Jerusalem the Golden
Revelation 22:1-5 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
One of the major ways that Christians have let the Word of God dwell in them richly throughout history has been through the singing of hymns. Hymns are beloved because they are prayers and praises to God set to music. Hymns portray the richness of the gospel and the beauty of Jesus Christ in a graceful and memorable way.
Hymns have a way of ministering to our hearts, expressing our faith, and instilling hope within us. They teach us theology, unite us with fellow saints from past centuries, and take our eyes off ourselves and put them where they belong – on Jesus.
One such hymn is “Jerusalem the Golden,” which is our closing hymn for this morning. Please find the hymn at the back of your bulletin and follow along with the words during the sermon. (Don’t worry. I’m just going to be reading the words to you. … Not singing them.)
Bernard of Cluny was a Benedictine monk in the 12th century. The verses of “Jerusalem the Golden” are just a minute portion of a three-thousand-line poem written in meter form. Bernard of Cluny’s poem was a bitter satire on the fearful corruptions he saw in the year 1145. He contrasted those corruptions with the magnificent glories of what heaven will be like for God’s saints. This hymn gives the opposite of what we see and experience.
And what are we seeing and experiencing? Before Tuesday’s election, there were millennials who were saying that “the earth being destroyed by a major meteor is better than having Hillary or Donald in the White House.” Now, millennials are protesting our new President Elect, burning American flags, and vowing to move to Canada.
Recently, the Journal Times reported that violence was rising in the city of Racine. Christian Life Resources reported that although abortions in Planned Parenthood clinics was decreasing, chemical abortions via the “morning after” pill to terminate a pregnancy was on the rise. The Lutheran Science Institute revealed that migratory songbirds such as turtledoves, skylarks, and wood thrushes are in danger of extinction soon.
All of this serves to remind us that we are no longer in the perfection of Eden anymore. Sin infects our hearts and affects our lives continually. We daily feel God’s curse upon humanity and nature because of Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden.
That’s why we Christians are more comfortable and confident in the future than we are in the present. The present is filled with uncertainty in our next elected officials. There is doubt about the state of affairs with the violence in our streets. We cringe at the extinction of so many species. We know that the end of time must be near as evidenced by the Cubs winning the World Series.
“Jerusalem the Golden” proclaims this confidence in the future.
“Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest.” This is a beautiful picture of what the Israelites would find when they entered the Promised Land of Canaan. Our Promised Land is heaven.
“The sight of it refreshes the weary and oppressed.” We have been living in the desolation and desert of this sinful, barren wilderness. We are worn out and weary. We are oppressed by a culture that hinders the vocal expression of our faith. But we are excited and refreshed to come home to heaven.
Here in church we receive a foretaste of our heavenly home. This is where heaven meets earth. The pillars of Jerusalem the Golden are based within the Christian churches of earth. Here in worship is the place where we can feel at home. We are refreshed in the words of absolution as our sins are forgiven. We are washed clean once again in the baptismal waters of our youth. We hear the voice of Jesus and behold His face in the Scripture readings. We dine with our fellow earthly saints as we eat Christ’s sacramental meal. We receive the peace of God’s threefold benediction.
“I know not, oh, I know not what joys await us there, what radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare.” This is not a neutral place that Christ has won for us. It is full of bliss and glory. We cannot know what joys await us there. We cannot even begin to imagine what heaven is like – perfection, without sin. We have tastes of it in absolution and communion. But we cannot fully understand or appreciate it until we arrive in the new heaven and new earth. There in the New Jerusalem, “the wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 65:25)
“To sing the hymn unending with all the martyr throng, amidst the halls of Zion resounding full with song.” The halls of Zion are Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the holy city. It was where God was. God was in the temple. God’s temple on earth is the Christian Church. We gather together here in church as the halls of Zion. Christ in us and us in Christ – a mystical union. Our house is not our home. Our church is our real home on earth. This is where we feel most at peace and at rest. For we are with the saints at Epiphany. Even more than that, our voices are joining with the martyr throng of saints that have already gone home to heaven. Our combined voices shake the halls of Zion.
“Oh, sweet and blessed country, the home of God’s elect! Oh, sweet and blessed country That eager hearts expect.” God’s elect are the heirs of this sweet and blessed country. They had been chosen in eternity to be with God for eternity.
