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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - The Heavenly City

Robert Barron - The Heavenly City

Robert Barron - The Heavenly City

Peace be with you. Friends, we're continuing our reading of the book of Revelation. The Church gives us throughout the Easter season these marvelous passages. Last week we started with chapter 21. There are 22 chapters in the book, so we're right toward the very end. And in many ways I think the passage for today is the climax of the entire biblical revelation. Keep in mind, the Bible didn't just fall out of the sky. The Bible was assembled by the Church over many centuries. So the canonical texts, we call them, were chosen out of many other texts. And then they were arranged in a particular order by the Church to express important truth.

The fact that they put this book at the end, well, it's very important. You're a poet. You're a novelist. You're a historian. I mean, the last chapter or the last verse of a poem, that's exceptionally important. It's where the arc of the story was going. It's the trajectory of the whole narrative. And so we need to pay very careful attention to this last section of the book of Revelation. I spoke last week about the new heaven and the new earth. God is not about the business of simply destroying this world and taking us up to some other place. No, God wants the renewal of his creation. It involves, therefore, a sweeping away of what's dysfunctional and problematic.

That's all of the anger of God and the wrath of God being poured out and all of the judgment and all that business. It's not God just being a rageaholic; it's God setting his creation right. But then his business is to make a new heaven and a new earth. And he involves us in that work. He gives us that privilege. Okay, well, after the discussion of the new heaven and the new earth, we find the detailed description of the heavenly Jerusalem coming down out of heaven and coming to earth. Now, cities. Cities. The Bible is, it's fair to say, ambiguous about cities. So on the one hand, Cain, the primal murderer, is described as the founder of cities.

Well, and there's a lot wrong with cities. When human beings come together in great numbers, and we see it, just look at the news today, when human beings come together in great numbers, well, trouble follows because you get all these sinners packed together. That Cain, a primal sinner, is identified as the father, the founder of cities, that tells you a lot. Look at the negative city, Sodom and Gomorrah, for example, the Bible rails against. Look in the New Testament. During the temptation, when the devil displays before the eyes of Jesus all the cities of the world in their splendor and says, "All these I will give to you if you would bow down and worship me".

Well, what's the implication? They all belong to him. That's one of the most devastating assessments of cities and civilization, right? "Civis" in Latin just means city. So civilization means a kind of cityfied culture. That's one of the great judgements against civilization anywhere in the literature of the world. They all belong to the devil. Now, I say the Bible's ambiguous because, on the other hand, the Bible love cities, especially Jerusalem, the city of the Lord. David's city, the city of the great king. More to it, the city in which is situated the temple where God is properly praised. The city where the community of those who rightly praise God is assembled. The holy city, a community rightly and beautifully ordered.

Bible's very interested in that. Go back to the founding of Jerusalem or the establishment of it by David. The placing of the ark of the covenant in it. The building of the temple within it. Think of the heartbreak when the holy city is burned and destroyed during the Babylonian captivity. Think of the joy, when during the time of Ezra-Nehemiah, the city is rebuilt, its walls reestablished. The city, God's dwelling place, where the beautiful community is meant to assemble. So there's the biblical witness, seeing the good and seeing the bad. How wonderful now at the very end of the Bible, as revelation, and I mean revelation in the grand sense, the whole history of salvation is coming to its climax, what does the visionary see but a city?

Now, not just that Jerusalem situated in the hills of Palestine, but now the heavenly Jerusalem. That means the rightly ordered human community. New heaven and new earth. Yes, indeed. Creation, nature has been restored, but with the heavenly Jerusalem we see the restoration of the human project and the human community. We're meant to see in it an image of what God intends for all of us. So let's take a look now at some of the symbols, because they really are extraordinary. "He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God".

Now please everybody, notice something. This is not an image of God rapturing us and taking us up somewhere else. No, rather it's God's city coming down. This is the marriage of heaven and earth. That's the biblical image. Not "let's get out of this earth as quickly as we can and go somewhere else," but rather the coming together of divinity and creation. Just as we saw in Jesus. He's the hypostatic union, we say, the personal union of a divine nature and human nature, the marriage of heaven and earth. That's what the Bible's interested in. And how wonderful by the way. Listen now, just from a little bit earlier in chapter 21: "I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband".

