Come, the New Jerusalem

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The 80s classic (yes, classic!) but unfortunately named film “Working Girl” has a magnificent theme song from Carly Simon. “Let the River Run“.

Can’t help but love that – brilliant music with a well-deserved Oscar and Golden Globe.

Until, of course, you start to consider what message is being propagated. Simon’s New Jerusalem is something quite different to the Biblical metaphor she has hijacked, albeit with great skill and imagination.

Let the river run, Let all the dreamers wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

The Biblical imagery in plain to see. Not only a reference to the promised New Jerusalem (more of that to come) but this allusion too:

Ezek. 47:1  The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.

7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.

Carly Simon’s river flows to bring life to an altogether different kind of city…

Silver cities rise, The morning lights the streets that meet them,
And sirens call them on with a song.

It’s asking for the taking. Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.

We the great and small stand on a star and blaze a trail of desire
Through the dark’ning dawn.

It’s asking for the taking.

This New Jerusalem has something so attractive her body almost pulsates with longing. What could cause such emotion? New love? Well of sorts; the clip in the video and the film itself are quite clear – it is the wealth and prosperity which the city promises. With it’s siren call.

And that, of course, is exactly what it is. A siren call. Can it ever really deliver? The message of the film is that you can have it all – success in business and true love all rolled into one. The language may be Biblical but the God is completely different, albeit one that has existed for millennia. In his extraordinary work The City of GodAugustine launches a scathing critique upon the culture of his own day as he reflects upon the other name given to Jupiter, King of the gods…

How elegantly they have accounted for this name! He is also called Pecunia, say they, because all things belong to him. Oh how grand an explanation of the name of a deity! Yes; he to whom all things belong is most meanly and most contumeliously called Pecunia. In comparison of all things which are contained by heaven and earth, what are all things together which are possessed by men under the name of money?And this name, forsooth, has avarice given to Jupiter, that whoever was a lover of money might seem to himself to love not an ordinary god, but the very king of all things himself. (City of God vii.12)

It is not without reason that Paul speaks of greed as idolatry (Col. 3:5). This is the New Jerusalem of this world, one who’s siren call promises much and which is pursued with a religious zeal, trembling and shaking. This is the gospel which the backing choir sing of.

But, there is another country I’ve heard of long ago…

The imagery which Carly Simon appropriates has a different trajectory. The river of Ezekiel flows into a city that has not yet arrived and yet which will one day come. It was foreshadowed in the city of Jerusalem which King David conquered and made the nation’s capital. It was promised in the ecstatic vision that Ezekiel had and it was rebuilt under Nehemiah, and yet those new walls were hardly what had been promised. That promised New Jerusalem, long awaited, is glimpsed throughout the Scriptures both in type and prophetic promise and then in John’s closing vision:

Rev. 21:1    Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5    He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

This is a different city to the New Jerusalem of Working Girl. The voices calling us to her are not sirens but the very words of God and the river that flows here offers far greater riches that the cash that Carly sang of. The promise of the true New Jerusalem is not pecuniary, but truly divine; the earthly city offers money, the heavenly city offers God Himself. In every aspect it is a better deal. Those who worship and pursue money often do not receive it and end up watching films, fiction, about others receiving it so  their idolatry is further reinforced.

But the Christian who trusts God knows for certain that the true New Jerusalem is coming. Life may be hard now but there is much better to come.

So time for another song.

(yes, friends, that’s the better tune – Abbots Leigh, shame the choir doesn’t come through clearly).

Newton’s wonderful hymn speaks of the New Jerusalem and the hope held out for it’s inhabitants – the Christian.

Saviour, since of Zion’s city I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in your name.
Fading are the worldlings’ pleasures, All their boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.

The treasure that the New Heavens and Earth promise are far greater and actually deliver. Jesus put it this way…

Matt. 6:19    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

The temptation for the Christian is often to settle for this world and the New Jerusalem that Carly sang about. It looks wonderful and it’s inhabitants so often deride and pity us for not wanting it. But it will all fade. Augustine understood that, because the Scriptures were clear on it.

Come, the New Jerusalem.

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  1. Sheila McNulty

    Carly’s song Let the River Run woke me up more than any of my Catholic upbringing, and the many years in Catholic school, it makes me feel alive inside and anxious for God to return.

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