The Lord’s Prayer Fulfilled

What do we see when we read Revelation 21-22?

“Streets of gold,” “no more tears”—sounds like “heaven,” by which we mean “where we go when we die, where we will spend eternity.” But is that what’s really going on here?

What do we see in Revelation 21-22? What should we see?

In Revelation 21-22, we see the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled.

You probably know the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

There it is, the overarching desire of the whole prayer. Not, “May we enter your kingdom in heaven.” But rather, “May your kingdom come on earth.” God, may you fully reign, may your will be fully realized, here on earth just as it already is in heaven, in your immediate presence.

That’s the goal of all things: God’s kingdom coming on earth, God reigning over all things on earth, God’s good desires for all things being brought about on earth.

Put another way: God does not want to take us from earth to heaven; God wants to bring heaven down to earth.

And this is in fact what we find in Revelation 21—here are the opening verses:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.

In Revelation 21 and 22, we see God dwelling among us on earth, God’s immediate presence among us on earth.

In other words, we see heaven come down to earth. We see God’s kingdom come on earth.

We see the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled.

In Revelation 21-22, we see God’s people beatified.

Okay, that word might seem a little strange—but I use it intentionally. The word “beatitude” means “divine blessing,” and it’s usually associated with the eternal blessing of God’s people in God’s glorious presence.

Elder 2And this vision of Revelation is loaded with language and imagery that points to the people of God in the presence of God.

The new Jerusalem, the city of God come down from heaven, is described as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” It is prepared as a bride on her wedding day, arrayed in beautiful gems and sparkling jewels and glittering gold.

The bride of Christ? This should be enough of a clue what’s going on.

But then we’re told that the city has 12 gates named for the 12 tribes of Israel; its wall has 12 foundations named for the 12 apostles of Christ.

All Israel and the whole Church represented? That clinches it.

The city is not a literal city. The city is not where God’s people live—the city itself is God’s people, Jews and Gentiles together united with Christ.

There is no temple among God’s people, no special place where God meets with them—because God dwells among all of them, among all people on earth. God is immediately present among God’s people, God’s glory shining like a light for all the earth.

And God’s people “will see God’s face,” Revelation 22 says. Think of that: throughout Scripture we’re told we cannot see God’s face, at most we can catch glimpses of God, until Jesus comes and we see the face of God in Jesus. And here, in this new creation, God’s people see God’s face—they are eternally blessed by God in God’s glorious presence. They are “beatified.”

But there’s another reason I use the word “beatified” to describe what’s going on here. I want to recall the “Beatitudes”—Jesus’ specific promises of divine blessing in the Sermon on the Mount. Here at the end of Revelation, we see God’s people “beatified”—experiencing the fulfillment of those Beatitude promises.

Those who were lowly and poor in spirit—God’s kingdom is now theirs.

Those who mourned—they are now comforted.

Those who were meek—they have now inherited the earth.

Those who hungered and thirsted for justice—they are now eating and drinking their fill of it.

Those who were pure in heart—they are now seeing God.

Those who were peacemakers—they are now pronounced God’s children.

Those who were persecuted and oppressed and unjustly treated for the sake of justice—God’s kingdom is now theirs.

In Revelation 21 and 22, we see God eternally blessing God’s people in God’s glorious presence.

In other words, we see all wrongs made right, all injustices overturned, all oppression ceasing, all who have yearned for God’s kingdom being finally and fully satisfied in the immediate presence of God.

We see God’s people beatified.

In Revelation 21-22, we see the nations of the earth healed.

After the people of God are described as this beautiful city, with God’s glorious presence immediately among them, we hear these words:

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

“Nations” here doesn’t mean “nation states,” but more “peoples,” “tribes,” all the different ethnic groups of the world with their distinctive languages and cultures. In this new creation, the “nations,” all the “peoples of the earth,” live by the light of God and the Lamb. In this new creation, the peoples of the earth bring their glory and honour into the city of God—the cultural riches of all peoples are woven into the life of God’s people.

And so the nations of the earth are healed.

