Zech. 8:20-23; Psalm 87; Luke 9:51-56
This evening we’ve been dealt four aces. The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is about Jerusalem. The Psalm we heard is about Jerusalem. The Gospel is about Jerusalem. And next week I’m going to Jerusalem. So it looks like we are to reflect on the Gospel through the lens of Jerusalem.
Or, we could say, through the lens of the Jerusalems (plural). The spell check on my computer does not like Jerusalems, plural. But it just doesn’t know. There is, of course, Jerusalem, the city of about 750,000 people at approximately 31° N Latitude and 35° E Longitude in what we call the Middle East. And then there are the Jerusalems whose coordinates have to be described in other ways: the Heavenly Jerusalem, about which I know very little—only what’s written in the Book of Revelation. And the New Jerusalem.
Curiously, in Hebrew the word for Jerusalem is Yerushalayim. Words that end in –ayim in Hebrew are generally things that come in twos. But, I still think there are three Jerusalems, at least three.
“Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem… In those days, ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” [Zech. 8:22-23] This has happened, more or less. We—men and women of many nations–have taken hold of a Jew, we have grasped his garment, because we have heard that God is with him. And, as the Gospel tells us, this Jew has set his face toward Jerusalem. So, grasping his hem, we join the throngs going up to the city.
Luke’s Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. He sets his face: firmly, resolutely, solidly, it says in the Greek. A man on a mission, his face set resolutely toward Jerusalem. And we know how the story unfolds: an apparent ending in crucifixion—a new beginning in resurrection. Life triumphing over death: the Paschal Mystery.
He once set his face toward Jerusalem. And he has never stopped. His face is always set toward Jerusalem. The face of Christ is set toward Jerusalem.
The one at 31° N Latitude and 35° E Longitude. And the heavenly one. And the New Jerusalem: the city that can be anywhere and everywhere, the city that can be wherever God’s people desire it to be. Any latitude or longitude. Or on the moon. Even here; even in England’s green and pleasant land, as a poet once said*.
In Luke, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem in Chapter 9. There are fifteen more chapters, full of healings, exhortations, parables and teachings about the Kingdom of God. The program is set out for how we are to live before God in the Kingdom, in the New Jerusalem. “Kingdom of God” and “New Jerusalem” I think are poetic ways of saying the same thing, referring to the same unfolding reality. They both refer to the unfolding reality of the human enterprise, our living together under the gaze of God. Our living together before the face of Christ.
The program set out in the Gospels is clear: love God and neighbor, heal the sick and raise the dead (at least figuratively), pursue justice, feed the hungry, let the oppressed go free, have faith in the reconciling power of God, live in confident hope of the resurrection to even greater life. This is life in the Kingdom, life in the New Jerusalem.
God, in Christ, has set his face toward the New Jerusalem. God, in Christ, has set his face toward us, we who are the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem is not buildings and roads; the New Jerusalem is us. God has set his face toward us. And so it seems only right that we set our faces toward God. A face to face gaze. A mutual attraction. A mutual desire, a mutual delight.
A city of buildings relies on sources of energy: hydro-electric power, nuclear power, fossil fuel power, whatever. The New Jerusalem relies on a different kind of energy. An energy emanating from the divine and human reciprocity. An energy generated in the mutual attraction of the divine and the human. The face to face gaze, the mutual desire, the reciprocal delight: this is the dynamo for the new city.
He sets his face toward us; we set our faces toward him. He searches our eyes for his reflection, his image in us. We search his eyes for our reflection, our image in him. In this reciprocal attraction, in this reciprocal delight, this reciprocal searching is our source of energy. The source of energy for the New City.
This extraordinary power goes by the name of “love”.
What about that city at 31° N Latitude and 35° E Longitude? Well, New Jerusalem happens there, too—there in that city of seemingly perpetual anguish. Even there, God’s Jews, God’s Muslims, God’s Christians and God’s whatevers manage to make New Jerusalem happen—at least from time to time. I suppose that’s why we brothers feel drawn to our ministry in Jerusalem. So that we might be witnesses of the New Jerusalem as it begins to unfold even there. But that is another sermon…
God has set his face toward us. God, in Christ, has set his face toward us in the hope that we would set our face toward him. That we would not only grasp his garment, but take hold of him and gaze directly into his face. There is infinite power in this reciprocal gaze. There is eternity in this mutual delight. It is, after all, as another poet once said, “The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”**
*William Blake: Jerusalem
**Dante; Paradiso, Canto XXXIII
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