Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)
New Jerusalem

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The New Jerusalem (God's Holy Church; the Bride of Christ) - by the 19th century illustrator, Gustave Dore

 

Acts 14:21-27

After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news in Derbe and made numerous disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra and Iconium first, then to Antioch. They gave their disciples reassurances, and encouraged them to persevere in the faith with this instruction: "We must undergo many trials if we are to enter into the reign of God." In each church they installed elders and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in Whom they had put their faith.

Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. After preaching the message in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had first been commended to the favor of God for the task they had now completed. On their arrival, they called the congregation together and related all that God had helped them accomplish, and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

Revelation 21:1-5

I, John, saw new heavens and a new earth. The former heavens and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no longer. I also saw a New Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of Heaven from God, beautiful as a Bride prepared to meet her Husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne cry out: "This is God's dwelling among men. He shall dwell with them and they shall be His people, and He shall be their God Who is always with them. He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away."

The One Who sat on the throne said to me, "See, I make all things new!"

John 13:31-35

Once Judas had left [the Cenacle], Jesus said:

"Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him. [If God has been glorified in Him,] God will, in turn, glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him soon. My children, I am not to be with you much longer. I give you a new Commandment: Love one another. Such as My love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for My disciples: your love for one another."

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)
New Jerusalem

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

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crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes) Throughout this season leading up to Pentecost, we turn to the Acts of the Apostles for insight into the history of the early Church. This helps us in understanding the nature of the Church today. As we listen to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the disciples' travels from one city to another. The nature of the early Church was to take Christ's Message to the rest of the world, reaching people with a New Message, a New Way, a New Vision of what God wants us to see. We find a word of encouragement to those who are followers of this New Way. We must not expect this New Way to be without Difficulty, Problems or Trials. If we accept this way of Christ, we must accept the process of Struggle and Problems, even though He also promises great Peace and Wholeness. That's so important to hear, especially for those of us who are Church Leaders. We find there can be Problems in the way people hear the Message. There are Problems in those who carry It. We must expect those Difficulties, because they are part of the process. It's like friction being created against that which is opposite to the Message. And yet, out of this Tension comes a lot of Energy. There is also Great Power residing within the disciples as they are able to effectively convey this Message.

credo3.gif (6471 bytes) John envisions a New Jerusalem, "a holy city coming down from Heaven". John says this city is as beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband. That's a wonderful image of the work of the Church. The Church, like the New City, is seeking to build community. God dwells in this New City. God is with His people, and they are with Him. There is Union and Partnership between God and His people. Union is at the heart of the New Jerusalem. The presence of God is so powerful because it "wipes away the tears from our eyes". It tells us that someday there will be no more Death; someday there will be no more Pain or Struggle. Ultimately, we are moving toward a place where Struggle is over. At the same time, God tells us that while we are in the process of Struggle, He is with us. Nothing seems stronger than the description of a Church where the Spirit dwells in each Member of the Community. In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of His Kingdom and about the Church. He gives us a New Commandment: to love one another. If we look at the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, we discover that this is not a new idea. But Leviticus makes it clear that one of the most important facets of the Law is to love our Brothers and Sisters. We are to love one another as we love ourselves. Much of the Old Testament is based on Justice. The command to love our Brothers and Sisters as we love ourselves is based on the common sense that we should treat others as we wish to be treated. Logic also tells us that if we treat people in a certain way, chances are that this is the way we will end up being treated. In the Old Testament, the motive for being a loving person has a lot to do with taking care of ourselves.

When we get to the New Testament and to Jesus, we find the same Command to love,god_is_luv_ani.gif (9754 bytes) but it's a new way of loving one another. The Church that God calls us to establish is founded on Spirit that empowers us to love. This new way of loving is given to us through Jesus' actions. Jesus gave Himself for those He loved. Jesus' Love is Self-sacrificing, complete forgetfulness of self. Jesus was following the Will of His Father. Jesus was willing to die for those He loved. That will not be the case for most of us - not the literal Death of Crucifixion. Something in our lives does, however, need to be Crucified. Something needs to die if we are to live a Selfless Life. It has something to do with the Ego. We understand this new way of loving as a way to offer Spirit and Life to people when things are not going according to the way we think they ought to go. Jesus submitted to a Plan that demanded a great deal of Him. In my daily life, I know that if I don't submit to the Plan demanded of me, I'm miserable. I'm Angry, and I have a lot of Tension inside of me. Things aren't going the way I think they ought to go. People don't act in the way I think they should act. They don't respond the way I think they should. Those are the times I find it most Difficult to be a vehicle for the Spirit that brings New Life to people. Those are the times I find it most Difficult to love. This New Commandment that Jesus asks us to embrace as we love one another invites us to give ourselves over to something that is bigger than we are. The Self-Sacrificing part is that we are trusting in a Plan that is bigger than our own wants and needs. The ability to do this lies in our willingness to be used by God and to be vehicles of bringing Life to people. If we act in this way, we are not resistant to God's Plan.

handscru.gif (11372 bytes)In the Gospel passage from John, we also find an image of the Glory of God, the Doxa {Doxa (δόξα) is a Greek word which Hebrew Scholars rendered for the Hebrew word for "glory" (kabot) and this usage continues today}. The Glory of God is His Presence, His Spirit within the world. When Jesus says He is about to be Glorified as He goes to His Death, He is showing us that the Best Spirit, the most Glorious Spirit within a Human Being, is the ability to submit. That's what makes us so very Powerful - an ability to submit to something beyond us. Being able to submit enables us to be used by God. When we are used by God to be an Instrument of Life and Love in the community, then God is Glorified in us. We reveal the Doxa that is in us. The Glory of God is that He wants to Heal us. He wants to wipe away all of our tears. He wants to Comfort us. God seems to have limited Himself to working through us in a Mysterious Way. Grace, the Spirit of God moving in the world, needs vehicles. We are all called to be Instruments of God's Grace, Love, and Glory to the world. The challenge is to obtain our cooperation. There's no way we can be effective unless we freely cooperate in this work. Our challenge is to see Church in a new and different way. One of the greatest disappointments to me as a Catholic Priest is the Division between Denominations. Nothing seems more foreign to me than that we would build Fences between religious groups. That must be a great Pain in the Heart of our God when He sees those He calls ONE, separated in this way. We need to break down the barriers of Prejudice and Misunderstanding. We are all doing the work of the Father - bringing Life and Spirit to people. When we are doing that, we are part of one family. We need to overcome the Division.

We can at times perceive the Church as a limitation, and this also concerns me. At times we can view the Church as something that robs us of Freedom: "If I submit to the Church, it will ask me to do all of those things I don't really think are important". Or: "The Church makes me stop doing all the things that are really fun or pleasurable". Nothing could be further from this view than the image we find in the Church today. The Church is a Life-Giver, a Spirit-Infuser. It's a way of imagining the world so that we find meaning and purpose in everything. A person truly touched by the Church possesses an Inner Balance. The challenge that the Church places before us is full of Life and Freedom. It is full of Freedom from everything that would Destroy us. One of the most touching images in the New Testament is that Jesus came to give us not only Life, but to Free us from Evil. In the Book of Revelation, we find an image of "a new heavens and a new earth". Revelation also reveals to us that "the sea is no longer" Now the Sea was considered by the people at this time as the place of Evil, as the Underworld. It was the place where Demons resided.

The New Jerusalem is Free of Evil . The Church is trying to Free people from those things that would Rob them of Life. Those things that Rob people of Life constitute the essence of Evil. Our challenge during the Easter Season is to dwell on the Gifts of the Father. He sent His Son to Die for us so that we might be Free and possess more Life. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that all Burdens will be light. We need to Trust and Believe in the process of the Church drawing us into Transformation. This process of Transformation continues to draw us anew into an awareness of God's Presence. Through that Presence, we are drawn to a ministry of a God Who is there for each and every one of us.

 

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