Good morning, everyone! I hope you are enjoyed our weekend of summer here in early May!
Before I talk about our readings for today, I first want to bring up a little history about this day in our annual calendar. Today is May 5th—Cinco de Mayo! This is NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16, 1810. It is a different important day in Mexican history, the day of the Battle of Puebla. Mexican Independence Day is an important patriotic holiday in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo is a regional holiday in Mexico, but in America it has become a sort of Mexican Heritage Day, much like St. Patrick’s Day for the Irish.
The Battle of Puebla occurred during the French Occupation of Mexico in the early 1860s. Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving Mexican President Juárez and his government into retreat. Moving on from Veracruz towards Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance from the Mexicans near Puebla, at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The 8,000-strong French army attacked the much smaller and poorly equipped Mexican army of 4,500. Yet, on May 5, 1862, the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French army, then considered "the premier army in the world."
This victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and the Mexican people at large. Although it was not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, the Mexicans’ success at Puebla represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement.
Although this battle greatly slowed up the French forces, they indeed captured Mexico City in 1864. However, they occupied Mexico for only about three years before Napoleon III retreated, and Mexico reclaimed its independence on June 5, 1867.
Now here’s the most interesting part—its significance to American history. Some historians have argued that France's real goal being in nearby Mexico was to help break up the American Union, at the time in the midst of The Civil War, by helping the Southern Confederacy. The Mexicans had won a great victory that kept Napoleon III from supplying the confederate rebels for at least another year, allowing the United States to build a powerful army. This army smashed the Confederates at Vicksburg and Gettysburg just 14 months after the battle of Puebla, essentially ending the Civil War. Had Mexico not defeated the French in Puebla on May 5, 1862, France would likely have gone to the aid of the South in the Civil War and the United States' future could have been very different. So, in a sense, the Mexicans helped keep our country from falling apart in one of its worst times.
The American Cinco de Mayo celebration originated in the Mexican-American communities of the American West, Southwest, and Northwest in the 1860s. It grew in popularity and evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, first in areas with large Mexican-American populations, like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. Eventually it expanded across the United States. On June 7, 2005, the U.S. Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue an official proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities. So, if you get the opportunity today, celebrate this special day, remembering its importance to our own country.
All through this Easter Season we have had readings from the book of Revelation. This book is one that is the most confusing and hardest to make any sense of any in the Bible. I thought I would just bring out a few points about this book, although I won’t claim to have any kind of expert viewpoint about Revelation.
The author of Revelation identifies himself as "John" and says that he was on Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea, when he "heard a great voice" instructing him to write the book. This has traditionally to be John the Apostle, although recent scholars have suggested other possibilities. Most modern scholars believe it was written around 95 AD, with some believing it dates from around 70 AD.
The obscure and extravagant imagery we have been reading in Revelation has led to a wide variety of interpretations: historic, 1st century (present for the writer), futuristic, and idealistic or symbolic. Revelation was the last of the New Testament books to be accepted as part of the Christian biblical canon, up to 100 years later than the other books, with doubts raised as far back as the 2nd century about its character, symbolism, and apostolic authorship. These doubts have been regularly expressed through Church history. In fact, the author has been ridiculed as: very old and in dementia, or out of his mind in his exile, or he wrote down a very outrageous set of dreams, or any number of other theories. And, there are some who believe his writings to be the truly inspired word of God.
Today’s reading is near the end of the book, and it is really, really out there as far as unbelievable and fabulous imagery. It expresses what John said he saw when God took him to see the Heavenly Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem. Here are just some of the comments that have made about this reading:
--The inclusion of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles in the foundations and gates of the city indicates that both Jewish and Gentile believers will all be part of the family of God and share eternity as one.
--The size of this incredible city indicates that each border is approximately fifteen hundred miles long. Thus the dimensions of the city would be equal to the area from the eastern seaboard of the United States to Colorado on one side and from the Canadian border to the southern tip of Florida on the other. In addition to the length and breadth, the city will be fifteen hundred miles high. This great size will afford sufficient space for the habitation of the saints from all ages of history.
--The magnificence of the materials—the walls made of jasper, the city itself pure gold, the brightly colored stones, the gates of monstrous pearls--imagine how God's glory will radiate throughout and light up the entire city. The holy city of God will be so magnificent that believers will literally walk on precious metals that today are used for costly adornments. The stones show us things that are important here on the earth are plentiful in heaven.
--There will be no need for a temple in heaven to provide a means for anyone to fellowship with God. Because of Jesus sacrificial death on the cross, sin will not exist there. God and the Lamb (Jesus) are the temple of the eternal city. This clearly emphasizes the deity of Christ as equal in essence to that of the father. The Believers will constantly be in His presence. There will never be a minute when they are not in perfect, Holy Communion with the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
--No more day and night but there will be one eternal day. The Glory of God will illuminate New Jerusalem and its lamp will be the Lamb Jesus, who is the Light, and who does away with darkness.
--No national identities will be preserved in the eternal state, but rather just the opposite. People from every tongue, tribe and nation whether Jews or Gentiles, will be united as God's people. Every believer will be fully equal in the eternal capital city. Its gates will never be closed. This shows the city's complete security and that there is no need to close them.
The tree of life--the leaves of this tree will be used to heal the relationships of the nations toward each other so that we might live equitably and fairly in eternity. The tree bears twelve kinds of fruit that yields its fruit every month suggesting the infinite variety that will fill heaven. Sickness will no longer be, so the healing doesn't imply illness. The leaves therefore will be to promote general health, or another way of stating that would be: life in heaven will be fully energized, rich and exciting continuously.
The saints in New Jerusalem will see God's face. Being perfectly holy and righteous, they'll be able to endure the blazing, glorious light from God's presence without being consumed. That was impossible for mortal men.
If we are to believe these fabulous images describe our possible futures as believers in Christ, then we have something truly amazing to look forward to. Meanwhile, on this our planet Earth, we have plenty we can do to make it a better place for all. A lot of what we preach here at St. Mark’s talks about these things, so I won’t expand on them today. Let’s just say that every once in a while it is good to be reminded about what could be possible for those who believe when they leave this life on Earth, and the end of Revelation tells us of the most in imaginable future anyone could think or dream about.