Fifth Sunday in Eastertide – May 2, 2010 – St. John’s, Goshen
We continue our fifty-day celebration of Easter, the Church’s sustained meditation on the fruits, consequences, implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Church arose out of faith that God, who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, had raised the crucified Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, made him Lord and Messiah, and granted forgiveness of sins in his name. The Church stands in that same faith today. It is why we gather here today, why we listen to the Scriptures that express the impact of that faith on the minds and hearts of the first generations of Christians.
Today’s readings poise us between a beginning and an end. As we have followed the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, we have recalled the immediate and public consequences of the resurrection as the disciples of Jesus, rescued from their doubt, began to proclaim Christ as redeemer from sin and death, first, to their fellow-Jews and then, as in today’s reading, to Gentile peoples, with St. Paul leading the way. The horizon of Christ’s influence was thus expanded infinitely: God “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles,” Paul and Barnabas are able to report to the Church.
If that is how our faith originated, our second reading tells us what our final goal is. A climactic vision from the Book of Revelation describes a new heaven and a new earth–the old created order or universe transformed. (When it is said that the sea will be no more, this is meant symbolically: in the Bible the sea is often taken to signify the stormy, chaotic forces of evil.) And there will be also a new Jerusalem, the holy city, as beautiful as a bride adorned for her husband. When we think of this city here, we should not imagine buildings but rather the people: cities, St. Augustine used to say, are built out of citizens not stones. It is the redeemed citizens we should think of, over whom the solemn words are pronounced: “Behold, God’s dwelling with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” This is the final effect, consequence, of the resurrection of Christ when his conquest of death becomes the victory of humanity over pain and wailing and mourning and death itself.
We have heard, then, about our beginnings and our end. We live our Christian lives out of memory and of hope. In all our diversity we are a single people because of our common memory–we are gathering in obedience to Christ’s command: “Do this in memory of me”–and because of our common hope–we want to be in the number of the saints in the new Jerusalem. And between this memory and this hope, our present must be guided by a new commandment that we love one another. Not only that: Jesus tells us in the Gospel what the criterion of that love must be: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Not any love will suffice, then; our love has to be like Christ’s: a selfless love, a self-sacrificing love, a reconciling love, a forgiving love. What Christ was to those whom he encountered in his years on earth, what Christ was on the cross, what Christ is at the Father’s right hand, is what we Christians–named after him–are to be. “This is how people will recognize that you are my disciples,” Jesus says, “by the love you have for one another.”
We are poised, then, between beginning and end, living our lives in the light of our memory and our hope. And note how it is all enveloped in the “new.” The resurrection of Jesus brought new life into the world, that new thing that spread over the whole world and down through the ages until it reached us. We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, to being ourselves a new Jerusalem. And we are to live our lives in the here and now in terms of a new commandment. It is all very coherent: because we owe our lives to the new beginning and look forward to the utterly new universe that is the Kingdom of God, we live our lives in imitation of Christ, living the new commandment, loving as he loved, as he loves.
Not an easy life, this new life in Christ, if it means the self-sacrificing love he showed. But we may take comfort, and courage, from the powerful statement that we heard in the second reading: “Behold, I make all things new!” Creation was an absolute new beginning; so is the new creation accomplished in Christ’s resurrection, and so will be the new heavens and new earth and new Jerusalem. God’s making all things new goes on today also: as people are brought to love who had not loved before, to seek reconciliation who had been content with estrangement, to forgive who had been trapped in hatred and resentment. God is making all things new all around us, if we have eyes to see, and all things new within us, too, if we hand our hearts over to him. We ourselves can be that new creation: a loving community, recognizable as Christ’s community because we love one another.