6th Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles once again provides the first reading for a weekend in the Easter season.
In this reading, the Apostle Peter enters the house of Cornelius, who falls to his knees to give homage to the leader of the followers of Jesus. Graciously, Peter lifts Cornelius to his feet. Then, Peter insists that he has no partiality among persons of various ethnic and national backgrounds, because God has no such partiality.
At the moment of this testimony of faith, and of true discipleship, the Holy Spirit descends into the group present, including the Gentiles. Peter says that anyone so prompted by the Spirit cannot be denied baptism by water.
To set the stage for this reading, Cornelius was not Jewish. He was a Gentile. Moreover, he was a Roman, representative of the detested occupying pagan power. His associates were Gentiles. Despite all this, Peter entered the home of Cornelius, unbelievable for a devout Jew, and Peter was a Jew. Peter went, insisting that all should have access to God, and God welcomes all. Finally, God, in the Holy Spirit, comes into the hearts of all. The Spirit is with Peter. At last, Peter brings all into the company of faith by baptizing them with water.
The First Epistle of John is the source of the next reading. This reading is a moving, and especially descriptive, message about God’s love. God is love. God is in Jesus. Love is in God. Marvelously, God shares this divine love with the faithful.
God’s love, and living according to God’s love, brings joy, indeed a joy unequalled by anything on earth.
The test of loving God is in obeying the commandments. God revealed the commandments, and God perfectly revealed the divine plan for salvation through and in Jesus.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. As did the second reading, this proclamation of the Gospel centers upon the love of God.
In this reading, God’s love is celebrated. God’s love was proven by the Lord’s willing, sacrificial death on Calvary. “There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Because of uniting with Jesus in faith and love, disciples are friends of God. For the ancient Jews, as well as others in the Mediterranean world, friend was much more powerful in its meaning than it is today. It meant an intense bond, a loyalty.
Truly loving God means to love others. The image of the vine occurs again. Disciples are the branches. Christ is the great, main vine. If true to Christ, disciples produce much fruit. The reading closes with the wonderful admonition, and command, of Jesus to “love one another.”
Carefully and deliberately the Church is leading us forward to the feast of the Ascension. It is as if we Christians had been standing beside the Apostles in the days following the Resurrection, hearing with them the words of the risen Jesus, seeing as they saw the wonder of life victorious over death.
Now, the mood slightly shifts. The Church is preparing us for the Ascension, telling us that the presence of Jesus on earth changed. Discipleship did not change.
Jesus calls us “to love one another.” He is the model. Considering the depth of the divine love displayed in the Crucifixion, it is a challenge for mere mortals. Yet it is possible. It is possible because strength and insight come to any true believer from the Holy Spirit. It is insight that brings peace and joy. It is outreaching and great in its compassion and service.
And, it comes to anyone who earnestly seeks God, even if they are tempted by sin. In God’s love is strength. We are called as disciples to bear this love to others.
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