07 May, 2012

Homily for Evensong - Fifth Sunday of Easter (B) 2012

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-14  -  Revelation 3:1-13

Tonight’s first reading from Isaiah is commonly read out during the Christmas season. The description of people coming with flocks and with gifts to worship the Lord fits in well with our ideas about the shepherds and the three wise men. The blessed age of peace and prosperity which Isaiah describes and longs for is inaugurated with the coming of Jesus, and this too fits in well with the meanings connected with Christmas. However, its full meaning is only understandable in the light of the Easter events.
This prophecy was written at a time when Israel had just come back from exile and some of his children were still dispersed throughout the known world. These children, wherever they may be, are not forgotten by the prophet, by Israel, and by God. Isaiah prophesies that they too will come back to Jerusalem, to the city of the Lord, and that a vast multitude of foreigners will follow them.

This new Jerusalem, the habitation of God amongst mortals, will attract all people to its splendour and there won’t be any more discrimination between Israelites and alien people. All people will offer the same acceptable worship and one sacrifice.

In the Church we have a foretaste of this blessed future described by Isaiah as she gathers in herself all God’s children. Her gates are always open for welcome and the procession of people coming to her never ceases. The light of the Gospel shines in her to light up the surrounding darkness of the world.
Nevertheless, the Church is only a partial accomplishment of this prophecy. In describing Jerusalem as a place of dazzling light, Isaiah foresaw also the new Jerusalem, the one that comes from God out of heaven (cf. Rev. 3:12). Therefore, this prophecy should speak to us as a promise of the future glory that attends the Church and each of us.

Many traditional hymns sing about this heavenly place which is the climax of God’s new creation. Yet we have seemed to put them aside in many places of worship. Perhaps this is a symptom that we have lost all confidence in hope infused in us by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is because we have slowly become “secularist Christians” who strive to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus in this life, but do not long for the blessed vision of God and, the new Jerusalem as our true homeland. Or maybe, it has been a long, long time since we have last stopped to think about the ultimate end of being a Christian.

Isaiah was talking about us; about the Church, marching through the world and the millennia towards that blessed day when we’ll all reach the walls of the new Jerusalem. Only there our Christian vocation will be fulfilled.

Now, in the meantime, with hearts raised on high,
we for that country must yearn and must sigh,
seeking Jerusalem, dear native land,
through our long exile on Babylon's strand.

O what their joy and their glory must be,
those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see;
crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest:
God shall be All, and in all ever blest.

What are the Monarch, his court and his throne?
What are the peace and the joy that they own?
O that the blest ones, who in it have share,
all that they feel could as fully declare!

Truly, "Jerusalem" name we that shore,
city of peace that brings joy evermore;
wish and fulfillment are not severed there,
nor do things prayed for come short of the prayer.

There, where no troubles distraction can bring,
we the sweet anthems of Zion shall sing;
while for thy grace, Lord, their voices of praise
thy blessèd people eternally raise.

Now, in the meantime, with hearts raised on high,
we for that country must yearn and must sigh,
seeking Jerusalem, dear native land,
through our long exile on Babylon's strand.

Low before him with our praises we fall,
of whom and in whom and through whom are all;
of whom, the Father; and in whom, the Son;
and through whom, the Spirit, with them ever One. Amen.

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