May 20th, 2001
Wesley, Doncaster East
© John M. Connan
If there’s one thing I learn from the account in the Book of Genesis of the creation of man and woman it’s this: we are made for relationship and love. That’s the way we are. The hermit life suits few. Breaking and broken relationships bring a series of feelings: hurt, pain, grief, anger, anxiety, sorrow, depression, loss, and fear.
When someone we love goes away for a few days, the few days seem like weeks.
When a family member goes to live overseas, the distance is a great chasm of separation. Today we’re spared the intense loneliness of the early European settlers who came to Australia, but the separation remains.
As we grow older and our faculties fail, diminishing sight or hearing bring their peculiar feelings of separation.
The ultimate separation is death. None of us is spared the feelings that overcome us when death leaves us lost, lonely, and forsaken.
As I was thinking about the passage in John’s gospel from Jesus’ Farewell Discourses, I realised once again how the Bible is the story of God seeking to restore broken relationships, God reaching out in love to overcome all those feelings that loss imposes: hurt, pain, grief, anger, anxiety, sorrow, depression, and fear.
The biblical story of beginnings tells of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden and God’s presence. The intimacy is over. The easy relationship is gone. The story continues with the murder of Adam and Eve’s younger son, Abel, by his older brother, Cain. Discord, separation, and death had entered human relationships. Hurt, pain, grief, anger, anxiety, sorrow, depression, and fear had become part of human experience.
The biblical story of Israel is of God reaching out through prophets, priests and kings, century after century – but to no avail.
Then God sends his Son, Jesus. God reaches out to bridge the yawning chasm between man and man, woman and woman, between himself and humanity.
Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth tells of Joseph dreaming that Mary will bear a son to be called Jesus, whom the people will call Immanuel: God with us. No longer a gap between God and humanity: God is with us.
But Jesus, the Christ, is to die. In John’s story of Jesus we have the long discourse from Jesus in which he prepared his followers for the death awaiting him. He knew the feelings that would threaten to overcome them: hurt, pain, grief, anger, anxiety, sorrow, depression, and fear.
There was something for them to do: they were to obey Jesus’ teaching – a daunting task of loving the unloved and unloving, of finding fellowship with the antagonistic and the downright hostile and threatening, of bringing reconciliation into every human relationship.
And Jesus promises God will be with them. When he is no longer with them, God will be, as Comforter, Counsellor, Advocate, and Family Friend. The Spirit will bring Jesus’ life back not only as memory but as central reality of their lives.
God with them through the Spirit – to enable them to be God’s representatives on earth. God with them through the Spirit – as the strength needed to carry on the work of Jesus. God with them through the Spirit – as assurance for the future.
That wasn’t the only time Jesus promised his followers God’s presence in their lives. Matthew tells the story this way, ending it on a mountain in Galilee. Jesus appears. His followers worship him. Some doubt. He issues instructions – even more daunting than the instruction to obey in John’s story. “God authorised and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”
Personal obedience is all very well, but a command to bring others to the same obedience is very daunting.
And Matthew ends his story with Jesus’ words: “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up till the end of the age.”
God to be with them through Jesus – to enable them to follow him wholeheartedly, single-mindedly, and unflinchingly. God to be with them through Jesus – as hope and assurance beyond question.
The story doesn’t end there. We began in Genesis with the story of the beginning of discord, separation, and the feelings of hurt, pain, grief, anger, anxiety, sorrow, depression, and fear.
We conclude with the visionary John and his Book of Revelation.
He is swept up in his vision into the new Jerusalem, the City of Light.
“The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass.” It’s a glorious, wondrous vision, but more important is this: “There was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (Jesus Christ) are the Temple.” “Never again will anything be cursed. The throne of God and of the Lamb is at the centre. His servants will offer God service – worshipping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be night, No-one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs.”
The biblical vision is that all the hurt, pain, grief, anger, anxiety, sorrow, depression, and fear will be brought to an end. The beginning may be about discord and separation and all their accompaniment of distress and death. The end will be about God with us; pain and hurt healed; crying and tears gone; the peace, wellbeing, and wholeness that God alone the only reality.
Is it just a dream? Is it only a vision? Might it rather be the very last of all of those promises of God we’ve already begun to experience within our lives?
God has been with us from the beginning. God is with us. God will be with us even beyond the end of everything we know. That’s hope enough. That’s assurance enough. That’s certainty enough. That’s our confidence and that’s our trust in God.
 Genesis 2:18, 20b, 22-24.
 Genesis 3:23-24.
 Genesis 4:8.
 Matthew 1:20-23.
 John 13 – 17.
 Matthew 28: 18-20a.
 Matthew 28:20b.
 Revelation 21:21b.
 Revelation 21: 21.
 Revelation 22:3-5a.