5th Sunday of Easter
Once again this season, the Acts of the Apostles provides the first reading. The early chapters of Acts marvelously reveal to us the lives led by the early Christians. Very obvious, and important, in this glimpse into events so long ago, is the place of the Apostles, and among them the place of Peter.
The Apostles led the community because the Christians recognized the Apostles’ special relationship with, and calling from, the Lord. Indeed, reverence for the Apostles was so deep that the people placed their possessions at the Apostles’ feet, allowing the Apostles to control even the material assets of the community.
In Acts, this community was situated in Jerusalem. Although the very heart of Jewish life, and a city supremely symbolic for Jews, Jerusalem was not Corinth. It was not Antioch. It most certainly was not Rome. In the total scheme of things, therefore, it was not a very important city.
In Palestine, the Romans maintained the city of Caesarea, a seaport on the Mediterranean Sea, as their capital. In Caesarea, the Roman governor resided, and the Roman occupation had its headquarters. Even then, and in the Holy Land, Jerusalem was secondary.
(The ruins of this city now are in the suburbs of modern Tel Aviv. It is interesting, incidentally, that the only relic of the administration of Pontius Pilate as governor, aside from mention in the Gospels, is a stone carved with his name, and the stone was found in the ruins of Caesarea.)
Care of the needy, and of widows who were very needy, was a Christian priority. Evidently the Apostles directed such care, but they also taught the Gospel. To assist in providing this care, they chose seven holy men to be deacons. Calling deacons was an exercise not just of organization but also of innovation, in the name of Jesus.
First Peter provides the second reading, centering Jesus as essential in salvation. He is the promise of God. The reading urges Christians to be true to Jesus.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Not a Resurrection Narrative, it recalls the Lord’s discourse with the Apostles, consoling them as to what they should expect in the future. As it looks ahead, and frankly suggests that obstacles await, it is an appropriate reading for now as people contemplate Christian living amid modern troubles.
Reassuringly, Christ will be with us always. His “the way, the truth, and the life” belongs only to the Son of God.
Almost a month has passed since Easter. For weeks the Church joyfully has told us of the Resurrection. He lives!
Before long, the season will end. We will return to life in 2011, with its burdens and uncertainties.
The Church tells us not to lose heart. Jesus still is with us. He is our rock and our shield. He lives in the community of Christians. However, if authentic, this modern community must be the same as the community described in Acts.
Applying the picture in Acts to the present is interesting. Which Christian community actually resembles the gathering of Christians in Jerusalem long ago, precisely in their reliance upon the Apostles with Peter at their head? It has to be the Roman Catholic Church. Trace the modern Church to Acts.
The community in Acts profoundly was dedicated to the Lord, caring for the sick and the needy. Ever since, care for others has been no charming sideline for Christians. It is of the essence of their religion.
Finally, the Church tells us, as the Easter season concludes, that Christ is with us. In turn, we must draw ourselves into the community that the Lord created.
However, being in the community is more than joining a club. We must give our hearts to the Lord.
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