“Something Old, Something New”
November 1, 2009 - All Saints Day
Let’s say you go into Borders or Barnes & Noble, and you’re looking for a Bible. Where are you going to find it? Yes, I know, obviously in the “Religion” or “Christianity” section of the store. But what if some over-educated, underpaid, bored clerk decided to shelve the Bible by genre? Where would you find it then? History? Personal improvement? Mystery? Children’s stories? Science fiction? Into what genre of literature would Holy Scripture best fit?
Think about how the Bible ends. What are the final big events in the Book? Yes, there’s Armageddon. Maybe it’s a war novel. Yes, there’s a blueprint for a massive city. Maybe it’s a civil engineering or an architecture text. Yes, there’s an incredible court scene where all those who ever lived are judged. Maybe it’s a legal thriller. Yet there is one event at the end of the Bible so notable, so beautiful, so touching that it puts this Book into a genre that might not have occurred to you.
As we read in our text for today, in verse 2 of Revelation 21, Scripture concludes with a wedding. And what sort of story typically ends in a wedding? That’s right, a romance novel. The Bible fits right in there with Nora Roberts and Barbara Cartland, among the Harlequins, and beside all those titles like Flaming Hearts and Castle of Love and The Ocean of Unquenchable Yearning. Love found, love lost, love restored, and then . . . a wedding! From beginning to end, our holy volume is a love story, the greatest romance ever written.
God loved His people. He loved us. And we spurned Him. We treated Him worse than any haughty, raven haired, blue-eyed romance heroine ever treated her would-be suitor. We human beings walked away in sin and rebellion and broke God’s heart. And the story of Scripture is how down through the ages He came looking for us, how over and over He proved His unconditional, sacrificial, amazing love for us, regardless of our sin, regardless of how we treated Him. God treated us like a lost love. And He did everything He possibly could, including dying on the Cross, to win us back. So the end of the story is the grandest, most beautiful, most expensive wedding the universe will ever see.
The Bride of the Bible’s romance is the New Jerusalem, the Holy City. But it’s more than the cosmically large construction of marble and gold and precious stones that you find described later in this chapter. The New Jerusalem is an image of God’s people, all God’s people, brought back to Him, made holy by the blood of Jesus, “prepared,” as verse 2 tells us, “as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband.” The City descending from heaven is a Bride walking down the aisle, and that Bride is us, the community of God’s people coming to live with Him forever in joyful love. We and all those who have loved and belonged to the Lord—the saints we are remembering this morning—we are the Bride of Christ.
So let’s picture the adornment of a bride. According to an old tradition, what does she wear? Around her neck there may be an old pearl necklace that belonged to her grandmother. Very possibly she bought a brand new, gorgeous white dress with a long train. Perhaps she’s walking in white patent leather shoes that she borrowed her sister. And let’s say she’s carrying a bouquet with tiny blue forget-me-nots mixed among white and yellow blossoms. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” That’s how the little wedding poem goes, isn’t it?
So let’s look at the Bride of Christ and see if she is ready. Is she dressed properly for her wedding, with something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue?
Well if we’re going to be honest, we’ll have to admit that in this Wedding, the Bride herself is pretty old. Just the image suggests great age. Jerusalem was already over a thousand years old when John wrote down this vision. Now three thousand years have passed by that old, war-torn, strife-weary town on a hill in Israel. Yet it is still loved, still in its own way beautiful, still the desire of hearts which have never even seen her with physical eyes. There is fighting in Jerusalem but it’s the hostility of true passion. That old city is cherished and fought over because it is dearly loved.
As we’ve said, Jerusalem here represents the saints, represents all God’s people down through time. And she is old in that way also. Adam and Eve. Abraham and Sarah. David and Bathsheba. Solomon and the Shulamite. Hosea and Gomer. Joseph and Mary. Aquila and Priscilla. Men and women and children in a long, long, long line of people who sometimes loved God, sometimes made Him weep, but who were always, always loved and cherished and desired by the Bridegroom waiting at the Altar for them.
God loves this old world. He loves its cities. He loves its mountains and valleys. He loves its birds and He loved its mastodons. And God loves the world’s people. He always has. No, it’s not like 18th century philosophers said. God is not a clock maker who wound up the world and then walked away leaving it to run by itself. No, as Robert Farrar Capon says, the world has wound God’s clock. This old world, full of troublesome, rebellious, fickle lovers like you and me, is what God loves. Something old.
Yet as at most weddings, the old is not what takes first place. The whole message of this text, the whole theme of this Wedding is not the old, but the new. It’s not just something new. It’s everything new. John sees “a new heaven and a new earth.” Jerusalem is an old city, but as it arrives as a Bride to be married, it is the New Jerusalem. It’s all summed up as the One presiding at the Wedding, God the Father seated on His throne, says in verse 5, “I am making everything new!”
