as it comes – plan a little bit but not go to the end until you have to. We can understand that if the ending is not one we want.
What, however, if the ending is something we desire or hope for? The end of pain or the end of some sort of limitation – apprenticeship, training, prison, being single or alone – then I imagine that the ending is not feared as much or as such. And we don’t live too long before we discover, long for, and hope for – happy endings.
But life is not a fairy tale we get told in so many ways – and so our world whispers, sings, and shouts, “Stop dreaming, roll your sleeves up and make the best of this life because that’s all there is”. Happy endings are for the rich and the powerful but even they – as the writer of Ecclesiastes notes – they, too, will die and it’s just vanity – empty wind.
However in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, Revelation, we are told that when we get to the end, we are not at the end. There is a happy ending for all those in Christ. This message is a continuation of the message Jesus gave when he talked about his death and resurrection. No one believed him at the time. There were no cheer squads at the tomb with a towel and a cold drink to celebrate his victory. Of course, I am aware of how crazy what I am saying is in that life beyond goes against my experiences – my body is aging, I have buried my parents, I conduct funerals for goodness sake – so I know death – and yet there still is this story of an empty tomb – and death has never been seen back in it again.
What has replaced the death and even resurrection stories – and replaced maybe isn’t the right word – but what is central to Christianity is the person of Jesus – and just as when I see you I could think she / he was born once but I don’t – unless it is your birthday – or he / she might die soon or not so soon, I just regard you as alive. Similarly Jesus is alive – the incarnate God who entered time and a mother’s womb – who died – and who was raised to new life – and should I imagine him yes, he is a combination of scars and glory – but the point is simply that he is alive. He is present. He is ‘for me’ not against me – for you and not again you – for this whole world. And Jesus has prepared a place for his people with him and with this ending – a happy ending – is secure, I no longer have to worry or fear it – so now I can concentrate on living today.
That is what hope does. It takes the fear of the future and transforms it into love and we trust it. Faith, hope, and love are the only way to live – and live well.
So where do you find your faith, hope and love? In what do you rest? Whom do you trust?
Christians answer that within a sea of emotions, from within health and sickness, joy and sorrow, no matter the political climate by looking to Jesus – and what he has said and done. His words and his story thus are central – foundational – what we transmit, hold to, share, rest in – and the Holy Spirit keeps us oriented the right way – focusing on Jesus, heading forward in time to a secure future but always looking back to the cross and empty tomb so that we keep our bearings in this world that offers all sorts of paths and alternative
endings. That is why we struggle in this world and with what tempts us away from Jesus because they offer short term endings that hurt us. We all follow something or someone – who offers the best ending for each day, for our lives, and for eternity?
Jesus – crucified – raised to new life – ascended to heaven – means that there is more to life than we expect. Bad news or tragedies do not have the last word. In fact even fairy tales whisper to a human longing. And that longing is met in Jesus who is better than any fairy tale because he is real and life with him involves the best spoiler of all – that God loves us always.
Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!]
- Revelation 22:1 - 21