Already? Not yet? Now!

by The Rev'd Dane E. Boston

A Sermon Preached at Evensong on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014

By the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Curate of Christ Church, Greenwich, Connecticut

Anthem: “And I saw a new heaven” by Edgar L. Bainton

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea.”

There are few better passages of Scripture for us to sing and to hear in Eastertide than our anthem this evening. The mighty words of St John the Divine echo down to us through two millennia of longing and hope–of promise, and of waiting. The words of tonight’s anthem speak to us of the “already/not yet” nature of the Christian life, a quality made most poignant and palpable in this season of Resurrection.

In these Great Fifty Days, we proclaim that already God has come to dwell with his people in the person of Jesus Christ. We proclaim that already the darkness of death has been conquered by the shining light of the empty tomb. We proclaim that already the former things, the earthly things–those things in ourselves and in our world that would that would hinder us and hold us back and hide our blind eyes from the light of God’s grace–already these things are seen to be passing away in the rising sun of God’s new day.

But, beloved, at the same time we look to the tear-streaked faces of the mothers of Nigeria and we know that not yet has God wiped away every tear from every eye. We look to the broken hearts and the broken lives commemorated at the new September 11th memorial dedicated this week, and we know that not yet has God granted to us the glory of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, where peace and righteousness reign. We look, at last, to ourselves: to our hearts, to our lives, to the unknown tears we have wept, to the unseen hurts we have caused, to the unheard and unanswered prayers we have prayed, and we know that not yet have the former things passed away, not yet have sorrow and crying and pain departed–not yet have all things been made new.

Already. Not yet. Thus we are doomed to live our lives in this bittersweet in-between. Or so it would seem. “Already/not yet” would indeed be the guiding dichotomy of the Book of Revelation (from which the words of our anthem are taken) if it were simply a book about things that might happen somewhere in the future. “Already/not yet” would be the concluding verdict on Jesus’ life and ministry if he were merely a wandering Galilean teacher and healer of long ago who, in a misguided effort to spread peace and love, ran afoul of the ruling Romans and got himself nailed to a tree as a warning and an example. “Already/not yet” would characterize the ceaseless carousel of our lives if we were only helpless pawns caught in an eternal chess match between God and Satan, uncertain of the outcome of a pitched battle between diametrically opposed equals.

But, dearly beloved, the truth of the matter is that Revelation is not a book that darkly probes the distant, mysterious future. It is, instead, a book that tells in bright, shining phrases, the here-and-now triumph of our God for those who have eyes to see it. The life of Jesus is not a dusty, dated tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is, instead, the everlasting announcement of God’s power and purpose at work in our midst today–a story that ends not with an execution outside the walls of Jerusalem in 33 AD, but rather a living story that has the power to transform lives in each and every age through the power of a risen life that will never die again, by the might of a Resurrection that knows no bounds.

And finally, this great promise that Christ’s triumph is not merely a past fact or a hoped-for future but an eternal reality boldly declares that you are I are not helpless puppets caught in an endless metaphysical tug-of-war. For while still we are called to the front lines of life’s mental fight; while still we wait for every tear to be wiped away; while still we look for the final end of even death itself, nevertheless we profess our faith that in God’s triumph, in Christ’s Resurrection, in the Holy Spirit’s enlivening power, we have now been brought into the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Whatever our past may warrant and whatever our future may hold, we are sons and daughters of the One who was, and is, is to come. We dwell not on the ceaseless see-saw of already/not yet, but, by grace, we are citizens of God’s eternal now, claimed and sealed by baptism, and called not to worry away in constant anxiety for ourselves or for the state of our world, but to live and work in the uncertain present always confident of the ultimate victory already achieved–though not yet revealed. As another of the writings of John’s community puts it, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when [Christ] appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

This, then, is the great truth announced in our worship this evening. May it be the great truth proclaimed in our lives each day. May we, through all the changes and chances of this life, cleave to the present reality of God’s everlasting promise in Jesus. May we know him more perfectly as we steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leadeth to eternal life. May we see, with all the bright clarity of St John the Divine, the vision of the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven as a bride prepared for her bridegroom. And may we, confident that the One who has promised is even now fulfilling his promise with power, abide there in the peace that passeth all understanding.