Deacon Raymond’s Reflection
5th Sunday of Easter, C
May 19, 2019
This Sunday’s readings describe the early church within the Jewish culture of first century Judea. No one could have ever expected that people whom the Jewish people normally referred to as dogs – the gentiles, were listening to the preaching of Jewish missionaries. Wherever Paul and Barnabas travelled, people (gentiles) were flocking to become members of the New Way, the Way of Jesus Christ. They established Christian communities in these foreign lands calling them Churches, not just referring to the building but to the people united in the New Way. “They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.” (Acts 14:21-27). The ancient Hebrews, the Chosen People, could not believe God chose the gentiles as well. The world was being transformed. It’s all new.
In the second reading (Revelation 21:1-5a), the One who sits on the Throne said: “Behold, I make all things New,”. A revelation or apocalypse is generally a first-person narrative in which the writer relates one or more visions about the future and/or the heavenly world. The image of the divine throne and the precise layout of the heavenly city contain echoes of Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 40 – 42, while the new heaven and a new earth and the absence of weeping and crying are echoes from Isaiah 65. The vision always ends on a note of hope and faith. The text as a whole is a glorious act of worship, telling a story of God’s enduring presence in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. The old order has passed away. There will be a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem. This theme of newness is continued in the Gospel (John 13:31-35). There is to be a new relationship with God and with each other. John the Evangelist takes pains throughout his gospel to distinguish the Jewish followers of Jesus from “the Jews,” who have not accepted Jesus as the Son of God and path to salvation. “You will look for me,” Jesus says to the disciples, telling them of new ways in which they will find him after his departure. Jesus emphasizes how his followers are to behave when he is gone in the famous words of John: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”
These instructions form the basis of pastoral care and service in Christian life and community, from the time of the earliest Christians forward. In this new relationship, Christians in the early Church cared for one another. They took up collections to support their elders and orphaned children. They offered each other simple nursing care in epidemics. They maintained strong community in chaotic times. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate fellowship. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. These early Christians followed Jesus’ instructions: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” They took very seriously Christ’s command of charity. It was their distinctive mark. It set them apart from the peoples among whom they lived. It was this magnetic force that attracted so many to join them. Can we say the same of our churches in our cities today? Are we taking care of one another, offering charity and hope, providing fellowship to newcomers, strangers, orphans and widows? It is often easy to love those who are kind and are our friends. But christian love challenges us to love our enemies and exclude no one. Making ourselves real christians is the work of a lifetime. Conversion is a long process and requires much patience.
The beautiful passage from Revelation says: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.” How can the promises of Revelation be applied in a pastoral context? How can we aid and comfort one another? Certainly, we can’t take away all sorrows, old age, chronic pain, death. We are unlikely to alter the path of armies or the destruction of natural disaster, but we can bring a note of hope and faith in the midst of pain, chaos and despair. We can reach out to victims of destruction and exile. Remembering that the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles as well as the circumcised, we can love one another. We are all integral parts of a living community both within and without our church walls. Like the early Christians, we have been chosen to be instruments of God’s grace, channels through which others may experience his love. A simple smile, a warm hug from the heart does not cost much but means a lot. We have to look into our hearts to see if we are in love with ourselves alone or with one another. We fail as Christians if we fail to love from the heart and one cannot be a friend of Jesus Christ if one fails to love one’s neighbour. Our communities can stand as a witness of our spiritual commitment and joyful determination to love and serve. We are sent out by the Holy Spirit to love, to pastor, to serve one another in ways great and small. As the body of Christ here and now, we are called to follow Jesus’ instructions: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”