So the old is here. Heaven is old. Earth is old. Jerusalem is old. The Bride who represents the saints of God going back for millennia is old. But they are also new. As C. S. Lewis suggests in The Last Battle in The Chronicles of Narnia, what we tend to think of as the end of the story, all that happens in the last book of the Bible, is really just the beginning.
A discrete and tasteful romance author who pens a description of a lovely wedding and that last, final kiss invites us to imagine how the story of this couple goes on from there, with more kisses, with intimacy, with children, with a long, rich life together. So John the author of Revelation in verse 3 invites us to imagine what it will mean to be married to God forever, “Now the dwelling place of God is with human beings, and he will live with them, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” This Wedding is full of that new beginning.
Something old, something new. Yet all that newness is only possible because another part of the poem is true here. At the Wedding of Jesus and His Bride, there is something borrowed. For this marriage, the Bride of Christ could not afford a suitable wedding dress. She could not possibly have paid what it cost to clothe her in a way that would make her fit to wed the Son of God. She had to borrow her dress.
Borrowed party clothing is a frequent image in the New Testament. Jesus suggests that guests might borrow wedding garments in a parable. Paul in Colossians 3, which I often read at weddings, speaks about putting on clothing that the Lord provides. And here at the beginning of Revelation, in chapter 3 verse 5, Jesus speaks to one of His churches promising fine white robes and in verse 18 counseling another church to admit their nakedness and obtain real clothing from Him.
The dress that Jesus’ Bride has to borrow is nothing less than righteousness. The romance story is that we ran away from God’s love through our failure and sin. And just like the Old Testament prophets pictured it, we have found ourselves lost and alone and stripped naked of any power to repair our failures and turn away from our sins. God has to do it for us. Jesus had to die on the Cross and rise again so that our shame could be covered with His own righteousness. As the old hymn says,
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
At the wedding of the Lamb, the Bride’s dress is borrowed. We borrow our righteousness from Jesus because ours is filthy and full of holes and would not begin to cover us properly. By believing in Jesus and accepting His forgiveness and grace, we get dressed with a holiness we cannot possibly provide for ourselves.
So, here at the last Wedding of the world, there is something old, something new, something borrowed… but then we have a problem. Trying to continue the wedding poem we cast around for something blue… and cannot find it. At least one big blue item is explicitly missing. Verse 21 ends, “…and there was no longer any sea.” The deep, blue sea is no more.
Please don’t get too literal here. There is no way to read the book of Revelation absolutely literally and this is one point where we should not. For ancient people the sea was not white sand beaches and azure water. It was a huge, dangerous, unpredictable expanse, and those who sailed on it always did so at great risk. The sea was also a symbol of separation. To be on the other side of the sea from someone you loved was to be so far away as to have no hope of ever seeing them again.
The removal of the sea, then, is a sign that God is removing danger and fear and separation from our lives. He Himself, as heard from verse 3, will not be separated from us any longer. So no more blue sea, but even more, at the great celebration of final and complete matrimony there will be nothing blue. And by that I mean there will be nothing to make you blue.
Verse 4 says that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” “Something new” means there will be “nothing blue.” That’s all changed.
Even in the best, in the most joyful of our weddings, there are almost always tears. A beloved little girl and a precious little boy have grown up. They are leaving their families to make a new family. Their relationships with their friends are changing. Even the bride or groom may shed some tears. But at this final wedding feast there is absolutely nothing to cry about. There are no more separations, no more leavings, no more goodbyes. The Bride of Christ will carry absolutely nothing blue into her new life. It will be all joy.
I know that is hard to imagine. It brings tears to my eyes just to try and contemplate how such joy could possibly be. Yet there it is. Nothing blue. God will wipe away every tear. That’s how the story ends. That’s how our new life begins. That’s where you and I and all the saints of God who trust in Jesus Christ are headed. Nothing blue. Only joy.
All that’s left is for me to renew the wedding invitation you’ve received. God is inviting you to His Son’s wedding, not just as a guest, but as the Bride. He wants to take you just as you are, old and sinful, and make you new and beautiful. He wants to clothe you with the righteousness of Jesus. He wants to wipe all your tears away. He wants to gather you into the grand, glorious wedding party that stretches back through the lives of all His people. Hang onto that invitation. Live in faith. Live in hope. Live in joy.
In verse 6, our Lord says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” He who began writing this romance story is going to finish it. May you and I be there for His marvelous conclusion.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2009 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj