A Picture of the End (Nov 13)
Reading Isaiah 65:17-25
A clear picture of the end guides a process – be it a puzzle, Ikea furniture, or the path of Christian discipleship – these final images form a reference to help us to see when we are moving nearer perfection.
The eschatological imagery in passages such as we heard read in Isaiah provide a vision of the age to come, of the arrival of the kingdom, and of the fullness of God’s presence. This not only provides hope for communities living in times of trial and turbulence, but also provide a way of determining how we are to live today. The future, that is the image of the redeemed and perfected future of the age to come, provides insights into how Christians are to live in the present (unredeemed and unperfected) age.
So what might the prophetic poetry of Isaiah open up for us in our considerations of the ever-present question, “what ought a Christian do?” Or perhaps, “what should the church be?”
The new heavens and the new earth imaged in this text tell us that there will be no more weeping, or sounds of distress. No one shall labour in vain, or bear children for calamity. No infant shall have their life cut short after just a few days, nor will anyone face death before the oldest of age. Life, we might say, will not be threatened – will not be marked – by the vulnerabilities of the current age. We will not hang precipitously close to the edge of mortality. We shall have life, more life, and this life will not know distress or sorrow.
Who then, should we be, and what ought we do in light of such a beautiful, harmonious, and hopeful vision of what God is about to do?
One month ago, on October 13 Cassius Turvey, a 15-year-old Noongar teen was murdered in a racially motivated attack. If Isaiah’s vision teaches us that we will grieve those who die at 100 as if they were a youth… how much more should we mourn and rage when someone’s life is cut short 85 years before they reach one hundred. How much more should we be spurned to act and demand justice when this boy’s life is cut short by violent calamity after only a few years. What ought a Christian do, who should the church be in light of the clash between Isaiah’s vision and the reality of the racial violence?
The book we read in our kid’s talk pondered where we see God… where might we have seen God, and where might we see God still in the wake of the murder of Cassius? Is God seen weeping with those who weep at vigils, standing with those who keep watch over coronial and judicial proceedings, walking with those who gather to protest? Working in communities to undo decades of injustice and hatred?
The passages in scripture that speak of the new heavens and new earth, where the fullness of God’s presence will be visible, the reconciliation of all things complete, and the groans of a weary world answered are some of the most sublime in all of Scripture. They are achingly beautiful and heart-warming. We should read them and cling to hope. But we can also read them and rage, read them and be driven to act.
Each week we pray, God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. The utter unresemblance between the present order and the vision of what is to come spurs us to go forth - not as the world’s saviours (humanity can never close the gap between there and here) but as those who believe the world is created and saved by the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and thus this unresemblance is not what is intended or promised.
The picture of the good and proper end guides us into action, prayer, and community in order that we might – day by day – become the righteousness of God (to use Paul’s famous phrase). The picture of our end in God helps us to see how we might bear the fruit of the spirit in our lives, how to beat swords into ploughshares, how to not weary in doing what is right.
As long as we have an open heart and open eyes we will never cease being appalled and dismayed by the cruelty of this broken world. But as long as we have an open heart and open eyes we will never cease seeing God at work in the world. We will never stop seeing God in the small acts of gentleness and justice, compassion and mercy, joy and faithfulness, holy anger and righteous grief. As long as we look to Christ who was born in a manger and killed on a cross we will never cease to see God in the faces of those whose lives are cut tragically short by hate and calamity. As long as we look to the promise of the new order that is to come, we will never cease to see that such violent ends (as tragic and unjust and unredeemable as they might be) are not the only end, more is promised, more is promised – more life, more life.
What ought a Christian do? Who might the church be? We will learn as we look. As we look at the world in its pain and brokenness, look to the horizon in its dazzling beauty, and then look back, and look back, and look back, and learn to find ourselves in the right places in between, the very place where Christ was (and is) found. The very place Jesus was (is) confronting the powers of Sin and Death. The very place Jesus was (is) reconciling the world to God’s self. The very place Jesus was (is) breaking down the dividing walls of hostility. The very place Jesus was (is) telling us come to me all who are weary.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity
Image: Red Vineyards at Arles, Vincent van Gogh (1888)
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