Christ's Presence

An Invitation to the Table

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. —Rev. 21:22

Let’s do what we can today to take the mystery out of the Revelation to John. There’s a great deal about it that we don’t understand, and (in my opinion) that we can’t understand. A revelation is a vision that is given to someone, and the word pictures recorded by John to describe his revelation have been something the church has struggled with ever since. There are many things about it that seem to describe what was happening at the very moment the book was being written. Other things are obviously to happen in the future—albeit a future that the early church thought was imminent than we think it is.

Today’s reading from the New Testament belongs to this latter set of events. It’s a description of time after time, of life when God’s Reign has been consummated, after the old earth and the old heaven have passed away, and the new heaven and the new earth taken their place. The language is beautiful and mysterious. And though it seems a little remote, I don’t think it’s as difficult to understand as we assume it is.

The fall of the Berlin Wall
To better wrap our minds around it, let’s first take a look at the world around us. And let’s put the world in the context of the events of about a quarter century ago. Most of us remember the events of 1989 and 1990. All the things about the world that seemed to threaten were suddenly disappearing. A Cold War that had been part of our reality for decades was suddenly swept aside as warm peace broke out across much of the world. The Iron Curtain didn’t just fall, it disappeared in almost no time—peacefully in almost every case. [1]

All the resources that had gone to defense—all the bombs and guns and systems—could now be used for health and education (or so many of us thought). What was there now to divide the peoples of the United States and Russia?

Though none of us wish for the old days of the Cold War, none of us imagined—or wished for—the world that took its place. No, Marxism is no longer the threat that it was a few decades ago. But the ideologies that we find ourselves in conflict with now are arguably as dangerous and a lot less predictable.

And it’s not just extremism and terrorism that frighten us. We are also confused by what seems to be a lack of cohesion in our society. We can’t seem to unite around anything anymore, though in reality, I doubt that we ever could. I know what we should be able to unite around; it’s just that other people have other ideas. But the one thing we can all agree on is that there’s a lot of anger out there. The problem is that every time one problem disappears, another one takes its place. And the new one is often more dangerous and less predictable than the old one. The world makes peace, and somehow war breaks out.

Just before the crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." [2] Not as the world gives…

In his devotion on this verse, Eugene Peterson said, that

the world's way to get peace is to try to eliminate that which disturbs; God's way is to restore the unruly. The world's way to get peace is to say, 'Shut up, I don't want to hear it anymore.' The Lord's way is to say, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.' The world's peace is a precarious house of cards; God's peace is cosmic wholeness. [3]

‘A precarious house of cards…' what better way can we think of to describe the world’s peace? And to the problem of the world’s inadequate peace, God’s response is ‘cosmic wholeness.’ And this, I believe, is what we see described at the end of the Revelation to John. Here in the new heaven and the new earth, we are gathered not around the unifying themes of patriotism and opinion and sectarianism, but on the banks of the life-giving river. Here we need not struggle for sustenance or hoard riches, but eat freely from the orchard of God. Here we need not go to church to seek God’s presence or try to find God in a natural setting that is not our home, but God is immediately present. Here we need not fear the heat of the sun or the terrors of the night, for the Lamb of God is our light.

The table we gather round when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper is an earthly reminder of the heavenly Jerusalem—a token of the cosmic wholeness that is to come, a foretaste of the heavenly feast, and an acknowledgment of God’s presence. The confusion and violence of the world can be, if not a frightening place to us, at least at times a disheartening one. And though God is not immediately visible even to the most faithful among us, yet in Christ God still dwells in our midst—even within us—so that whenever we’re exposed to danger or confusion or discouragement, we know that under Christ’s protection there is perfect safety. [4]

And so, no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at this table. If your life is in fine shape and you are happy and healthy and secure, please come to thank God for your blessings, and acknowledge to God that it is not by your own strength that you have arrived at your present state. And if you are discouraged, if your life is in disorder, if you are frightened of the days to come or worried that you cannot accomplish all that you’re facing, please come, and find here a God who is present around you and within you, a God who became just like you, experiencing the worst and yet being delivered into life.

Though the house of cards is falling down around us, yet the table is set, and the cosmic wholeness of God awaits those who seek God’s presence.
—©2016 Sam L. Greening, Jr. 
  1. The main exception being in Romania, where the Ceauşescu régime remained ensconced in power until László Tőkés, a Hungarian Reformed pastor in the city of Temesvár (Timişoara), under threat of eviction by the secret police, started a protest that by 15 December 1989 had begun to spread across the country. The government reacted violently before the military began backing the protesters a week later. Over 1100 people were killed in the unrest.  
  2. John 14:27.
  3. Praying with Jesus: A Year of Daily Prayers and Reflections on the Words and Actions of Jesus (HarperSanFrancsico 1993), Nov. 15. 
  4. John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 76:2.