Listen to the way Revelation 22 starts:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Lion-Lamb 2The tree of life hasn’t been seen since the city was a garden, back at creation, in Genesis 2-3. There humans were banned from eating of the tree of life because of their sin. But here again, in this new creation, the tree of life is accessible once more—and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.

In Revelation 21 and 22, we see God dwelling gloriously among God’s people—yet this is not just for our benefit. It is for the benefit of all peoples of the earth, who are made whole by the tree of life sustained by the waters of life.

In other words, we see justice and peace and flourishing life for all the peoples of the earth, every tribe and language, from Anishinaabe to Chokwe to Faroese to Han to Kurds to Maori to Tatars to Zhuang—and everyone in between.

We see the nations of the earth healed.

In Revelation 21-22, we see all creation renewed.

Revelation 21 opens with the vision of a “new heavens and earth,” a brand new creation. The “first heaven and earth” are no more—the world saturated by human sin, the world permeated with powers that be gone wrong, that world is gone. Creation needs a new start, a new beginning.

In this new world, Revelation 21 says, “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” In a nutshell: “There will be no more curse.” All the harms we inflict on one another, on ourselves, on our world, all the devastating consequences of our human sin and evil—all this will be done away with.

“Behold,” God says, reigning from the throne, “I am making all things new.”

All things. Humans and nations, persons and peoples. But also rivers, lakes, and streams. Oceans and seas. Mountains and trees and valleys. Fish and fowl, flora and fauna. All renewed, entire ecosystems cleansed from the tragic effects of our human selfishness, pride, and greed.

All creation, made whole again.

What a vision! This is so much more than “where we go when we die, where we will spend eternity.”

This is a vision of heaven come down to earth, God’s kingdom come on earth, the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled.

This is a vision of God’s people eternally blessed in God’s glorious presence, God’s people beatified.

This is a vision of all peoples experiencing justice and peace and flourishing life, the nations of the earth healed.

This is a vision of all creation made new, restored to glow with the glory of God.

And as Revelation 1:19 promised, this is a vision of both the present and the future, both “what is now, and what will be.”

What is now—because, as Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is among you.”
What is now—because, as Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”
What is now—here, right now, heaven can come to earth if we seek it, if we let it.

What will be—because, as Jesus teaches, we continue to pray, “May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
What will be—because, as Paul teaches, we groan along with all creation, along with God’s Spirit, for creation’s full liberation and our complete redemption.
What will be—when Jesus comes to finish what he started, to renew all things.

May God give us the strong assurance that we will always be with the Lord, both in life and in death. May there be no doubt about that.

But may God give us an equally strong assurance, an assurance of faith that gives birth to the yearning of hope, that God is at work even now to bring about God’s new creation, God’s reign of justice and peace and flourishing life, heaven come down to earth.

“The one who testifies to these things”—Jesus the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the end which is a new beginning—“The one who testifies to all these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Morden Mennonite on May 8, 2016. All images are
from a mandala of Revelation 4-5 created by Margie Hildebrand. Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.

The Lord’s Prayer

This post is excerpted from my sermon this past Sunday, February 1, 2015.

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

That’s how Luke’s Gospel introduces the prayer that we today call the Lord’s Prayer: Jesus’ disciples so moved by Jesus’ own praying that one of them asks Jesus to teach them to pray.

Tissot - Lord's PrayerAnd so Jesus does. He gives his disciples a prayer to pray. But it is also a pattern for prayer, a way of praying. It highlights the attitudes and perspectives we should have in prayer, it sketches out the kinds of things we should focus on in our prayers—and in our lives.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer thoughtfully and patiently, we find ourselves becoming more and more aligned with Jesus, more and more in tune with Jesus’ way of seeing things and doing things. We not only learn how to pray in the way of Jesus, we are also shaped by this prayer into the image of Jesus.

Centered on God, Focused on God’s Kingdom

Jesus begins his prayer by centering on God:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.

