Trying to convey the astonishing marvel of God's good news, Paul writes poignant words
to the Romans that reverberate this Memorial Day weekend:
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a
righteous person someone might actually dare to die.
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
So many soldiers have also died for our country.
So many heroes have dared to die for this nation, and one day a year, or one moment of
silence tomorrow, is hardly sufficient to honor them.
Their sacrifice is all the more heroic and astonishing and Christlike when we admit that
America is at least as ungodly as it is righteous.
Our history does not always live up to our ideals; our rhetoric is far better than our track
record of liberty and justice for some.
Slavery and genocide and Jim Crow and patriarchy and violence stain our national soul.
We are as a nation what Martin Luther said we are as individual Christians: we are simultaneously saint and sinner, righteous and unrighteous, glorious and
ungodly, noble and generous to many, cruel and unjust to many.
We are both a beacon of hope and a shadow of death upon the face of the earth.
And for this mixed bag, this complex saint-and-sinner nation that has been
sometimes trustworthy with responsibility and sometimes sloppy drunk with
power, our heroes dared to die to secure a better future.
In this powerful way they followed in the footsteps of the One Paul proclaims Lord
whether or not their dogtags said Christian.
They give us a stunning glimpse into the heart of the Lamb who was also slain.
As we look back and remember, we hear from John, who looks ahead and reveals.
He shares a holy vision with his congregation that suffers under the thumb of a
Roman empire too drunk with power to live up to the nobility of its rhetoric.
Christians and others who do not show appropriate patriotism, including worship of
Caesar, are punished for their treason.
John is exiled, others are killed, and everyone is scared.
The Spirit therefore visits John in solitary and lets him skip ahead a few chapters
to read just enough of the end of history to inform and survive the middle.
Those nasty imperial bad guys are just the latest generation of front men for cosmic
forces of evil at war with heaven, a war they are certain to lose.
The kings of the earth and the empire they serve are thoroughly defeated.
The political powers of domination are left in rubble and tears.
They will be replaced by the new Jerusalem, where things are very different.
Nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, which obviously means no empire, no idolators, no kings of the earth.
Except that things in the Lamb's kingdom are very different.
The kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
All the domination and the lies that prop it up are gone, but all the bullies and liars are
invited in with their glory.
All the nations, with so much blood on their hands and stain on their souls, will
contribute their glory and honor.
All the injustice and innocent suffering and senseless death will be over and done, but the
forgiven guilty will be welcomed home alongside their sisters and brothers who
suffered their sin which will not survive the new Jerusalem.
The man keeping you down is lifted up and so are you, because what the Lamb is doing
is more than reversal, it's redemption.
The beauty of our country for which women and men have died is included in the city,
and all its ugliness and death are healed by the leaves of its tree of life.
Jesus has dared to die for Rome and America and all of their most evil, ungodly
characters, and their glory is welcomed into the city with no security system and
no temple and no pain and no trouble.
No slavery, no exploitation, no trail of tears, no lynching tree, no internment camp, no
burning cross, no border cage will be there, but those with blood on their hands in
those horrible histories will be.
God lets the monsters in because God refuses to let the monsters win.
God will not let their ways prevail, either for them or against them.
God does not beat us at their brutal game, God changes the game; God heals the game
and all who play it.