I am about to create anew—Easter Sunday, Year C (31 March, 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 65.17–25
John 20.1–18

Through the prophet Isaiah, God says

I am about to create a new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or brought to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.

I have to say this: I’m getting on a plane tomorrow to go to the Holy Land. A number of us are going on a tour together, and we’ll find out soon enough if Jerusalem is “a joy”, and its people “a delight”.

Someone told me the other day that you can feel that something special happened at Jerusalem. I’m really hoping that’s what we’ll find, anyway.

This passage from Isaiah is full of hopeful words, isn’t it? It was written to people whose parents and grandparents had been carted off into Babylon, in present-day Iraq, after Jerusalem had been destroyed. After about seventy years, they were allowed to return so they could rebuild. But it was hard. The new Jerusalem they were building wasn’t a patch on the old, and they knew it.

Jerusalem was a place with a problem back then, just as it is now. Jerusalem a “joy”? Well, not so much maybe.

For example, who does Jerusalem belong to? Israel says it’s their capital, but no one else does. The United Nations treats East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory that Israel is occupying. 208 000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Authority claims it as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Jerusalem is indeed a place with a problem.

But through Isaiah God says,

I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy…

But that was two and a half thousand years ago! Well God, you might say, it’s time to get cracking. What timescale does God work on? It seems to be longer than our lifespan. It seems to be millennia.

But God has plans. Through Isaiah, God says:

No more shall there be in it [Jerusalem]
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime…

…They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat…

…They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord…

It makes Jerusalem seem like Paradise, doesn’t it? And no wonder, because the Bible calls Paradise “the New Jerusalem”.

But God has plans, plans that work themselves out over many lifetimes, and God says that Jerusalem will be a joy. And if Jerusalem will be a joy, then so will every place on earth!

Isaiah has given us a clear image of what a place that is “a joy” may look like. Let’s look at some of it more closely by seeing where life is not a joy today. Isaiah says:

No more shall there be…an infant that lives but a few days…

There is a part of Guatemala where mothers only give their children a name when they get to three years old. They could well die before then. Not naming your child makes it easier if they die. This is not a joy; this is not God’s will.

And Isaiah says:

They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity…

There are parts of Africa in which young boys are forced to become soldiers. If they refuse, their arms are cut off. And the trade in human trafficking across the world brings misery to hundreds of thousands of young women. This is not a joy; this is not God’s will.

Furthermore, Isaiah says:

…They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat…

Many food growers in the developing world receive a pittance for the product of their labour. Others reap the rewards. Growers of the cocoa beans that make our Easter eggs are not paid fairly. This is not a joy; this is not God’s will.

What does this have to do with Easter?

We say ‘Christ is risen!’. Jerusalem will not only be a joy to God; Jerusalem is a joy to God even now, because of what God did in raising Jesus from the grave. Jesus Christ is risen today, and active in the world. The same Christ who healed the sick and brought hope to people who had only known despair is at work still, and he is at work in us and through us. He is risen in our lives, and so we follow his way.

So it is Easter work to speak against human trafficking and to work for peace and human development. It is Easter work to give a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It is Easter work to campaign for Fairtrade Easter eggs, which bring a fair return to the farmers. It’s Easter work to campaign to make them more accessible in the major supermarkets.

I’m really hoping that Jerusalem will be a joy for those of us who are going. But much more, I want Jerusalem to live up to its calling as a joy to God. And even more than that, I want God’s people here to be sharers in God’s Easter work, so that the Centenary suburbs may be a joy in God’s sight.

Christ is risen, God is bringing a new heavens and a new earth into being. It’s not ‘pie in the sky when you die’, it’s a new life in a new creation. It’s already begun!—will we join in?

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