April 26, 2016 // Uncategorized
Feast days are guideposts
Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles again provides the first reading for a weekend in the Easter season.
As Christianity grew, it not only expanded beyond its original base in the Holy Land, but it also drew Gentiles in faraway places. This increasingly multi-cultural nature of the broad Christian community presented problems.
Such a problem is evident in this weekend’s reading. A Christian community had formed in Antioch. Most likely, its membership was composed of people from all backgrounds, as Antioch was a large, cosmopolitan city.
Jews would have been among them. The roots of Christianity theologically, geographically, and historically were in the Jewish culture and in the Holy Land.
The dispute arose in Antioch, at the time one of the major cities of the Roman Empire. (It was located on the Mediterranean Sea north of the Holy Land.)
Many others were former pagans, with no connection to Judaism.
The dispute was about circumcision, the Jewish ritual followed by males to this day. Evidently, in Antioch some Christians were demanding that converts from paganism submit themselves to this ritual.
Neither Antioch’s Christian leaders, nor Antioch’s individual Christians, resolved the dispute. This is important. It is New Testament revelation. Disputes were not left to the personal thinking of the persons directly involved, namely the converts themselves, but they were submitted to the Apostles back in Jerusalem, for review and resolution.
Replying, the Apostles called the Antioch Christians “brothers.” They decided that Gentile converts need not agree to this Hebrew ritual. Very importantly, the Apostles said that this decision was, through them, an act of the Holy Spirit.
The Book of Revelation furnishes the second reading. As all the readings in Revelation, this passage is poetic and symbolic. The city, of course, is heaven, the “heavenly Jerusalem.” This heavenly city awaits all who love God. On each of its four sides are three gates. Three was a perfect number. So was twelve.
The gates are open and available to anyone. Salvation is offered to all who truly accept God.
St. John’s Gospel gives this weekend its third reading. It is one of the most eloquent passages in the New Testament. Four points are important.
First, Jesus calls upon the disciples to love each other. Second, the mere construction of this passage illustrates the fact that following the Gospel will not be easy.
Third, following Christ will not be impossible. The Holy Spirit will assist and strengthen.
Finally, for those who truly love God, peace will be with them. It is not necessarily an absence of conflict and turmoil. It is the peace of heart and soul that comes from knowing that right is served, and that God is present.
Already the Church is directing us to Pentecost, but it is not dwelling on a mere anniversary. Feast days are not just anniversaries. Instead, they appear in the Church calendar always to inform us and to challenge us.
The Church today tells us that, by accepting Jesus and living by the Gospel, God will be with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Then, the Church gives us very practical advice. Being with God in the heavenly Jerusalem is the only true source of peace. Anything else is death.
We reach God’s heavenly Jerusalem every day by following Jesus. Our personal judgment in this effort can be risky. We need God’s guidance. If the Scriptures of Eastertime have taught anything, it is that God guides and empowers us through the Church.
If anything was revealed in the New Testament, it was that a visible Church exists, first served by the Apostles.
For this reason, the Church in every generation takes such pains to retain the example and mind of the Apostles.
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