The Fifth Sunday of Easter
[Scripture Readings: Acts 9: 26-31; 1 Jn 3: 18-24; Jn 15: 1-8]
Part of learning any skill or craft is the disappointment that comes from having a very clear idea in our heads of what we want to accomplish and seeing our actual accomplishment fall short of our expectation. Initially the result may fall considerably short of what we are striving for. However, if we are willing to stick with it, our proficiency usually improves and we may even become quite accomplished at what we are doing.
Since the good news that God’s revelation brings to us is meant to move beyond a good idea into a way of life, it is not surprising that in conversion there is a similar experience to what we experience in learning a skill. For all the good intentions we may have, moving from words to behavior requires a difficult and at times lengthy effort on our part. In fact, left to ourselves, it would be impossible. But we have not been left to ourselves.
Jesus Christ has come not only to show us how to live according to God’s will, but to empower us to live a life that is pleasing to God. When we allow Christ’s words to dwell in us, this is more than an intellectual exercise. The words that Jesus spoke when he was on earth were words of power. They had the power to open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. They had the power to give strength to cripples so that they could walk. Christ’s words have the power to heal us and to transform our lives too.
Conversion in Christ is more than making some of our attitudes and behavior more acceptable. Conversion is certainly not a self-improvement project. Conversion in Christ brings the ability to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength, and to love each other as we love ourselves. Learning to do this is a painful experience. We have to allow God’s word to expose our sinfulness and our failings. We have to allow his word to take us out of our self-centeredness and our obsession always to have our own way. The result, however, is freedom. We will have not simply an external freedom from physical restraints, but we will have the inner freedom to accept God’s word in faith and to complete our faith in love. We will have an effective faith that expresses itself in effective action. Our lives will be true and living in truth we will be Christ’s disciples and being Christ’s disciples we will give glory to God.
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
[Scripture Readings: Acts 14: 21-27; Rev 21: 1-5a; Jn 13: 31-35]
Whenever we make a big investment of our time or money, we look for the “perfect” object: the perfect house, the perfect computer, the perfect suit. We want special occasions to be “perfect”: a perfect dinner, a perfect wedding, a perfect date. We look for the perfect spouse, the perfect community, the perfect church. Maybe we can’t define what this perfection is in words, but we’ll know it when we see it.
When something is perfect, it brings a satisfaction, a sense of completion and wholeness, maybe even a sense of ecstasy. We could even call this an implicit desire for salvation. One object or event can raise all life to a new level. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We enter into a new creation.
Life teaches us that these experiences are hard to construct or to preserve. They prove to be ephemeral and contingent. Sometimes we find that what we thought was “perfect” has another, darker side. It turns out to be other than we had imagined it. We are aware of disappointment, of sadness, and even bitterness. Grief darkens our hearts and perceptions. Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings, says of one character: “His grief he will not forget, but it will not darken his heart. It will teach him wisdom.” Disappointment and sadness can teach us wisdom or they can darken and close the doors of our hearts.
We can even begin to redefine what it means to be human and exclude this longing for wholeness, for completion, for perfection. We are willing to settle for little and less, and narrow the scope and range of our lives. Culture as a whole encourages this narrowing. It has been said that one of the notes of modernity is the loss of faith in transcendence, in a reality which surpasses us and embraces our quotidian affairs. Religious language, symbols, scripture, liturgy have small relevance in a world controlled by science and business. Religion and worship are “another world.”
And in fact , they are another world. The liturgy is the epiphany of the Kingdom of God in our midst. The late Orthodox liturgist Alexander Schmemann insisted on this understanding of worship. It is not an event at which we are informed or entertained. It is the passage of the Church into the Kingdom, that we may know and experience the wholeness to which we have been called. We are accepted, welcomed, known, forgiven, transformed. We taste, smell, eat and drink the liberation and salvation offered us in Christ. It is a new world, the “new heaven and the new earth.” We don’t just learn a few pointers on how to engineer our lives or the society around us. This is the perfection for which we long from the depths of our hearts. We are allowed to long for it and know it as the real completion of our beings. The aspirations and desires of our hearts are awakened.
We are summoned to take another look at those tight circles and narrowed enclaves that we call our lives. It is our compulsions, our addictions, our neuroses that we nurture and allow to define us. In the new heaven and the new earth, God’s word and spirit is offered even in those “Gentile” areas we have separated off as beyond the pale of our concern.
I saw the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. The new city is the new set of relationships created by the infinite God choosing to come and dwell in the midst of human life and history. The transcendence of God which surpasses us embraces the flow of our daily lives. The perfection and completion which lead and draw the movements of our hearts already embraces us. The familiar saying of St. lrenaeus that “the glory of God is man fully alive and the glory of man is the vision of God” captures the dynamic of the relationship of the exchange implanted in creation. God gives his intimate being, his glory, to his children. “The Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.” Lumen Gentium of Vatican II , in reminding us that all Christians are called to holiness, says that God sent the Holy Spirit to all to move them interiorly to love God with all their strength and soul and to love one another as Christ has loved them. It refers to today’s Gospel text to explain new experience that motivates the expansive and inclusive fellowship that defines Christian community. The spirit of glory we are bathed in is a deep and connatural knowledge which binds us together even as it binds the Father and the Son.