Fifth Sunday of Easter — Revelation 21:1-5; John 13:31-35
Behold, Jesus says, “I make all things new.”
Last weekend I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a conference, and on Saturday I was able to go downtown to the Cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Andrew.
And I stumbled into a wedding: a handsome young Hispanic man, and a lovely young Hispanic woman, standing at the altar beneath the high, vaulted ceilings. The wedding was in Spanish, so I couldn’t understand what was being said, but to me there seemed to be something really beautiful and dignified about it, especially at the end, when the people gathered on the steps outside and waited for the bride and groom to come through the doors.
Marriage is a sacrament, as truly as ordination is a sacrament, which is to say that Christ is truly present in the love between a man and a woman, on their wedding day and every day.
And when they did, walking slowly down the steps, beaming, the woman in her flowing white dress with her flowing white veil, the crowd slowly parted for her, almost reverently, and then the people lined up to embrace her, one by one, as if they were receiving a blessing.
As they were. It was very like the tradition of people coming up for a blessing from a newly ordained priest. And that makes sense. That’s right. Marriage is a sacrament, as truly as ordination is a sacrament, which is to say that Christ is truly present in the love between a man and a woman, on their wedding day and every day.
The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven “like a bride adorned for her husband,” the Book of Revelation says, and this isn’t just something we’ll see in the future. The woman’s beautiful white gown didn’t disguise who she really was. It revealed it. Because deep down, whatever our sins, we are loved by God and forgiven by God and made in His Image and made in His Likeness and we are all kings and we are all queens.
The woman’s beautiful white gown didn’t disguise who she really was. It revealed it.
The doors of the Cathedral of St. Andrew are Holy Doors, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and walking through them I experienced something of the mercy of God, as standing in the courtyard, watching the bride descend, I experienced it again. That moment was, as Pope Francis says in his letter on the Year of Mercy, “a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God.”
Earlier, down the street, I had a cup of coffee in a place called the Madcap Coffee Shop, and when I was done, I went up to the barista to ask for directions to the Cathedral. She was about the same age as the bride, tattooed on both arms from wrist to shoulder, a big ring in her nose. Shocking pink hair.
I was a little intimidated, but I was also a little lost, and feeling like a fool, I went up to her. And she smiled the sweetest smile, and she took out her phone, and she called up the map, and sweetly, gently, patiently, she showed me the way. She even took me outside and pointed, and she was never once impatient or condescending, and for me that was a corporeal act of mercy, it really was, to help a stranger like that, someone so obviously out of place.
You know, unlike the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there really isn’t any explicit moral teaching in the Gospel of John, nothing about marriage or adultery or sins in the heart. The only moral teaching comes right here, in our gospel for today, when Jesus says that we must love one another as he has loved us, and of course, in this all the other moral teachings are summarized and enacted. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” and though I have no idea if that tattooed barista was a Christian or not, she was acting like one. She was showing me mercy.
“Now is the Son of Man glorified”–in the bride and the groom, in the man who was lost and in the woman with the nose ring who showed him the way.
Marriage is truly a sacrament, equal in grace even to the election of a pope, and the barista is no less precious, nor the banker, nor the flight attendant, nor you, nor me, so that it’s not just marriage that’s a sacrament, it’s all the minutes and all the hours.
Marriage is truly a sacrament, equal in grace even to the election of a pop.
A third young woman that day. This one in a painting, in the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
She’s sitting on the left of the scene in a bright, flowery dress reading a book, her head on her hand—the same age as the bride and the same age as the barista—lost in thought, caught up in her book, though the focus of this painting by Will Howe Foote, who was born in Grand Rapids, is the room itself, the living room with its couch and end tables and little vases, and in the background, the light coming through a window and falling past a dining room table onto the back wall.
The girl reading the book is lovely, and mysterious, and intriguing—three women that day, calling me–but it was the light that drew me into the painting, this buttery yellow light. That’s the title of the painting: “Sunlit Interior.” The light coming through the window felt so rich to me, and vibrant, and warm, and I stood there for quite a while, in the silence of the museum, thinking about the generosity of the painter and the beauty of the light and how the light is always shining, through all our windows, pouring into all our rooms.
How every interior is lit by the sun.
How every door is a Holy Door. The door to the museum. The door to the room in the painting. The door to the Madcap Coffee Shop.
How the Heavenly Jerusalem is our final destination, is the new world that awaits us at the end of this one, and yet is also the city where we are living now, all of us, all the time. How in Christ time is transcended and fulfilled, the way though Will Howe Foote is dead, he lives on in his painting, and his painting lives, and it moved me in that moment, and I could feel life in it and warmth, but how in Christ this same thing happens not just on canvas, not just in imagination, but in reality, in the fullest reality possible.
The Heavenly Jerusalem looks a lot like Grand Rapids. It looks a lot like Corvallis.
For, “behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race,” and “he will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them,” and “he will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
Behold, Jesus says, “I make all things new.”