Fifth Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles, again this Easter season, is the source of the first reading for Sunday. It highlights Paul. In an earlier passage, not read in this liturgy, the intensely devoted Jew, Paul, after having persecuted Christians, miraculously experiences the presence of Jesus on the way to Damascus.
Paul instantly converts to Christianity. Eventually the Christian community accepts him, although understandably some Christians were nervous, considering his record of persecuting them. He had been quite hostile to followers of Jesus.
At last accepted, in this weekend’s reading he returns to Jerusalem. With his choleric personality and religious fervor, now bursting with belief in Christ, he openly debated with Greek-speaking Jews.
Paul himself was well-educated. From Tarsus, he was not a product of the Holy Land, although he was an ethnic and religiously observant Jew. He spoke Greek, the language of the empire and of scholarship.
Paul’s intensity made enemies for him. The Christians took him for his own safety to Caesarea, the Roman capital of Palestine, a place now in ruins on the outskirts of modern Tel Aviv. From Caesarea, a seaport, the Christians sent him home to Tarsus, for his personal security.
An important statement in this reading is in its final verse. It says that throughout the entire area the Church was at peace and making progress. Notice that the term “Church” is used.
For the second reading this Easter weekend, the Church offers a selection from the First Epistle of John. It refers to its readers as “little children.” Obviously, adults composed the epistle’s audience, or most of the audience. Still, the epistle employs this term of endearment. Those who follow Jesus indeed are God’s “little children,” little in their vulnerability and need for God.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading, part of the long discourse by Jesus given the Apostles at the Last Supper. This reading has a deeply Eucharistic undertone. At the Last Supper Jesus gave the Twelve the wine that became, through the Lord’s power, the blood of Christ.
Wine, of course, is the product of grapes. Grapes grow on vines. In this reading, Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” All who love the Lord are the branches. God protects the vine, even by cutting away branches because of sin.
Thus Jesus warns that no vine can bear fruit if it separates itself from the true vine of God.
Being by and in the Blood of Christ completes and strengthens this bond between vine and branches.
In Acts, First John and the Gospel, the Church calls us to absolute faith in, and deep love for, God, in Jesus — risen to life after dying on the cross. Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith and of our lives.
Part of the Lord’s legacy is the Church. The Church does not, or should not, merely mean an earthly, visible and coincidental entity that we can take or leave. If we truly are with Christ, then we are part of the Church, and vice versa.
The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, a phrase rich in its references to Paul’s own thoughts. It then also is the vine. Members of the Church are its branches.
Vines and branches involve a living relationship. The vine nourishes and holds the branches. Cut away from the vine, the branches die. This Church offers us divine nourishment, the eucharistic Blood of Christ, and it unites us to the Lord.
On this weekend, the Church again invites us to celebrate the victory of Jesus over death. If faithful, if in the Church, the Mystical Body, we are with Jesus. He is the vine. We are the branches. In union with Christ we live and are strong, nourished by the Eucharist.
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