The readings for this Sixth Sunday of Easter focus our attention on a promise, on a hope for the future, and on a monumental decision. Each of the readings presents us with these things which help us even though we are two thousand years removed from the promise, the hope and the decision.
We live in a world where we struggle to remain faithful, in a world that seems to have forgotten the virtue of fidelity. As we listen to Jesus today, he makes a promise to those who keep his Word, the Word which he brought us through his Incarnation. Those who keep the Word of Jesus will be loved by God and will possess the Holy Spirit. Jesus uses the word “advocate” to describe the Holy Spirit. This term is a very apt way to describe what the Holy Spirit does for us in this world. Anyone who comes before a court of law is accompanied by an advocate, a defender. The Holy Spirit is our defense as we stand before the court of world opinion. The Spirit stands before those who would belittle our faith as outmoded or out of date and protects us from those who would try to sway us from fidelity to the commandment we have been given by Jesus.
We are not alone in our struggle to remain faithful. It has ever been so. Remember those who followed Jesus in what we now call the “apostolic era.” At the end of a four year war, the Roman armies, led by Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple sometime between 70 and 76 A.D. Both Judeans and Messianists were deeply affected by this calamity. They had lost God’s special dwelling place among them, the key place where God could be encountered. Messianists had expected that Jesus’ return would accompany God’s wrathful judgment on the city of Jerusalem. Jesus did not, however, return at the destruction of Jerusalem. At the same time, the early Christian community was beginning to lose the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection as the apostles and disciples were hunted down and executed. The last of them to die, the Beloved Disciple, was a particularly heavy blow because they fully expected that this last eye witness would be alive at the time of Jesus’ return.
The astral seer of the Book of Revelation focuses their and our attention on hope. God has chosen to dwell in the people. The destruction of the Temple did not mean that God was no longer accessible. The seer realized this as an angel revealed a New Jerusalem. There are several interesting attributes about this heavenly city.
First of all, it was endowed with the splendor of God. In order to describe this splendor in human terms, the sacred writer references the gem stones with which this people would be familiar. Secondly, it is built in such a way as to incorporate both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. The sacred writer attributes one of the twelve tribes to each of the gates leading into the city, his way of declaring that the children of Israel were the first to receive the revelation of God’s name and presence in their midst. The names of the apostles are used to delineate the twelve layers or courses of stone that serve as the foundation of the city. Here again, the sacred writer is declaring that the holy city is founded upon the preaching the Twelve, the first to hear and the first to preach the Good News of Jesus. Unlike earthly cities, this city has no temple because the Temple is no longer needed. God lives among the people in the city. So they have no need of a place in which to gather to worship the Lord. God’s presence is manifest in the people and among the people. Even if every church in the world were to burn to the ground today, God would still be with us.
Finally, there was no sun or moon to light the city by day or night. This detail is the most interesting to me. In the Book of Genesis, God creates light on the first day. However, the sun and moon are not created until the fourth day. How could there be light if the sources of light were not created until later? The answer to this question, posed in the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible is answered in the last book of the Bible. God is the real source of light. The sun and the moon are but substitutes for the brilliance that is God’s. Because God dwells in this city, there is no need for the sun or the moon.
Our hope is built on this city for which we are all destined. We look forward to the day when we will dwell in this heavenly Jerusalem, where we will not only dwell with all who have gone before us in faith but with God as well. To prepare ourselves for that day, we need to strive to live in the light of God, to conquer the darkness of sin in our lives. When we allow Jesus, the Lamb who was sacrificed for our sakes, into our lives, he dispels the darkness caused by our sin.
Finally, the readings tell us of a decision that was reached by the first leaders of the community. Those who had been entrusted with the task of preaching God’s Word made the momentous decision to expand the boundaries of inclusion in the Church, the People of God. We might take the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church for granted. Most of us are descendants of the Gentile races of the earth. However, this decision cannot be minimized. By bringing the Good News to the Gentiles, the first followers of Jesus set aside the most ancient of all prejudices or biases. The scorned Gentiles were offered access to God along with the Jews.
As we praise God today, we do so for the gift of faith, for the gift of hope, and for the gift of love for all human beings regardless of race, gender, creed or nationality. God dwells among us all; we are all destined to live in the Holy City where God’s brilliance will shatter any darkness that threatens us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator