The events of past few days remind us, tearfully, that the world is in greater need than ever of salvation. Natural disasters seem to be proliferating. News of war and rumors of war are interspersed with accounts of domestic violence as shocking as they are now becoming more prevalent than ever. This year alone in the US, over 7,000 innocent people have been shot and killed in acts of unspeakable cruelty. Yesterday, the nation was horrified to see the 198th mass shooting. Last year there were 693 such mass shootings, and hundreds more suicides and homicides, 15,945 gun deaths in all, including 8,910 suicides. The US seems poised to equal or surpass that number this year.
By comparison, in Ukraine, since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the official UN civilian death toll is estimated to stand at 3,381, as well as 3,680 injured, although the actual figures are thought to be much higher. Most deaths and injuries are the result of aerial bombardment and artillery shelling, but many are the result of direct gunfire.
It has been said that guns do not kill people. No, people kill people with guns. And our nation especially and much of the world is, as they say, awash in guns, both legally purchased and illegally obtained. Over a billion of them. And the United States is outstanding in the proliferation of guns among the civilian population — 393,347,000, almost one per person, the highest percentage in the world.
It is not terribly surprising that in a period of tension and anxiety, anger and hatred explode in gunfire. But it is terrible. Someone is making a fortune manufacturing and selling such weapons in a country not at war. That the leaders of our nation seem unable to stem the tidal wave of the arms trade is itself a terrible indictment. Even a Supreme Court justice should be able to realize that the Second Amendment to the Constitution was never intended to entitle the citizens of this country to murder innocent fellow citizens – including children, women, the aged, and defenseless.
Such is the grim backdrop of the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2022. Yes, the world is in need of redemption. Still.
The first reading takes us back to the foundation of the Christian churches in southwest Asia. Of all those ancient cities and towns Luke carefully identifies, most are now mounds of ruins, including several of the seven cities whose churches are addressed in the Book of Revelation.
The second reading, from near the end of that wonderful and often hair-raising and usually misunderstood work, describes the future of the Church rather than its past — the new Jerusalem, the holy city that is God’s gift to all the world, not a human creation. It is described as impossibly larger than any structure ever designed by human beings, larger than any structure human beings will likely ever build.
We tend to miss that, because the dimensions are given in a different chapter. But when you work out the volume, as I have my students do, it describes a cube 1,500 miles on each side and 1,500 miles high – about 3,375,000,000 cubic miles –- approximately three-fifths the volume of the moon by our standards. It is the largest construction ever imagined by the human mind. But the simple point the author is making is that there is enough room for everyone. Everyone who ever lived, who is living now, and will ever live. Salvation is inclusive.
But that is another story. Here, the promise is what is important — God will dwell there with the people, always with them, beyond death and mourning, beyond all pain and suffering. All that will be gone. And here, the whole book of Revelation comes to a point in that simple phrase, “See, I am making all things new.”
It’s a steadying idea, a wonderful source of hope. We only have to look at the news in the papers or on television to see what a mess we human beings can make of things. If anything, we have a tendency to go backwards, to undo things or redo them rather than make them truly new. War is perhaps the best example of such regression. So much waste, such vast destruction, sorrow, pain, and loss. War, violence, killing, and ecological destruction is what we too often do. Peace, love, and renewal is what God does… and seems to expect us to do as well.
…“love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” [John 13:34-35].
The name of waiting is hope. Not passively, but preparing the way of the Lord as best we can in the midst of trials and tears. In the end, today’s liturgy says it all:
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with humanity. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” [Rev 21:1-5].