Readings: Isaiah 65:17-21, John 4:43-54
Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create; For I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight; I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people. No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying; No longer shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime; He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years, and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed. They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.
What are we to make of this first reading of Isaiah? Has it been fulfilled in the two-dozen centuries since it was written? Clearly not, though just a few generations from now, because of medical and technological advances, people may be living up to 125 or 150 years on a regular basis. Yet what advantage does someone who dies at 150 without God have over someone who dies at 75? And even in a future with longevity and prosperity, there will still be weeping and crying.
I think the Lord gave this vision of a new heavens and a new earth in ancient times to help his people hope in something tangible and relatable: “What is eternal life? Would I really want that? But living a very long life without sadness would be something I’d desire.” In the new heavens and earth after Jesus’ return in glory there will be complete happiness and no death at all (Revelation 21:4.) We should imagine what that will be like; an intimate community of friends, conversation and feasting, sports and play, singing and dancing, and joyful worship; while at the same time realizing that our experience of the next life will surpass all of these earthly things as we know them.