05/19/2019: The Dream of the Eighth Day

THE DREAM OF THE EIGHTH DAY

Revelation 21: 1-6
A sermon by Thomas R. McKibbens
May 19, 2019

As dreams go, this is a whopper: 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. God knows we need such a dream today. A new earth…a new day…a new peace…a new beginning.

But what about this no more sea? At a time of year when we gear up for those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” days when we can dig our toes into the sand, this dream seems strikingly odd when it says the sea shall be no more.

I

So let’s begin with the sea. The sea gets a bad rap in this text. What’s wrong with the sea? The author’s ideal world doesn’t sound very ideal to us! No vacations on the beach; no sailing; the cruise industry in shambles; dead sea creatures stinking up the world; the New England fishing industry wrecked. Why would anyone dream of this as an ideal world?

There’s a double answer to that. The first answer is that John (the author of the book of Revelation) was part of a culture that thought of the sea, not as a place of pleasure and recreation or as a place of economic opportunity, but as a symbol of chaos and death. The very first words of Genesis speak of the earth as a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. In their understanding of creation, God looked out at a bubbling, watery chaos, a world totally out of control. Creation consisted of taming the chaos of the sea! Creation is always taming the chaos! You do a smaller version of that every time you balance a checkbook or make a bed or solve a problem. You tame the chaos.

The story of the great flood and of Noah and the ark is really an expression of their greatest fear: namely, that the taming of the waters of chaos would somehow be reversed, and chaos would take over again. If they wanted to tell a story about just how far someone could run from God, they told a story about a man named Jonah, who was thrown from a boat in the middle of the sea and swallowed by a sea monster. Yet even there God brought him back! Where shall I go from your spirit, or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me fast.

It is true to this very day that Israel has very little interest in the sea. Their sense of God’s gift to them was land, not sea. They spoke of “the promised LAND!” You never hear of Israel’s great navy because they never had a great navy. As a nation and a culture, they love the land and are deeply suspicious of the sea. The writer of this vision in Revelation was part of that culture of sea phobia.

But there is another reason John’s dream of an ideal world was a world without the sea. Look where he was! He was writing from exile, and where was his exile? On a desolate island! There was no need for a stockade to hold him. There was hardly any need for guards! The walls of his prison were the waters of the sea. He was surrounded by sea, cut off from his loved ones by the sea, banished from his friends by the sea, imprisoned by the sea. No wonder his vision of a perfect world would include the phrase, the sea shall be no more.

II

I wonder how we would express what John was trying to express is his day? I wonder if we would say, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, and the chaos of gun violence and terrorism and suicide bombers was no more. Poverty and cancer and Alzheimer’s and homelessness and the whole long list of issues and illnesses and evils that plague us in our day came to an end. That would be our vision of a new earth! That would be our dream…a time when nation would not lift up sword or missiles against one another. In this new world there would be no traffic jams on the Mass Turnpike and no one would ever cut in front of you when you are turning left! You know, as long as we are dreaming of a new world, we might as well solve the traffic problems!

All of this dreaming goes back to something very important and very biblical. It has to do with the title of this sermon: “The Dream of the Eighth Day.” This dream at the end of the Bible is really a completion of the creation story at the beginning of the Bible. Some people read the creation accounts in the book of Genesis and think that was it: done for…finished. But have you ever noticed that the first words of the creation story in Genesis 1 are literally In beginning…. The Genesis story is a beginning, not a completion! The story says that God created for six days, and then rested on the seventh day. But there was more creating to do!

The story of creation continues as the forces of chaos and violence and heartache are constantly pushed back and held at bay. Whenever we engage in any task that brings order to chaos, we are partnering with God in the continuing act of creation. When parents help bring order and understanding into the life of a child, they are partnering with God in creation. When a teacher helps a student make sense of the world, that teacher is partnering with God in creation. When a therapist helps a person make sense of chaotic feelings, this is partnering with God. When a church tries to organize or reorganize its bylaws in order to get things done, this is partnering with God in creation. Anyone who helps bring encouragement and order and hope into a world of chaos is a partner with God in a continuing act of creation.

The early church used to refer to Easter as the beginning of the “eighth day” of creation! Easter was a sign that even the chaos of death is ultimately defeated by God. And sure enough, when we read this great vision of John from the book of Revelation, he says that God…will be with them; God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more….

Look at the scope of this divine act of wiping away tears. No one can say that this is about God and me…; this is not about God and my family…; this is not about God and people like me…; this is not about God and my nation…; this is not about God and my race…; this is not about God and my religion…; this is not about God and my culture…. This is a whole new world that will be when the eighth day of creation is finally completed. That day was started on Easter, and it is our task to work for the completion of that day, using all the skills and energy and imagination we have to offer.

III

Now one more thing to note about this amazing vision. God makes a final promise: To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. In all of God’s cosmic magnificent greatness seen in creation, God is there to offer the water of life to satisfy the thirst of a longing heart.

Odd, isn’t it? At the end of this long story we know as the Bible, we are summoned to a large, cosmic dream. This is not just a dream to feel better about ourselves; it is nothing less than a dream of a whole new earth! It is a dream about a God who cares and continues to create newness on a cosmic scale. It is also a dream about a God who cares enough for each one of us that we are offered the water of life to quench our thirsty souls.

Thirsty, anyone?