24 Apr 2016
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.’” (Rev. 21:3) In the name …
I was out to breakfast a while back with a friend, a Jewish friend. He’s originally from New York City and he has a habit of throwing an occasional Yiddish word into his conversation. Some I’ve heard before and know, others, not so much. We were talking about his post-divorce life. He said he wouldn’t mind having a partner, but he didn’t want to get all caught-up in the mishaghas. This was one of those words I had never heard before. That’s when I found out that mishaghas means all the extra bother associated with something. A ready-made relationship would be great, but the mishaghas of making a relationship was not worth it, according to my friend. He just didn’t want to be bothered at this point in his life with the mishaghas of dating.
Today is one of the few Sundays when we share a reading from the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. And today’s reading is actually toward the very end of this very last book. We hear of the prophet’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth coming down from God to replace the old, and by that time worn-out and abused creation. It’s a wondrous promise to imagine, but it’s built upon our utter moral failure. When you type these words into Google images, you find idyllic pictures of Spring meadows, peaceable animals, flowers in bloom, and people walking hand-in-hand with each other and with Jesus. In a world beset by so many problems and tragedies, both natural and man-made, this vision of the end-time paradise is a much appreciated antidote. When you see pictures or hear stories about the desperately poor, helpless immigrants, lost refugees, the sick and the frightened, it’s easy to imagine how much consolation can be found in the promise of a perfect new heaven and earth made by God and delivered ready-made, but again, this is based upon our complete moral failure, that we didn’t do what we should.
This new heaven and earth, says Revelation, is where God will dwell with us. We will be His people and He will be our God. But if you’ve read all the way through the Bible and have reached this very last book, those words should sound familiar. In the Old Testament, God led His people out of Egypt. He led them through the Exodus. And He led them into the Promised Land. And throughout this story of the birth of Israel the reader would hear that God dwelt among His people. The Promised Land, however, wasn’t up in the sky or far into the future. The Promised Land was what we now call the land of Israel. It was found in this world and in this time. And to allow God to dwell among His people, He gave them the Law. The people of Israel had to live in a way that was morally acceptable if God was going to be among them. Everyone wants the paradise, but the Law codified the mishaghas, all those bothersome but unavoidable details that make it possible to live with God. The covenant of the Law focuses on the practice of righteousness in this world.
Further into that book we call the Bible we hear another account of God coming to dwell among His people. The name is hopefully familiar: Immanuel, God with us. Jesus brings God into our world. In Jesus, God dwells among us. And Jesus condenses that whole series of Laws from the old Promised Land down to one single commandment. Every student who has passed through catechism knows the Two Commandments of Love: love God and love your neighbour. But in John’s Gospel Jesus gets even more succinct. John’s Jesus simply says, “‘I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’” (13:34-35) Jesus goes as far as to say that this is the defining characteristic by which all of His followers will be recognized – in this world. Again we have the promise of God dwelling among His people here and now, but now the mishaghas is boiled-down to one commandment: love one another. This is the bothersome, troublesome nuisance that makes Jesus dwelling among us possible. We have to do our part of living like Jesus lived and that means to love.
See, the Promised Land and Jesus as Immanuel do not mean that God becomes like us. They mean that we are supposed to become like God. This is the mishaghas of God dwelling among us. By the time we reach the end of the Bible and the Book of Revelation, that phrase about God dwelling among His people should be familiar, and this means that we should be surprised by the change that takes place. In Revelation God doesn’t dwell with us here and now. God dwells among His people in a new creation that replaces this one we’re now living in. This is because Revelation tells of visions of the end-time, the moment in salvation history where creation’s story is told only in the past tense because by that time creation had been destroyed because we had completely given-up on the mishaghas of trying to live with God, of trying to love one another like Jesus loved. The Bible story is geared toward the mishaghas of our striving to live with God now, but that all changes in Revelation.
But we’re not in the world or the time of Revelation yet. We may long for that new heaven and earth made by God and delivered already assembled to our doorstep, but right now we’re in the mishaghas. We’re in the midst of all that bothersome work that we need to do here and now so that God can dwell among us here and now. And the mishaghas for us is simple to say, but hard to live: love one another. And Jesus won’t let us turn that into a platitude, some kind of greeting card sold in a supermarket. Jesus says we have to love others “as I have loved you.” This means we have to seek out and respect the dignity of each person, and the harder that it is to see that dignity the harder we have to look for it. What we do as we walk this planet to love one another is part of our own dignity entrusted to us by Christ to act as He did. Let us trust in God’s promised paradise of a new heaven and earth, but for right now let us work to save this heaven and earth by the mishaghas of our good deeds done for one another, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo