5 May 2013. 6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29. The first Council of the Church shows how vital decisions were made by the leaders with the consent of the congregation.
Rev. 21:10-14, 22-23. In his rugged exile, John paints a dazzling picture of the new Jerusalem, the heavenly Church of the future, when God’s Kingdom will come in glory.
Jn 14:23-29. Part of Christ’s farewell discourse at the last supper. It is dominated by the thought of his imminent departure.
First Reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this…
Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.
Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
Second Reading: Book of Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Gospel: John 14:23-29
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
A Special kind of Goodbye
French vocabulary is sometimes more precise than English. “Goodbye” is a case in point. The French use Au revoir for those everyday temporary separations, while Adieu is reserved strictly for final departures; it means roughly “until we meet in heaven.” Life is a succession of Au revoirs and Adieus. The number of the latter grows with the passing years. Our hearts and memories are peopled with faces that once were dear to us. Some, like our parents, died. Others moved away out of our lives never to reappear again. If their names crop up in conversation we say, “I wonder what became of so-and-so.” They may say the same about us too. Life is a series of little deaths until our own death which for us will be the last great Adieu.
We are, as never before, a pilgrim people, on the move. We need faithful friends who travel with us. In today’s gospel, Jesus alerts his disciples to his imminent departure, his ascension into heaven. He doesn’t say Adieu but Au revoir. “I am going away, but I shall return.” We never really say goodbye to God, for God always goes with us.
Notice how immigrants who leave their families, friends, language and cultures and settle, often penniless and in a hostile environment, on the other side of the globe, begin by building houses of worship. Such was the case with the Irish in America or Australia. Such is the case today with immigrant Muslims building mosques all over Europe. God is what they cling on to.
God keeps his promise to be with us always. He will always keep his side of the bargain. It is up to us to keep ours. And when we come to the end of our pilgrimage here and have to make our last goodbye, it will be literally Adieu, “going to God.”
The Listening side of Love
Obedientia, the Latin for obeying, literally means to listen hard, to hold one’s ear to something. The first rule of the road that we all learned was “Stop! Look! Listen!” Before you cross the railway tracks, stop and listen. There may be a train coming.
“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.” What a beautiful promise, what a special gift. Peace is not the absence of war. It is the presence of something real and tangible. It is something I can experience, and it results from having my relationships the way they ought to be. I will deal in greater detail with this later.
We are all familiar with invitation cards that have RSVP on them. The person is looking for a response from us. Every word that Jesus speaks is calling for a response. A rule of thumb is to learn to listen, and then listen to learn.
My response must be practical; it must entail doing something. Believing something up in my head is nothing more than mental assent. Knowing that Jesus is God is not faith. Satan knows that. Faith is not up in the head; it is in the heart, and it eventually makes its way down into my feet. It is only then that I will be prepared to step out, and act on the direction given me by Jesus. The message of the gospel is simple, definite, and direct. There is not one “maybe” or one “might” in all the promises of Jesus.
Community of Relationships
John’s Gospel has a higher theology than the three synoptic gospels. But the remarkable fact is not its strong theological slant but how early in the Church’s history such a Trinitarian perspective emerged. By the time of St. John the idea of God linked the Father, Jesus and the Paraclete, the guarantor of the peace that Jesus has given.
Already we have hints that God is a community of relationships, that there is so much knowledge and love in God that the knowledge and love transform into distinct personages. This truth is revealed to enlighten our minds, not to provide theologians with raw material for speculations (nothing wrong with that), to dazzle us with the brightness of God’s glory, the power of God’s knowledge and the passion of God’s love. The use of the word “spirit,” a translation of the Hebrew Shekinah hints at a maternal aspect in God as the word is feminine and was used in Hebrew folk religion as the name of Yahweh’s consort. St. John hardly thought of this, yet the gender of the noun might well be part of the meaning.