Revelation 22: 1-5
Yesterday I had friends for NYC up for the day and we went walking in Wepawaug Conservation Area off of Maplewood. It was spectacular. The forest boasted so many varieties of green trees just bursting out in blossom. As a painter you notice colors and light from spring green to celadon green to Hookers green and Phthalo green a blooming forest seems to call out every green imaginable. So hopeful and peaceful.
Wepawaug Conservation Area, Orange Connecticut
Our scripture for today is (again) from the Book of Revelation, is about just that. Green leaves, variety, peace and hope. Now Revelation is quite a visual book and you don’t always think ‘peace’ when you read it. It is a confusing book. There are cosmic wars, visions, seals being opened to reveal apocalyptic revelation, it has blasting trumpets and seven headed beasts. For our 21st century sensibilities it is difficult to get clarity on what the author really meant, and scholars viewpoints vary, as do the leaves on the trees on crisp and hopeful spring day.
Although, we can try to put it into context. It was the end of the first century and Rome was a religious and political force to be reckoned with, probably under the rule of the emperor Domitian. With Domitian came an enhanced imperial cult mentality in which there was the belief that the emperor was divine and would insure the well being of the inhabitants and the state.
Christians and Jews viewed this ideology as pure idolatry, which put them at huge odds with the empire. They were in turn viewed as great enemies of the state. So by the time the author of Revelation puts quill to papyrus, they were in desperate need for a message of healing and peace.
So let us paint a picture in our minds of what peace can look like from the Book of Revelation.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.”
‘And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’. This passage is one of the more beautiful and peaceful passages of scripture in the entire Bible and it’s entitled the ‘Tree of Life’. One of my earliest botanical paintings was of this very passage where an image of one continuous vine with leaves of green twined together twelve varieties of fruit. It gave me pause to think of how this might just work, this passage, ‘And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ For surely as many varieties of greens there are within a one leaf there must be a variety of ways in which we can heal our nations and come to terms with peace. Even though one vine grows different fruits.
Revelation tries. Picture a city and through the middle of a city flows a river that is filled with the water of soul refreshing, heart renewing life. It was as vivid as it could be, bright as crystal that is clean and sparkling. And the river’s source is the throne of God.
And the river is lined on both of the banks with the tree of life bearing twelve different sorts of fruits. Apples, Oranges, Pomegranates, Pears, and Almonds. So life giving they are because their leaves provide shade for a weary soul, their trunks a place for the traveler to lean their aching back against, and the fruit is the sustenance of life. Wisdom abounds. Nourishment is abundant and life is valued and at peace.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nations then, nations now still are in need of healing.
Last Friday was the National Day of Prayer and the Orange Interfaith Clergy gathered down at High Plains to pray together. Rabbis, pastors, civic leaders offered prayers for our country, for the world, for our military, our leaders, our education, almost all of the prayers, if not all, at some point begged the God of us all for peace.
Peace is difficult to define and one’s practice of religion has a great deal to say about what peace is and how peace can be achieved. As individuals we must be instruments of that peace as it speaks to us Christians in a pluralistic world.
I heard a very interesting interview on ‘Morning Edition’ on NPR sometime last year. Salman Rushdie was being interviewed on his new memoir that has just come out, Joseph Anton. I heard him speak in 2005 at Fairfield University and was quite impressed by his thought process. The memoir is about his life and experience in hiding for 12 years after the release of his other book, The Satanic Verses. He said,
“My purpose was not to write about Islam; it was to talk about the nature of revelation, and also to suggest that when a big, new idea comes into the world, it must answer two challenges; One is the challenge of how do you behave when you’re weak? And the other, how do you behave when you’re strong?” he says. “When you’re weak, do you bend, do you compromise? Or are you [unyielding] and firm? And when you’re strong, when you’re victorious, are you cruel and vengeful, or are you merciful and forgiving?”
Good question. When a new idea or a new opportunity comes along, and they do each day, if you are weak do you respond by giving in? Or are you vengeful toward others?
What if peace were the new idea in the world or in this community or in this church? I mean a true and everlasting peace, not just the cessation of war or dissention. A peace or shalom that surrounds each and every individual in each and every nation with wholeness.
A peace that creates a non-threatening existence so that the dignity of each person is maintained, what if? This new idea peace, if weak, will bend and break and not make it. But if it is a strong and everlasting peace it will forgive and strive to create tolerance, cohesiveness in our differences, and a truth of love that all people can hear and understand.
We Christians can answer Rushdie’s challenge too. When we are weak we look to the Lord of Light who sits at the source of the river and let the waters flow around us lapping up strength and refreshment to be healed. And when we are strong we can look also and again to the Lord God of light and be merciful and forgiving like Christ.
There is a challenge and a choice for making peace, and God is there to help us make the God-infused, shalom-steeped, peace-packed choice.
Peace has been around for ages but an everlasting peace, well that is a new idea and it begins with you. Let us hold this image from Revelation within our hearts and minds. And let us be bold enough to speak truth with humility and respect, to look to the source of our being that is God so that we can be the peace that will heal this world. If the leaves of the trees can be for the healing of the nations, then ultimately we can too.
May it be so!