The New Jerusalem

For the readings, please see this link: 5th Sunday of Easter Readings PDF

Our readings for this Sunday are set in the past, present and future around the continuing celebration of the Risen Lord in the season of Easter. We reach back in the Gospel of John to the words of Jesus to his disciples after Judas leaves. Jesus gives them a new commandment. We are in the present as Paul and Barnabas are evangelizing and establishing new communities of faith. We see the future in John’s Revelation: a new heaven and a new earth where God’s dwelling place is with the human race.

The Way that is offered to us is lived under the new commandment given by Jesus to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” It is in how we live in community and in love that the world will know we are His. We will be known by our actions. If love marks our actions, then we are rightfully called Christians. There is no other way to be a Christian.

Jesus tells the eleven remaining Apostles that he is coming into his time of glory. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” Since we have read in recent weeks the entire Passion story, we know – as the Apostles did not at the time – that the Son of Man would be glorified by submitting to crucifixion. The Cross, the Sacrifice, is the Glory. When Judas leaves, the Passion starts. The Passion is the new Passover: a lamb will be sacrificed so that the Angel of Death will pass over the household. Jesus is the Lamb who is offered so that Death is conquered once for all time. There is no greater love, Jesus has said, than for one man to lay down his life for another. And in the Passion, Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, lays down his life — he who IS life — for us. In this act of love, the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. The Cross, that ugly brutal instrument of torture and death, is the Way to Glory. It is the triumph of Love.

We are destined for a new heaven, and God’s dwelling place is with us. There will be no more death, no more mourning, no more pain. John’s vision is glorious, and we rejoice to know our blessed destiny. The Cross, the life of love, is how we live in the former earth that we know will ultimately pass away. It is how we have the kingdom of God on this fallen Earth. Our hearts — our innermost selves — live already with him. Our lives lived according to our hearts will mean kindness reigns in the face of unkindness, selfishness is returned by generosity, anger by empathy, and harshness by gentleness. This is how all will know we are His disciples. We will have love for one another.

God made us for communion with him, as John saw in his vision. “God’s dwelling is with the human race.” We need community to live the new commandment Jesus gave us, for none of us is strong enough to face the Devil alone. Only Jesus was able to do that; for 40 days in the desert he was tempted by the Devil. In the early Church, the Desert Fathers were a few holy men who went to the desert to be spiritual warriors against the Devil. They rarely remained alone for long. Our ingrained sense of, and need for, community is so powerful even those holy men drew men to them and lived in small communities. The monastic life is likewise one lived in spiritual warfare and sacrificial service in community. We need each other if we are to live as we are called to live.

We also need some structure to our communities of faith. From the earliest days, Paul and Barnabas and the other evangelists would roam the world spreading the good news. We see in the Book of the Acts that they went from city to city through all of Asia Minor. And they “made a considerable number of disciples,” as it says. For the community to remain effective, however, it needed some kind of leadership that would be in place after the Apostle left. Acts tells us they “appointed elders for them in each church.” These disparate communities in Palestine and Asia Minor, and then in Greece and Rome, constituted the New Jerusalem.

This is a time of Glory. We are still reveling in the glory of the Resurrection, and we are given glimpses of the eternal glory for which we are destined. Today, we are given a few words on how to get from here to there: love is the way of Glory, the Cross is the way of Glory, sacrifice is the way of Glory, and community is a principal means of how to live the Way.

So the next time you say, “Brother” or “Sister” to another believer, understand the depth of meaning in those words. We must live our lives for our brothers and sisters because that is how we live our lives for our Lord. It is the Way.

The Price of Love

For the readings, please see this link: 3rd Sunday of Easter Readings PDF

In the season of Easter, we read from the Acts of the Apostles instead from one of the books of the Old Testament, and we read from the Revelation of John instead of from one of the Epistles. In this joyful season of Resurrection, it is appropriate to read from the book that is a vision of the Heavenly Banquet led by the “Lamb that was slain.” Sunday’s reading is a glimpse of the eternal hymn of praise in Heaven, where the cherubim and seraphim continually do cry, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain.”

Many times during Lent and particularly during Holy Week, we read from the second chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Phillipians that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave … humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6-8). The posture of obedience and humility that Jesus modelled for us in his Passion is rewarded in eternity by his Kingship, in which we will participate if we likewise humble ourselves in obedience.

When Peter is challenged by the High Priest in Sunday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, he replies “We must obey God rather than men.” Ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, he and the others left “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” Our suffering for the sake of the name — our suffering for Love — is a gift pleasing to God. He wants our whole being, not just the good times but the bad. When he told us to “pick up your cross and follow me,” he was foreshadowing the price of love. He loved us enough to make an awful day the earth shook into a day we call Good Friday, and three days later the earth shook in a different way on account of the resurrection as Death was destroyed.

We are made for eternal life, and we are offered eternal life. Eternal life is not free, however. In Acts, we see the Apostles — even before the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost — begin to comprehend what has happened. Through a number of stories like the walk to Emmaus, Jesus is revealing who he truly is. The Apostles who seemed so completely befuddled during the Passion are growing in strength and courage to take up their crosses and follow the risen Lord.

The reading from the Gospel according to St. John indicates another aspect of the price of love. Love requires action. First, we are presented with downhearted Apostles, and with a tone of frustration Peter announces he is going fishing. In doing so, Peter reminds us that we are called to action; in the Garden of Eden, Adam worked. For Love is not passive, it is active. Jesus appears after a fruitless night of fishing and tells them to put out their net yet again. And they obey him, “and were not able pull it in because of the number of fish.” In this obedient action, the Apostles recognize the Lord.

Jesus has further commands for them: “Bring some of the fish you just  caught” to a fire already loaded with fish and bread. On the basis of our rational powers it would not make sense to bring more fish to a meal already cooking fish. But Peter obeys, dragging ashore a net “full of 153 large fish.” After the work, Jesus invites them to the communal meal which corresponds to the Last Supper and the Eucharist: he takes the bread, he gives it to them.

Jesus then turns to Peter, the rock on which he would build his Church against which the powers of Hell would never prevail, and he asks him three times the question. “Do you love me?” Three times Peter says yes, with a rising tone of hurt and distress. At each affirmation, Jesus gives Peter a command of action. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Love, love, love. Obey, obey, obey. Action, action, action.

Finally, Jesus intimates to Peter the price of love. Obedience to God’s will is costly. To Peter, his rock, he says “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter is told this to signify “by what kind of death he would glorify God.” Peter would die in the persecution under Nero by the means the Romans used to send a message: crucifixion. The price of love is the cross, and the wisdom of the cross is folly to the world. But we live for eternity, not for today. And we live for God, not for man. And we live for love, not selfishness. And we will live with him forever.