Prayer is directed to God. It’s not merely inward reflection or meditation—as helpful as those things can be, and as much as those things can even be a part of prayer. But prayer itself is centered on God, not ourselves, not our world. It is a looking to God, turning our thoughts toward God, the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

This is a very personal prayer. Jesus called God “Father,” “Abba.” That’s an Aramic word that both young children and grown-up children used to refer to their fathers. It’s a term of endearment, a term that combines affection with respect. Calling God our Abba, our Father, highlights the fact that prayer is a very personal thing: we as persons relate to our Creator as a person.

But this is also a collective prayer, even a universal prayer. You see this throughout the Lord’s Prayer: it’s not “my Father,” it’s not “I” and “me” throughout. It’s “our Father,” it’s about “we” and “us.” This loving Creator is the mothering Father of us all on earth: all humanity, every nation, every tribe, every culture, in every time and place.

If “our Father in heaven” highlights this as a universal prayer to the Creator, “hallowed be your name” emphasizes that our Creator is the God of ancient Israel in particular. In the Old Testament, God’s “name” is YHWH, and this name was viewed as sacred, never to be used “in vain,” that is, in empty, meaningless ways (Exod 20:7).

But this idea is not just about God’s name being special, as if there’s something magical about the name YHWH. It’s a way of saying that God himself is holy: God is utterly unique, completely unlike anything or anyone else. It’s a reminder that we are not merely praying to someone who is like us, only bigger and better; we are praying to God, the one in whom and through whom and for whom we exist.

The whole prayer is God-centered: it’s a prayer to YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the everlasting I Am, who is the personal, loving Creator of all peoples. Jesus calls us to center our prayer on this God, the one true and living God.

But the prayer is also kingdom-focused.

The kingdom of God is the consistent theme of Jesus’ teaching. His miracles are like signposts pointing to God’s kingdom. Everything Jesus says and does is connected to the kingdom of God. Indeed, his whole mission given by God was to be the Messiah, the promised King, to bring about God’s kingdom on earth, to establish God’s rightful reign as King over all things, a reign characterized by love, life, justice, and peace—true shalom.

And so it’s no surprise at all that, after that opening address to God, Jesus’ prayer begins and ends by referring to God’s kingdom.

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done.” These are equivalent phrases: God’s “kingdom” is God’s “will”; God’s kingdom “coming” is God’s will “being done.” God’s will for all things is flourishing life, a life filled with love and peace—and this is exactly what God’s kingdom is all about.

“On earth as it is in heaven.” The biblical authors can use the language of “heaven” or (more often) “the heavens” to refer to the sky above us in contrast to the earth below. However, when they speak of God in connection to “heaven,” as here, the word “heaven” is more about being in God’s immediate presence, wherever that might be.

Here’s the point of Jesus’ prayer, then: it suggests that God’s reign, God’s will for justice and peace, is eternally evident in “heaven,” in God’s immediate presence, but it is not always evident on “earth,” in human experience and human history.

This explains a lot, doesn’t it? We long for life and love because God is life and love—God’s kingdom, God’s will, is fully manifest in his presence, for which we are created. Yet we don’t always experience flourishing life and genuine love because there are things about the human condition—sin and evil—that keep us from fully experiencing the life and love of God.

But here’s the thing: Jesus has planted the seed of God’s kingdom in the soil of earth, and it is growing slowly but surely until it will be fully present on earth, like a mustard seed growing into a plant that provides shade for all. And this is what we long for, what we pray for, what we strive for.

Concerned with Provision, Forgiveness, Protection—for All

Bloch Sermon MountThe Lord’s Prayer is God-centered and kingdom-focused, all the way through. This means that when we get to the petitions at the heart of the prayer we’re still centered on God and focused on God’s kingdom. Provision, forgiveness, and protection—these are kingdom matters, wrapped up in God. And again, note the “us” in all these: provision, forgiveness, and protection are not just for each of us individually, but for us collectively, as Jesus’ followers and as a human race.

Give us this day our daily bread.

The Greek word for “bread” here is a rare word—in the New Testament it’s only found in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s so rare no one is sure exactly what it means, but it probably has the idea of “what is necessary.” It’s not talking about extra things, luxuries in life, but life’s most basic necessities: food, water, clothing, shelter.

