An old friend posted on his facebook profile the other day, "I've seen the new heaven and the new earth and as an Episcopalean I'm wondering, what was wrong with the old heaven??" This made me laugh, in light of my recent sermonizing on Revelation 21:1-6, the passage from which the "new heaven and new earth' line comes from.
In my sermon I stressed that Revelation 21 had the following three things to say to people who were feeling oppressed:
1. God is good.
2. God cares.
3. God is powerful. Powerful enough to beat out whatever evil assails us.
The book of Revelation is nerve-wracking with all the apocalyptic language: crazy beasts, cryptic symbology, messages of doom, a graphic war between good and evil. And chapter 21 declares that all that we know, this old earth AND heaven are going to pass away and be replaced by a new one. Panic sets in as we all dash to rescue the photo album before it goes.
But I believe that Revelation, like all apocalyptic texts in the Bible, points us to something that is already happening, rather than warning us about events that are yet to come. Perhaps the old heaven and old earth come out of the old way that we humans have related to one another and have understood God before the resurrection. This knowledge of life beating death in such a dramatic way is nerve-wracking in its own right. It just isn't natural. It's like the earthquake that shakes everything.
Think about it. We thrive on stories of death and destruction. For example, it is much easier to play the blame game with British Petroleum over the oil spill while driving our SUVs than it is to put our neck out there and make personal changes that free us from our dependence on oil. BP was only giving us what we want, after all. We are arm-chair critics for everything, and we LOVE to hate "those other guys." That is the world where death is the final word.
A world where resurrection is realized is one in which life is celebrated, in which we recognize good in the midst of corporate evil, and where we participate in the creation ourselves by taking responsibility for the Earth--old and new.