28 April 2013. 5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 14:21-27. Paul and Barnabas complete the first mission by retracing their steps and encouraging the little faith communities which they had founded.
Rev. 21:1-5. One the final scenes of the Apocalypse, this opens with the vision of a new world, and the splendour of the new, heavenly Jerusalem.
Jn 13:31-35. At the last supper with his apostles, Jesus emphasised a new commandment – to love one another as he had loved them.
First Reading: Acts 14:21-27
Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’
Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.”
“My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him.”
Second Reading: Book of Revelation 21:1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Gospel: John 13:31-35
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
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.”
“We have all to experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God.” This was the warning of Paul and Barnabas to the people of Antioch. Yet, we are told earlier on that the two apostles were filled with joy when they were driven out of Antioch (Acts 13:52). If you read the first book in the New Testament to be set down in writing, St Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians – written, by the way, at least twelve years before Mark’s gospel, and close on twenty years before the Acts – you will find Paul warning his Christian followers in Thessalonika about the difficulties that lie ahead. “Affliction is bound to come our way,” he warns, “we must expect to have troubles to bear” (1 Thess 3:3f). Indeed, Paul himself was to become the persecuted confessor of Christ – a “vessel of election,” that is elected, or called, to suffer, and so bear witness, in his own life, to the sufferings of Christ.
The apostles did not want their listeners to dwell on this theme of suffering in any kind of morbid way. Their purpose, at all times, was to put fresh heart into the disciples, to encourage them to persevere in the faith, just as Paul urged the Thessalonians to comfort one another, to sustain each other’s hopes of the eternal vision of God. “All things work together unto good, for those who love God,” were his words of consolation, later on, to the Christians in Rome (8:28). We can always be certain that our God is the God of love, and God himself tells us, in today’s gospel reading, to allow this love to give direction and shape to our lives. Indeed every single chapter in the New Testament carries a special message from him to us; and ever so often it is similar to that contained in the words of Christ to his Apostles at the Last Supper; “Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me” (Jn 14:1).
We see this exemplified in the encounter of the risen Christ with the two disciples, weighed down with gloom and despondency, while walking to Emmaus, on that first Easter Sunday. “Their eyes, as yet, were kept from recognising him,” we are told. When questioned as to what they were discussing between themselves, and why they were so downhearted, they endeavoured to explain their grief by giving an account of the tragic things that had taken place in Jerusalem, during the previous days. But their companion’s amazing response to all this was by way of a simple question. “What things?,” he asked them. It is difficult for us to begin to understand this kind of innocence on the part of Christ. It belongs to the mystery of what the French dramatist, poet, and diplomat, Paul Claudel, called “the eternal childhood of God.” For that brief question, “What things?,” conveys the impression that so perfectly has Christ passed into the freedom, and joy, and glory of his Father, that he scarcely remembers the cruel and terrible journey he had travelled in arriving there. There are no dark clouds on God’s horizon, nor any sorrowful memories weighing upon the mind of God.
The disciples at Emmaus were led gradually to make an act of faith in the risen Christ. While he remained visually present to them they had failed to recognise him. When the moment of recognition did come, St Luke says that “he had already vanished from their sight.” In other words, it was not by the sight of their eyes, but rather by the response of their hearts that Christ made himself known to them. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road,” the disciples said in retrospect. When the true follower of Christ comes to celebrate the Eucharist, his/her primary purpose should not be to complain, or even to ask for graces, but rather to give heartfelt thanks to God.