Now we're talking. That's biblical language. What does God want to do? He wants to marry heaven and earth. How often Christ is described as a bridegroom. We, the Church, his bride. The heavenly Jerusalem coming out of heaven adorned like a bride for her bridegroom. This is the marriage of divinity and of creation. That's what it's all about. Now listen, as it's further described: "It gleamed with the splendor of God". Isn't that beautiful, splendor, glory, light. What's sin, but it's a kind of darkness, right? It's a blocking of the divine light. Think of the pane of glass with all the splotches and stains on, it prevents the light from shining. When that's been burned away, that's been cleaned, now we gleam with the splendor of God. We become bearers of his light.

"Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal". Everybody, the heavenly Jerusalem is beautiful. Now, I've spoken many times before to you about beauty, and it's coming right out of the heart of the Catholic tradition, but its roots are right back here in the Bible. God is truth. Yes, indeed. God is goodness. Yes, indeed. But God is beauty. And earthly beauty is a symbolic anticipation, it's a sacramental hint of what God is like. And so the rightly ordered community gathered around the right praise of the Lamb standing as though slain becomes a place of beauty. Thomas Aquinas said the beautiful occurs at the intersection of "integritas" (wholeness), "consonantia" (harmony) and "claritas" (radiance). Integritas, it's about one thing.

So here's a city not at odds with itself, not everyone moving in some different direction, but everyone joined together in a common purpose. But consonantia, that means harmony. Working together in our variety, but for the same great purpose. And that coming together makes us radiant. We become splendid with the very splendor of God. Do you see now why churches are meant to be evocative of this heavenly Jerusalem? In the Middle Ages, when they built those great Gothic cathedrals that I love so much. And you look up at the stained glass, what's it look like?

Go especially to Chartres Cathedral, south of Paris, and you'll see it. They look for all the world like jewels on a kind of black velvet background. You look up at the great rose windows and it's like they put these beautiful gems and diamonds and precious stones on a black background. This is not accidental. What the builders of those cathedrals had in mind was precisely this description of the heavenly Jerusalem, its walls studded with these precious jewels. It's a sign of the beauty and the integrity and the consonantia and the radiance of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Let's continue. "It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which the names were inscribed of the twelve tribes of Israel". Walls. We tend not to like walls, but see the Bible liked walls. Remember Ezra-Nehemiah, that period. They rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Now, why? Because Jerusalem needs to have an identity. The knocking down of all walls just means that we all kind of blend together. There's nothing distinctive about our city. They knew that the rightly ordered community has its own integrity and its own identity. That's what's symbolized by the walls. Not so much keeping people out but rather maintaining the integrity of the community.

Look, if we want to be the beautiful community, we can't allow hatred and violence and cruelty and selfishness and all of that to come in. And if we do it in the name of inclusivity, well then we're undermining ourselves. Of course, as the earthly Jerusalem had walls, so the heavenly Jerusalem has walls. They're the walls that guarantee its integrity. What else do we hear? And I'll close with this. There's so many rich symbols in this description, but I'll close with this one. Listen. "I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb". What was the reason people came to the earthly Jerusalem? Well, they came there because of the temple. I mean, yes, it was the political capital of the nation, and yes, it was an economic and cultural hub and all that. But the main reason they came was to worship in the temple. It was the holy place where heaven and earth met.

So why in God's name is there no temple in the heavenly Jerusalem? Is it become secularized? No, go the other way. There's no temple because there's no need for a temple because the whole city has become a temple. What do I mean? I mean a place of right praise. So think of a city now. Sports and finance and business and politics and entertainment and the arts and human community and nightlife. And think of all that goes on in a city, all of its variety. But now, now think of all of that turned toward the worship of the true God. All of that surrendered to His purposes. What will you find? You'll find that the whole city has become a temple.

Ah, what began way back at the beginning of the book of Genesis, when God brings the whole world into being and he wants it to be this place of right praise, he wants it to be the beautiful community. That then sin and death interrupt, but God keeps moving and God keeps acting until finally through his own Son he goes all the way to the bottom of the "tohu wabohu" of dysfunction. And he sets things right. He then cleans out, clears out the debris of the old world and builds a new world. Yes, even with our cooperation. And then finally it comes to its fulfillment in this city that comes down through God's grace from heaven and is the beautiful, integrated place of right praise where the whole place has become a temple. There's the arc of the story, everybody. That's where the Bible wants to bring us, from creation all the way to this magnificent fulfillment of the heavenly Jerusalem. And God bless you.
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