Sunday, May 5, 2013
Sixth Sunday of Easter (C)
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
A modern reader might not find anything remarkable about the claim that the new Jerusalem which John saw in a vision coming down out of heaven from God should not have a temple in it. After all, the Jerusalem that we know, and indeed for nearly two thousand years, has not had a temple. More than that, we might be inclined to think that what this means, that is, for the new Jerusalem not to have a temple, is reducible to the end for formal cult in the world renewed by God. That is, we might think that what this vision serves to show is that worship as we now know it is a passing thing, the cult of sacrifices and oblations established of old is not a permanent feature of God's plan for us.
However, the absence of the temple must mean more than this. Minimally, it must mean more because the sacrifices and observances connects to the temple have already passed away, even here and now. There would be no need for a new Jerusalem to descend from the clouds for us to see that to be so. Rather, we ought to recall that the temple was the very sign and locus of God's presence with his people. To have Jerusalem without a temple is, on the face of it, to have worship without God, which is to say to have neither worship nor God. In other words, we are meant to be struck by what must either be an irreparable tragedy or an impossible paradox to hear of the holy city without the dwelling place of God.
This is when we can once again hear the promise of hope offered in John's vision. God is not promising to do something merely negative. He is not taking away something good in removing the temple any more than he is in rendering useless the sun and the moon. It is not as though men and women in the new Jerusalem will no longer worship God and delight in his manifest presence any more than they will see without light. Instead, what God promises is that he will be more, not less present, in the new Jerusalem, even as the light of his glory and the glory of the Lamb will not merely replace that of the sun and moon, but will, if such could be imagined, eclipse it, that might see with even more clarity than on a cloudless day by the noonday sun.
What God has in store for us, already promised in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not a world with less or mere replacements of what we have now. What God holds out to us, what sustains us in times of trial and difficulty, what we taste in partial ways in the joys we know here and now, is a world so fully open and available to himself that everywhere is the temple, everywhere is made a fit dwelling place, everywhere is drenched in the glorious radiance and clarity that is the very being of God himself.