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.

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