This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year C, most recently May 2013.
This verse is paired in Year C with John 13:31-35, "By this they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." Jesus sets up a strong imperative in John 13 for us to create the Kingdom of God on earth through our mutual love. But Rev 21 is a perfect antidote, that finally, we cannot create the Kingdom, but this is an act of God. The Greek really spells this out. Like much of the Johannine writing, these brief verses allude richly to the Old Testament and other places in John's Gospels. In fact, the connection to the rest of John is quite striking in this passage. But to get back to the juxtaposition of John 13 and Rev 21: This is the tension of Christian community: We must work for a better world, but know that we cannot get there until Jesus comes again.
καταβαινουσαν ("descending", from καταβαινω, 21:2)
εκ του ουρανου ("from the heaven", 21:2)
απο του θεου ("from God", 21:2)
All of these words, put together, form a trifecta clearly showing that the holy city is not established by our activities on earth, but is entirely from God.
νυμφη ("bride", literally "nymph", 21:2) The Bible begins and ends with a coupling of man and woman, a marriage, first of Adam and Eve and then later of Christ and the church. I realize that Lutherans have tended to put marriage in the "left-hand" kingdom (and therefore allow it to be dictated by science and not Scripture), but clearly it is something that God cares for. I guess it is a question worth asking -- what is the bride adorned with?
σκηνη ("tent", 21:3) In the first chapter of John's Gospel, we read that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The word for dwell here is "σκηνεω " which means το tent or tabernacle. (The parallel to the OT is striking here; the next sentence in John's Gospel is "And we beheld his glory." In the OT, once the tabernacle was set up, the people could behold God's glory). This is the same word here. In some ways, this then is a powerful book end of the NT and the Johannine literature. It begins cosmically with God choosing to dwell with us on the old earth; now it ends with God choosing again to dwell with us on the earth he has again prepared for us.
ω ("omega", 21.6) One thing worth smiling about. The word "Omega" is a word in English. In Greek, it is a letter, literally, "Big O", Jesus says he is the "alpha and big O."
αρχη ("beginning", 21:6)
τελος ("end", 21:6)
The word in Greek for the "beginning and end" are "αρχη" and "τελος." Both of these words have all sorts of connotations. Arche can mean ruler (as in monarchy), first principle, beginning. (En arche = in the beginning). Telos can mean completion, final, last, ultimate. Jesus is the beginning and end; Jesus is the ruling principle and ultimate reality. The point here is that Jesus is both the book ends of the story (in the beginning was the Word), but also the intellectual and emotional beginning and end.
Comments from early posts on Rev 21:
21.1 The word sea "thalassa" is used just a few verses earlier (20.13); it was holding the dead. Perhaps one could argue that if the sea no longer exists, then death also no longer exists.
21.4 The word for wipe away (exaleiph-oo) means more like wipe out than wipe away. The activity is probably a bit less sentimental than this pastor would like ;-)