April 28, 2013
“What would it look like, practically speaking, to proclaim the Gospel to rivers, redwoods, raccoons and roaches? Is our presence on earth good news for all the creatures with which we live?”
– Norman Wirzba, “Reconciliation with the Land,” Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation (IVP Books, 2012).
The reading from the Book of Revelation this week gives us a fantastic vision of renewed creation: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. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:1-2).
The renewal of heaven and earth is a supremely joyful happening, much like the celebration of a wedding. 19th Century commentators saw this renewal as the result of God’s grace spiritually transforming all creation: “As the world of nations is to be pervaded by divine influence in the millennium, so the world of nature shall be, not annihilated, but transfigured universally in the eternal state which follows it” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871).
Here is a thought, though: What if the thing being renewed and transformed was not nature, but the way that we view, work with and live with nature? What if the idea of reconciliation was viewed as more than just “confined to individual, disembodied souls” (Wirzba, ibid.) and extended to a reconciliation of the way we related to each other, the earth and to all living creation? What if the way we work, travel and even eat were all objects of reconciliation in the “new millennium”?
News flash: It’s April 27, 2013. The new millennium is right here, right now.
In Making Peace with the Land, Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba argue that the union of heaven and earth is not an ethereal, other-worldly state where our souls are “Raptured” up to heaven, as much popular evangelical fiction would have us believe:God comes down from heaven so that [God] can make [God’s] home with us, and God brings heaven along. Here we encounter the good news that creation is not going to burn or be “left behind” while a few anemic souls fly away to some distant heaven. No, the once-distant heaven now takes root in earthly soil.
Instead of viewing God’s transformative work with creation as taking place at some distant “End Time,” why not view this work as taking place in our hands, mindful that “When people, land, and community are as one, all three members prosper” (The Land Institute, Salina, KS). This transformative work is taking place in community gardens and farms across the country, where people put their hands in the soil, their hearts into their communities, and sit together at a communion table filled with sustainable produce that does not damage, poison or deplete the earth. At The Lord’s Acre farm in Fairview, NC, members were able to raise nine tons of vegetables on a quarter acre, and to do so in a way that is spiritually revitalizing:The work we’re called to do here at The Lord’s Acre is as small as dust and as large as the mind and heart of God. It is humbling, mysterious, and joyful. We don’t own it, create it or control it. We certainly don’t sustain it. In our work, we try to mirror the kingdom. – Susan Sides, Garden Manager (quoted in Making Peace with the Land).
The new heaven, new earth and New Jerusalem don’t happen because God waves a magic wand in some apocalyptic future. They are happening right here, right now, because people put their hands to the soil and their minds to God and creation.