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How does it all end and what difference does it make?

At a Christian retreat I once attended, the delegates were asked to describe the places where they experienced a special connection with God, and the top answer was, ‘by the sea’, and it should come as no surprise that we have an affinity with creation — that we find God in it — especially the beauty and grandeur of the sea. We are created beings living in a created world, therefore God’s creativity can be seen in everything, however, that same week I was also approached by a perplexed and anxious parishioner after she read in the Book of Revelation, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (Revelation 21:1). She told me in no uncertain terms that she liked the sea and all its creatures, and would be very upset if there was no sea in heaven! So why did the author of Revelation write that there would be no more sea? To understand this, we need to take a step back and understand the wider picture.

Firstly, the Book of Revelation was written at a time when the church was being persecuted and Christians were being put to death in most gruesome ways, and the author wanted people to know that despite what was happening here on earth, that they had a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world and that they were part of a much bigger story — one that both started, and would end, with Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John we read, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and Word was God,” and the Book of Revelation could be paraphrased in a single sentence as, “At the end will be the Word and the Word will be with God and the Word will be God.” The writer of Revelation begins and ends their book by describing Jesus as the ‘Alpha and Omega’, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Alpha is the first letter of the classical Greek alphabet and Omega is the last. In other words Jesus is the A to Z. No wonder the two letters (Alpha) and (Omega) were used as a symbol for Christ by the early Christians. It was a constant reminder that Jesus was the archway under which they lived, and they need not fear for, in the end, God was going to make everything okay.

Secondly, when us modern Westerners read the Bible we sometimes make the incorrect assumption that the spiritual world and physical world are separate and will be separated forever — that the physical is somehow ‘bad’ and destined for destruction but that the spiritual is ‘good’ and that we will live on in a disembodied heaven. Importantly, the Jewish and early Gentile believers — the writers of the New Testament — made no such distinction between the physical and spiritual. It is not that God will do away with the physical in favour of the spiritual, but that the physical is being ‘made new’ or ‘renewed’ in and through Jesus Christ. To understand this, perhaps the most obvious example is Jesus himself. Jesus, through his resurrection, was the first of this ‘new order’ of things. Jesus did not have a purely spiritual resurrection but a physical resurrection. He walked, ate, laughed, cried, and his body even bore scars. His physicality was not thrown away but was restored and renewed. His physicality was like the old physicality, but different. Jesus could walk through solid objects and materialise and dematerialise at will. How? Because something had shifted in the created order of things. God is not in the process of ditching this world with a plan to make a new one. No, God is in the process of transforming and renewing it and we have a part to play.

So how does this relate to the author of Revelation writing that there would be no more ‘sea’? The sea, for the early Jewish and Gentile believers, was a metaphor that represented chaos, including trouble, and that the God who hovered over the waters of chaos in the beginning was bringing order out of that chaos. The author of the Book of Revelation also used this metaphor, and wrote about what will happen at the end of all things, where there will no longer be the chaos of depression, pain, anger, broken relationships, hurt, loneliness, and poverty. In other words, when God’s creation comes to fulfilment there will be no more metaphorical ‘sea’ in God’s renewed and restored world.

(To put my parishioner’s mind at rest, I assured her that in the new heaven and earth there will be a physical sea — full of life and beauty and wonder!)

Like those first readers of the Book of Revelation, there is great comfort to knowing this overarching Jesus story, for we know how it began and we know how it will end. We know that in the beginning God and humans were together and we know that at some point in the future God and humans and all creation will be fully re-united. We know that the incarnation of Jesus was the central point and that Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, “was, is, and is to come.” We know that everything changed when Jesus came — that he started a new order of creation — an order that will come to fulfilment at some point in the future. In the same way, we are chosen ahead of time to be heralds, messengers, ambassadors, and agents of God’s new creation. We have a foretaste of the future and we are called to live out that future world ahead of time. Our calling is to live the future now, to start wiping tears from the eyes of people, to bring life instead of death, and to be joyful bringers of peace and encouragement to those around us, and yes, to enjoy the connectedness with God through God’s creation, and especially the sea.

Amen.