Using the word “bread” to translate this rare word is not a bad idea. It evokes a particular story that can help to appreciate what Jesus is saying here: the story of the ancient Israelites, wandering in the desert, collecting manna, bread from heaven, each day. God only gave them enough for one day at a time: if they tried to save it for two days (apart from the Sabbath) the manna spoiled.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” In other words, “God, give us just what we need, just when we need it.”

Again, though, remember the collective “we” here. We don’t all get just what we need, just when we need it. The reality is that some of us get more than we need and others less. But God does give us, collectively, just what we need. We have a responsibility to each other, then: when we have more than we need, we are called to share with those who do not have what they need; and when we do not have enough, we are encouraged to accept generosity from those who have more than enough.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

We often separate out God’s forgiveness of our sins with our forgiveness of others’ sins against us. But Jesus brings them inseparably together. “For if you forgive others their trespasses,” Jesus goes on to say in Matthew’s Gospel, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Strong words! We cannot expect God to forgive us if we don’t forgive others. Hard words! But we need to hear them. Just as God has forgiven us so freely, so largely, so also are we called to forgive others: family, friends, strangers, even enemies.

If you think about it, this is just another angle on the Greatest Commandment. Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But he’s quick to point out that there’s a second commandment attached to it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love of God is inseparable from love of others. Likewise, forgiveness from God is inseparable from forgiveness for others.

And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

We think of this as “temptation,” and most of us probably think of being tempted to do some private, personal sin. But the word here is more general than that. It means “trial” or “testing, not just “temptation”—it’s any weakness we may have, any hardship we may endure, any wrong desire we may experience.

This points to the reality of sin and evil in the world—in our own hearts, yes, but also the larger and wider sins and evils that are out there. Not just inward sins like lust, but social sins like materialism, systemic evils like racism, natural evils like cancer. These are all wrong, they are all outside God’s kingdom, God’s will, and so we pray for God to protect us—each of us, all of us—from these wrongs, or at least to preserve us through them.

Provision, forgiveness, and protection. These are at the heart of Jesus’ prayer, they’re at the heart of God’s kingdom. And these are the things our world so desperately needs. Provision for all of humanity’s most basic needs, not hoarding what we don’t need but sharing with all. Forgiveness of harms done against each other, not perpetuating the cycles of violence and vengeance. Protection from suffering and evil, especially for the most vulnerable, the most innocent in our world.

Centered on God, Focused on God’s Kingdom

Jesus’ prayer ends right where it began, centered on God, focused on God’s kingdom:

For the kingdom and the power and the glory
are yours forever. Amen.

We think these are ours, or we strive to achieve them. Having power over other people, over our circumstances. Our will being done, getting things our way. Receiving honour, fame, glory for how great we are, how good we are.

Yet these things are God’s, not ours. And it’s a good thing, too, because we humans have shown time and again that whenever we build our own kingdoms or pursue our own power or seek our own glory, we only increase the evil and suffering of this world.

God shows us a different way in Jesus: building a kingdom through self-giving love for the other, through weakness and humility. And it is only in this way that a kingdom can be built that will last forever, a kingdom of love, and life, and justice, and peace.

May God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Starting with you and me, right now, following in Jesus’ footsteps, shaped by this very prayer.

Check out “The Lord’s Prayer for All People,” an expanded version of the Lord’s Prayer I wrote last year which highlights these themes. Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.

The Lord’s Prayer for All People

Tissot - Lord's PrayerOur Father in heaven,
in whose image
all people have been created,
hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
your kingdom without borders,
your will for justice and peace,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread,
all of us throughout the world,
just what we need,
just when we need it,
grace to give when we have more,
grace to receive when we have less.

Forgive us our sins,
each of us, both us and them,
as we forgive those who sin against us,
every one, neighbour and enemy.

Save us all—but especially the vulnerable—
from the time of trial,
the sufferings of this life,
and deliver us all—but especially the innocent—
from the evil
that plagues our world.

For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
—not ours, never ours—
now and for ever. Amen.

This rendition of the Lord’s Prayer was written for the August 3, 2014, worship service at Morden Mennonite Church. See also my later post on “The Lord’s Prayer.” Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.