“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1).
Studying John’s hopeful vision at the end of Revelation led me to recall a beautiful photograph, taken by my friend Jonathan Watson, of the Napali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Through his lens, Jonathan captured a turbulent, yet hopeful scene — framed by dark clouds and the rough water of the Pacific, a rainbow blankets the rugged mountain in the distance.
The reference to the sea in John’s vision recalls the Genesis story when God gathered the watery chaos and marked the boundaries between dry land and sea. With this creation, God held chaos at bay. But underwater evil and turbulence would menace us (Psalm 104:7-9) and continually threaten to undo God’s good creation (Psalm 74:13-14; Isaiah 27:1). John’s culminating vision at the end of Revelation describes a future when evil, turbulence and chaos are no longer lapping at our shore — the sea is no more. The peace of this scene, the relief after living so long with this threatening sea, is much more profound once we understand the narrative thread beginning with Genesis and culminating with John’s vision.
As we approach this lectionary text on the fifth Sunday of Easter, it could not feel more timely. The sea of turbulence and evil is churning off the coast of Ukraine where innocent people are slaughtered and war rages. The chaos of the pandemic and all it has revealed about our world – the inequities, the division, the lack of moral leadership – has wounded us in more ways than we are yet to even realize. Evening news programs report daily mass shootings; evil breaking free from its boundaries, crashing through our streets and schools and places of work.
The good news of Revelation, the hope of John’s vision, is of a God who is “making all things new.” A God who dwells among mortals frames our story – the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end. Our future with God is a beautiful scene of peace, a redemptive day of hope and promise fulfilled where the sea of evil is no longer lapping at our shores.
As I meditate on Jonathan’s photo of Hawaii with this passage in mind, the rainbow becomes more prominent. In Genesis 9, when the waters of the flood receded and the rainbow emerged, God speaks: “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:13) This rainbow still graces our sky, emerging from turbulent and chaotic waters to remind us of God’s promise. These rough seas will calm. This chaos will be subdued. Evil will be washed away. God is with us, promising to redeem us and our world.
Questions for reflection:
- What thoughts, feelings, ideas or images arise as you read this text?
- Meditating on Jonathan’s photograph, what does the turbulent sea call to mind for you?
- Where do you witness the hope of God’s promised redemption?
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