The New Jerusalem

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Soulwork Toward Sunday : self-guided retreat
Lent 2 (year c), February 24, 2013
“Lament Over Jerusalem”

So, this is longer than my usual posts, mainly because the meditation is obviously working its way toward a sermon. Hope you float through it happily…. -Suzanne

Part 1
Lament over Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! -Luke 13:34

Jerusalem is both a city and a concept. A place to leave from and return to.

During the exile in Babylon, Jeremiah laments,

How lonely sits the city
that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the cities
has become a vassal. -Lamentations 1:1

Meanwhile the exiles bitterly complain,

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the wills there
we hung up our lyres.
for there our captors
required of us sons,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the sons of Zion!”

How shall we sing the lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
If I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy! -Psalm 137 1-6

And when they returned they sang,

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the water courses of the Negev!
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy!
He that goes forth weeping,
bearing seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him. – Psalm 126

From ancient times Jerusalem became a metaphor for exile, longing, pilgrimage, return, and fulfillment. Throughout the world, in Diasporas ever since, prophets, saints, mystics, and communities could say with Rabbi Nachman of Braslav, “Wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem.”

Begin from Jerusalem,” said Jesus to the Apostles (Luke 24:47), as he sent them to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jerusalem would be for every missionary, a place for the heart to dwell, even while facing martyrdom. How fraught this image, then, of Jerusalem. No city can live up to these layers of metaphor, meaning, memory, and emotion. Jerusalem becomes something other than Jerusalem. Jerusalem becomes heaven itself.

Part 2
The New Jerusalem

John the Divine from his own exile in Patmos, sees or fore-sees the New Jerusalem:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:2-5

As the New Jerusalem descends, does the blessing settle like ash over the dwellings and lives of earth’s inhabitants? Or does the hovering New Jerusalem draw out the latent holiness already present but not fully realized in her prospective inhabitants?

Noah's Ark with towers - the church? Jerusalem? c.1400-1500

Noah’s Ark with towers – the church? Jerusalem? c.1400-1500

Many would have the New Jerusalem descend like a spaceship, taking only the ‘righteous,’ that is, the homogeneous likeness of any given group claiming the New Jerusalem as theirs alone, leaving a despoiled Earth behind. Who will be saved in this Noah’s Ark of exclusivity? Is the New Jerusalem a closed community with golden pavement defended by twelve pearl gates? This vision, like poor Noah, is foolish and flawed. Commentators lament ever afterward that while God waited for Noah to beg for mercy for his neighbors, Noah simply built the ark and saved himself. But after the ordeal, Noah planted vineyards and got drunk, not able to bear the guilt and shame of survival. [Zohar Hadash 22c-d, 23a, Midrash ha-Ne’elam]

Such an exclusive New Jerusalem dooms itself to inhabitants weighted with guilt, finding solace in drunkenness, and denial. Isn’t such a place actually hell?

If, instead, the vision of the New Jerusalem reflects the Gospel, the golden city is peopled with the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the possessed, eunuchs, widows, orphans, the insane, the unclean, the masses of broken-hearted people bearing caverns of loneliness. And, sinners- magnificent sinners and slight sinners. A whole Noah’s Ark of beasts of every kind. Plus, one would assume, the aforementioned ‘righteous.’

Is such a ship of fools foolish enough to float away without a plan for survival, a strategy for conservation of resources, an acknowledgment of mutual danger aboard this planet-boat? Such foolishness remind me of a famous joke:

A devout man fully trusted God would save him from any danger. When a flood surrounded his house he climbed out onto his roof waiting for God. A neighbor came by with a rowboat, but the man refused to be rescued, waiting for God. Next, the coast guard arrived, ordering him to come aboard, but the man refused again. A police helicopter came and dropped a rope ladder but the man stubbornly clung to the roof waiting for God. Soon, the flood waters swallowed his house and the man drowned. In heaven, the man met his Maker. “Why did you let me drown?” accused the man, “I trusted you to save me!” “What are you talking about?” said God. “I sent two boats and a helicopter!”

Waiting for New Jerusalem to descend is like the foolish man on the roof refusing rescue. Here is an impasse like the line of thinking in the joke – waiting for God to save while God waits for you to take responsibility, or like Noah building the ark while God waits for him to make the case for his neighbors. Meanwhile we humans waste our resources hoping the New Jerusalem will descend before we wreck the place, treating this holy planet like a carelessly broken toy which Papa will replace if we whine hard enough. As resilient as Earth is, she is still unique and vulnerable. What if this beautiful planet IS the New Jerusalem?

Earth has born and thus has to bear the ultimate ship of fools – humanity. Will we take responsibility? Poor Earth, she carries within herself the seeds of her own destruction. O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, she laments, How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!


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