Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As a consequence of both having poor eyesight and being a rather clumsy person, I’ve never much enjoyed the dark. I dislike that feeling of waking up in the middle of the night and stumbling around to find my glasses, perhaps tripping over a cat or the shoes I left in the wrong place or whatever. I’m lucky to live in the developed world in the twenty-first century where electric lighting is ubiquitous.

Imagine, then, how surprising the imagery in this morning’s reading from Revelation would have been to people living in a literally much darker world:

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day – and there shall be no night thereAnd night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.

Light and dark imagery is seen throughout scripture, and I suspect it would have been more striking to these ancient people for whom the dark was a very dangerous reality. Bandits and predators struck in the dark. At nightfall you’d lock the gates to the city, and you’d probably stay in your house unless you were looking to get into some mischief.

And as dangerous as the literal darkness would have been, the metaphorical darkness in which the early church operated was a necessary evil. The church was being persecuted, and the best way to avoid death was to act like the bandits- move in secret, don’t get found out, worship God in locked rooms and catacombs.

How heartening, then, was this message of daylight! No longer would Christians need to scurry about in the dark, hiding from their torch-bearing persecutors. Finally, the true light which came to enlighten humanity could shine for all the world to see! The glory of God and of the Lamb would shine into every corner, bringing the righteous into a new and everlasting day and showing the designs of the wicked to be but vanity.

And now for the really interesting question, the question which makes the book of Revelation such a problematic text: Has this taken place? Are we, God’s faithful people, enjoying the light or is it an as-yet dim but growing hope.

I think it’s both. On the one hand, the majority of Christians can now be pretty open about their religion. Since Constantine, the Church has enjoyed a privileged place in Western society, even if she no longer has the authority she once had in the day-to-day lives of adherents and the larger culture. The Church continues to grow in the global south, and societies which once saw the Faith as a threat are starting to loosen up on enforcing laws which discriminate against Christians. Things are by no means perfect, but they’re getting better, at least in some parts of the world.

But we’ve not yet reached that perfect state of light. Sin and death are still with us. The vision of Revelation is not just about Christians escaping outright persecution (though that was the prevailing issue when the book was written). It’s also about all things being made subject to the reign of Christ. We’ve not yet seen “the kings of the earth bringing their glory into [the city of God].” It may have seemed like that for about a millennium, between Constantine and the Reformation, but the story was and remains a great deal more complex than that.

So, as much progress as has been made over the last two-thousand years, there is still darkness. There are still corners into which the salvific light of God has not shone. The nations have not been fully healed. Not all have the name of the lamb inscribed on their foreheads and in their hearts.

So, the image of the City of God, the New Jerusalem, is still a hope. It is a hope for which we’ve been given a foretaste in the Church and Her Sacraments, but all is not yet accomplished.

And so we pray “thy Kingdom come”, in the sure and certain hope that it is our birthright in Baptism. We don’t just wait around waiting for “pie in the sky when we die, by and by”, because the vision of the Holy City is a vision of the coming reality of this world, too. Rather, we light a candle here and there, causing the gloom to take flight, and one day, perhaps when we least expect it, Christ will return and the world will be so full of the light of Grace that the darkness will have no bastion remaining, and all things everywhere will be transformed into just what God intends for them.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.