Till We Have Built Jerusalem

Till We Have Built Jerusalem

Sixth Sunday of Easter. Fr Denis Minns finds real hope in the vision of St John the Divine.

It is a commonplace that most of those who were first attracted to Christianity were from the lower ranks of their society. ‘Consider your own call’, St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘not many of you were wise, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is weak, what is low and despised in the world’.

Most of those who wrote the books of the New Testament, however, were not from the lowest classes, for they had obviously had enough of an education to enable them to write in more or less correct Greek. The exception to this is the Book of Revelation, from which today’s second reading is taken. In the third century, an immensely learned Egyptian bishop knew that some people in the church rejected this book, considering it to be unintelligible and illogical. It was not a revelation, that is to say, an unveiling, at all, they said. Rather it was itself veiled by a great thick curtain of unintelligibility.

Denis of Alexandria was more respectful of the book’s claim to be divinely inspired, although he did prove that its author could not also have written the Gospel or the letters of John. One of his arguments is that whereas they are written in Greek that is irreproachable, and even ‘most eloquent’, the language of Revelation is barbarous, vulgar, and ungrammatical. Yet, if the author of Revelation cannot write without showing himself to be poor and uneducated, in what he wrote we are able to glimpse how the Gospel of Jesus Christ transformed his life and outlook.

The Gospel does not assuage his pain with the opium of belief in a better life in heaven, after this life of toil is over. Rather, it opens his eyes to the wickedness and injustice and oppression of the world he lives in. While this fills him with anger, it also fills him with hope, with the confidence that human society, not beyond the grave, but in the here and now, can be and will be transformed into the just society God intends it to be. For he ‘saw the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’. He heard a loud voice saying, ‘See the home of God is with human beings, he will dwell with them, he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more’.

In this city, come down out of heaven, to the earth, there will be no avarice, no oppression of the poor, for the baubles and the precious metals that the rich like to grasp to themselves will be as common as dirt in the street. And there will be no need for a Temple in this city, for the city itself will be the dwelling of God with human beings.

Uneducated, barely literate he might have been, but the John of Revelation has given us a remarkable account of the virtue of hope: of what might be possible if only we had the courage to allow the love of God, which the author of the Gospel of John so celebrates, to come into our lives.

This is the love of the Father for the Son, and the love of the Son for the Father, that divine Love which in today’s Gospel Jesus promises that the Father would send in his name, that Love whose feast we will celebrate at Pentecost.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that the time will come when God’s true worshippers will worship him neither on the mountain of the Samaritans, nor in the temple in Jerusalem, but will worship him in spirit and in truth. The John of Revelation longed for the coming of that moment, when God will dwell with human beings, not in a temple, but in spirit and in truth. He has foreseen what will come to be if human beings will allow that divine Love to come into their hearts, change them, and change the way they relate to God, and to one another. He has seen the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down, out of heaven, to the earth.

Readings: Acts 15:1-2,22-29 | Apocalypse 21:10-14,22-23 | John 14:23-29

Fr Denis Minns is a son of the Province of Australia, but formerly served as Prior of Blackfriars, Oxford, and was a member of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Oxford.