“City in a Garden” (Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 16, 2010

“City in a Garden“ (Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

The official motto of the town where I come from, Chicago–the motto of the city is, in Latin, “Urbs in horto,” which means, “City in a garden.” The hope and vision of the founders of the city way back in 1837 was to establish a city that would have, besides the bustle of a city, the beauty of a garden. “Urbs in horto, City in a garden.” Decades later, in 1909, the famed architect Daniel Burnham developed a master plan for Chicago that would ensure that that vision would become a reality. The Burnham Plan called for preserving the entire lakefront, running the length of the city, as permanent green space and parkland, never to be ruined by unsightly industrial development, as well as establishing many parks throughout the city. And so it is to this day. The city of Chicago has more public parkland and green space than any other city in America. “Urbs in horto, City in a garden.”

Now, I must admit, in spite of the Burnham Plan, my hometown does have its share of problems: crime, rundown neighborhoods, heavy traffic, corrupt politicians, a struggling baseball team, and the like. But it does have that beautiful lakefront and all those parks, combined with the gleaming downtown skyline and all the museums and the cultural advantages of a great city.

“Urbs in horto, City in a garden.” There is a certain human tendency to want to try to achieve the ideal and combine the best of both worlds, the city and the garden. A city, at its best–if we’re only looking at the good aspects of city life–a city is a place of community, interaction among people, where people can do things together in close proximity that they could not do apart, if they were alone and isolated. But because of the attendant problems that often come with urbanization–crime, pollution, congestion–we also like the appeal of the country life: nature, beauty, clean air, fresh water, nice scenery. Oh, if we could only combine these two, city and garden, and strike the perfect balance!

Well, guess what? That’s where we’re headed. Toward the perfect “City in a Garden.” It‘s the city we’ve been reading about and talking about the last two weeks, namely, the new Jerusalem to come. And today we round out our tour of our future hometown, as we come to the last chapter in the book, the last chapter both for the Book of Revelation and for the whole Bible, Revelation 22. Our text begins: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.”

“The river of the water of life.” “The tree of life.” All kinds of fruitfulness. Does this remind you of anything? It should. The description of this garden city here at the end of the Bible sounds an awful lot like the garden we read about in the beginning of the Bible, that is, the Garden of Eden. For in the opening chapters of Genesis we get a garden, a river, a tree of life, and abundant fruit. There we read: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden. . . . A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. . . .”

That garden was beautiful and verdant and lush with vegetation, to be sure, but the best thing about it was the community that existed, the communion between God and man–and, shortly thereafter, with woman, too. That’s what really made it paradise: not just the glories of God’s creation, unblemished, but also the harmony of God and people, unbroken. When we talk about the river and the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, we’re talking about life the way our Creator meant it to be, designed for us human creatures to live surrounded by God’s abundant blessing and chosen to live with him and with one another in peace and perfect fellowship forever. That was the Master’s plan.

But as you know, our first parents messed all that up by their sin and rebellion against their Creator, and we, their children follow in their footsteps. Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, barred from access to the tree of life. Paradise lost. Death entered the scene. Disharmony marred the landscape. Broken relationships became the norm. Distrust of God and his goodness became our sad, inherited trait as human beings. All the damage that follows when sin enters the picture became all too familiar: Gardens turned to wilderness, city life turned to urban squalor, people turned on one another, people turned away from God. And we were right there, right in the midst of it, responsible for our part, each of us, in the whole miserable mess. How many times have we repeated the sins of our fathers? Failing to listen to God. Going our own way, in defiance of God. Blocking out his voice. Hurting our brothers and our sisters, serving self instead. That’s our common human lot, isn’t it? That’s your poor miserable sin, is it not? Each one of us has been driven out of the garden. Each one of us–you, yes, you–by your own most grievous sin caught the disease of death and were headed to a grave, not a garden, to damnation in hell, not to the kingdom of heaven.

But all that changed when God sent his only Son into the world. Jesus Christ, the new Adam, the second Adam. He who fought the devil in the wilderness, and won; he who agonized in the garden, the Garden of Gethsemane; he who was lifted up on the tree of the cross, outside the city walls–Christ’s tree of death becomes our tree of life. From out of his side, pierced by the soldier’s spear–from the side of Christ flows his life-giving blood, and living water, too.

“The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” And in the tree of the cross we find our healing. The forgiveness of sins now, and the promise of perfect healing in the age to come. In the new Jerusalem, we will drink of the water of life and eat fruit from the tree of life, which will always be full and available.

“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Here’s the best part, once again: Knowing God, as we are fully known. No more obstruction, no more distrust. Life the way it was meant to be. We have a taste of that even now, for God has given us his Spirit to know him. God has already placed his name on our foreheads, claiming us as his own. That happened in your baptism, didn’t it, when the sign of the cross was marked on you and the name of the triune God was placed upon you. You belong to God, you are his. You are his dear children, baptized Christians, you who bear his saving name.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” Yes, we are already God’s family, citizens of heaven, ready to enter the gates of pearl by the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior.

This is your way in. There is no other access. Only through Christ, through faith in him, do we have robes ready to enter. If you think your garments are clean enough on your own, you are sadly mistaken, and you will be barred from entering. Likewise, only the thirsty–that is, those who realize their need and look to Christ to meet it–yes, you who thirst for the righteousness only Christ can give, come to him today and drink freely from the living waters. “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” By grace, through faith in Christ, you, forgiven sinner, you, baptized saint–you have a “share in the tree of life and in the holy city.”

Dear friends, here’s the good news today: We are going back to the Garden! Jesus is coming soon–we don’t know when, but he is coming. And when he comes, with him will come–coming down out of heaven from God–with him will come the new Jerusalem, the “City in a Garden.” Paradise restored, only better! “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Published in: on May 15, 2010 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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