Revelation 22, our Epistle lesson, is the fitting conclusion for the events of Genesis 3. Because of the Fall, humanity was driven out of the Garden and the tree of life was barred by the angel with the flaming sword. But God promised to send the seed of the woman to destroy the serpent and to bring the blessing of life once more to dead and dying men, to remove the curse brought by sin. That promise was kept when the woman’s Son came into the world to destroy the power of the ancient serpent.
We see that promise fulfilled in Jerusalem the Golden. For in the Garden of Eden, a river went out to water the garden. In the New Jerusalem, John sees a river watering the inhabitants of the city. The river of life flowing out from the throne reminds us that the source of our salvation is not to be found in anything we have done or merited. The sole source of our salvation is God, not just any god, but that God who has prepared His salvation for us through the Lamb, who now sits with Him on the throne.
The tree of life is transplanted on either side of the river. The tree is no longer in a garden but in a city. Because of sin, Adam and Eve never got to eat from the Tree of Life. Now, because of what Jesus accomplished on the barren tree of the cross, we will be able to eat from the Tree of Life for all eternity. Its fruit bestows immortality. Its leaves serve to heal the nations. Cancer, broken hips, torn up knees – Jesus provides healing. The appearance of the tree and river help show that the end will be like the beginning – only better.
“Where they who with their leader have conquered in the fight forever and forever are clad in robes of white.” The pierced Lamb sitting on His throne is holding His captain’s flag. This is an apocalyptic war. Here on earth we are part of the Saints Militant – we are saints at war – at war with our sinful nature, at war with Satan and his demonic horde, at war with the enemies of the gospel. But in heaven we will become a part of the Saints Triumphant – our sinful nature will be gone, Satan will have been hurled down into the abyss once and for all, and the enemies of Christ will be locked up in their hellish prison. The curse of sin that we feel in this world will be gone once and for all (Revelation 12:3).
The saints are clad in robes of white. We will wear our white baptismal gowns for eternity. We are pure. We are sacred. We are holy. The only reason why we will be able to stand before a holy God and see His face (Revelation 22:4) is because Christ has made us holy in baptismal waters.
“Jesus in mercy bring us to that dear land of rest where sings the host of heaven your glorious name to bless.” Jesus brings us, not in justice, but in mercy, for we need mercy. It is because of this mercy that we will join in singing to the Lamb for eternity. We often think that we are silenced upon our death. Not so. We will join with the martyr throng. Here in church is where heaven comes down to earth. This is where Jerusalem the Golden comes to us. … Until we can go there.
“The Christ is ever with them; the daylight is serene. the pastures of the blessed are ever rich and green.” Jesus died outside of Jerusalem. He was the sacrifice. He died in the darkness so that there is no more darkness. He is the light of the world so there is no need for the sun in heaven. “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light” (Revelation 22:5). The pastures are ever rich and green. The tree of life produces twelve crops of fruit, one crop each month. The picture is that the Church in glory will be nurtured for all time by the tree of life, refreshed by the river flowing through the city, and enjoy the green pastures of paradise.
“There is the throne of David; and there from care released, the shout of them that triumph, the song of them that feast.” The king is coronated on the throne of David. Jesus is crowned with thorns. The cross is Christ’s glory. In suffering we see God’s true glory. Jesus was hanging naked on the tree so that He is now robed in glory for eternity. It is because of Christ’s suffering, His wounds, His death, that we can inherit this New Jerusalem. It is ours already right now. But it is only when we finally arrive in Jerusalem the Golden will we be released from all cares – free from sickness, sin, death, the devil.
That’s why we have shouts of triumph. We are with our leader. There at the throne of David, our leader is coronated as the king over all creation. The one who reigns and His feet are resting upon the earth.
“To God enthroned in glory the Church’s voices blend, the Lamb forever blessed, the Light that knows no end.” The Church’s voices blend – all saints of all places and all times. Not a church confined to Racine. But the Christian Church that combines heaven and earth. We join with the saints in singing praises to the Lamb upon His throne. It is one long continuous liturgy – it is the work of the people in praising God; it is the work of God in being present among His people.
“Jerusalem the Golden” is a hymn that we have used for festival services. It is a hymn we have used for Christian funerals. It is a hymn that comforts and consoles, while at the same time proclaiming and professing our faith.
It is a faith that announces that we Christians are more comfortable and confident in the future than we are in the present. Isaiah, Revelation, and “Jerusalem the Golden” all together proclaim our confidence in the future. Because our future is with the Lamb on His throne gathered with the saints triumphant in Jerusalem the Golden. Amen.