ALL SAINTS DAY: JERUSALEM RESTORED
A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN
Lections: Isaiah 62; Mark 4:30-34; Rev 21:1-3
This Sunday the church celebrates All Saints Day, as we remember that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, whom death has no dominion over, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Both the OT reading from Isaiah and the NT reading from Mark speak about the Kingdom of God, and specifically, about the church as the Kingdom of God on earth and the New Jerusalem which is yet to come. In Mark, Jesus likens the Kingdom to a grain of mustard seed. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a large shrub, 8 – 10 feet in height, and “the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” In this parable, we are given to compare a small beginning to a magnificent end: 12 disciples who seed the universal church; or the crucifixion of Jesus, an event that seems insignificant when it occurs, on a tiny hill in a remote territory of the Roman empire, and ends up changing the history of all creation. Today, we can liken ourselves to birds, nesting in the protection the church of this creation offers us. The Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaims, is our hope, the assurance of future salvation, and our chief care, for it falls on us to preserve its presence on earth, and to return the strength we take from it with our service: “though God is seated in the heavens, still his name and its praise resound across the globe and through the centuries.”[i]
Jesus spoke parables when he taught ‘the word of the Kingdom’ publicly. He recognized not everyone can “make a decision for Christ” at the same moment, and he was not in the business of harvesting anxiety. Jesus respected the limits of persuasion, which are too easily stretched into manipulation, and the limits of reason, which sin confuses with misunderstanding. Privately, however, to his disciples, Jesus expounds all things, as he does also for us, the mustard seed that would become the community of saints; for we have received the grace through faith to hear with understanding the Word of God, and Jesus discloses what the parable veils: the Kingdom of God on earth is the presence of a person, Jesus himself, and the Spirit, which the Father has sent, to be with his church, the very body of Christ. No matter how small and insignificant we feel, we are part of this cosmic drama. “Though our lips can only stammer, yet we chant the high things of God.”[ii]
The prophet Isaiah receives a vision of the future of Jerusalem; the city, “that sad captivity being at hand,”[iii] is to be restored, and the glory of God is to be the envy of the nations. Jerusalem, once a great city, will lie in ruins, its people scattered among the Babylonians; for as the mighty are humbled, and the first become last, so proud Jerusalem will be reduced to rubble, before it comes to life again and shines “with the glory of her God.”
The prophet Isaiah has been persistent; in fervent prayer, he receives a vision of Jerusalem restored, the city alive “in the good of all God’s promises.” Alongside prayer, the hearing and understanding of Scripture, and the sacraments, we rely for holiness upon God’s grace, commandments, and promises, as “the most-assured praying rests on the promises of God.”[iv]
Isaiah foresees the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonian captivity, and then the city’s glorious restoration. The desolate and forsaken will be the delight of God, he says, “and your land will be married.” Isaiah sees Jerusalem like a woman, separated from her husband, yearning to be reconciled. When her walls are rebuilt, they will look like a tiara. But he sees even further into the future: without knowing of what he speaks, he sees the New Jerusalem, when the church, fully embodied, appears with its Christ like the betrothed, and Christ delights in her. “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”
In his Book of Revelation, John writes,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them (Rev 21:1-3).
John’s vision, as Isaiah’s, rests “in the promise of a God who is light and who sheds his knowledge abroad.”[v] Anselm offers this, in prayer, as he acknowledges the utter dependence of our human nature on divine light and knowledge:
“I pray, O God, that I may know thee, that I may love thee, so that I may rejoice in thee. And if I cannot do this to the full in this life, at least let me go forward from day to day until that joy comes to fullness.”[vi]
Revelation pictures for us the destination of All Saints, “all who truly love God and neighbor, citizens [and worshippers] in the New City of a New Creation” who know in their new flesh, the resurrected body, “that their sainthood, their capacity to love,” comes as a gift from the “re-creative love of the One who is Alpha and Omega,”[vii] the mustard seed and shrub grown full, the end and the beginning. Amen.
[i] Michael Allen, “Knowledge of God,” pdf, 14
[ii] Gregory the Great, Moralia, 5.26.29.
[iii] Calvin’s Commentaries
[iv] Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Isa 62.
[v] Allen, ibid
[vi] Anselm, “Proslogion,” in A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham, 92 (ch. 26)
[vii] lectionary calendar: umcdiscipleship.org