FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 14:21-27 Rev 21:1-5 Jn 13:31-33a, 34f. Extending the Hour of Glory
A New World; The Book of Glory; The Risen Christ Present in His Church; Encouragement in Adversity.
There are myriad “revenge effects” resulting from our mechanical chemical, medical, and biological meddling in the physical world. Why, for example, are the lines at cash machines longer in the evening than those at tellers’ windows used to be during banking hours? Low –tar, low – nicotine cigarettes have encouraged some people to continue smoking. Widespread use of antibiotics has led to the development of drug – resistant strains of bacteria.
The growing use of computers has not increased productivity as expected; instead it has replaced one category of workers with a new category while requiring workers across the board to learn new procedures and skills. It has also led to the revenge of the body – the proliferation of back problems and carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by hours spent at a desk. New forms of transportation like trains, planes, and automobiles have enabled destructive pests to migrate to host of new regions where they can wreck all sort of havoc. Shipping has brought rats to more than 80 per cent of the world’s islands.
Whereas such developments were inadvertent, in other cases would-be scientists and entrepreneurs have deliberately introduced predatory creatures into new niches under the mistaken belief that they are improving or prettifying the environment. An amateur brought the house sparrow to North America in 1860 in the hope, apparently, that birds would help exterminate the caterpillars near his New York home. The destructive gypsy moth was introduced to the United States by a naturalist who may have been interested in cross-breeding the creature to produce silk. Killer bees were brought there by bee dealers intent on improving their stock with imported African strains.
There are real improvements, of course. Smallpox has been eradicated, building standards and sewage system have been improved, and seat belts and air bags have been installed in cars. But constant vigilance is required.
It is said that recent revolutionary advances in science and technology will power a new generation of cities – in enclosures, in new generation transportation, for climate control, in communication between people, for waste-management: An equally popular theme today is the fascinating and challenging adventure of building cities in space. Writers see space cities relieving the population problem on earth, facilitating the production of chemicals that cannot as easily be made in this planet, and making possible new discoveries.
Dreams of new and adventurous beginnings are nothing new. When the Book of Revelation spoke of “a new heaven and a new earth” (v.1), it was revealing a dream deep in Jewish thought since long before Christ. Throughout, this book emphasizes the newness of things; that is why we read it during Easter time, when we celebrate new life. The biblical idea of redemption always includes the earth. The earth isn’t merely an indifferent theater in which a person carries out his or her daily tasks; it is the expression of the glory of God and is the divinely ordained scene of human existence. There is an inseparable unity between the human person and nature. The creation of one means the creation of the sin-cursed creation of old: “Behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth” (is 65: 17; 66:22)
In the Book of Revelation, the former heaven and the former earth have passed away – that is to say, the temporary nature of time will turn into the everlastingness of eternity. The author’s concept is more breathtaking than models of new cities. It is based on the concept that Jesus’ resurrection isn’t some isolated once-and for-all event, but a great cosmic reversal of everything that is usual into things that are surprising, wonderful, and unexpected.
Interestingly, the author saw that the sea was no more. The sea, in the thinking of the ancients, devoured ships and sailors. Sailors didn’t have compass, so they tried to sail along the shorelines. The sea’s bitter storms may have given rise to the myths concerning monsters like Leviathan ruling over the primeval chaos. Anyone, even today, who has seen the power of the ocean, especially I storms, still stands in awe and finds the ancients’ fear of the sea easy to understand. The author of the Book of Revelation believed that, at the time of the new creation, only God could tame the brutal power and violence of such a beast. This was the best way to describe how God could be victorious over earth – which He can be, completely, in the new heaven and the new earth, if people cooperate.
The new Jerusalem (v. 2) in which all will live, is a symbol of the Church. It is a holy city because it comes down from heaven and is consecrated to God. The Church is in God’s saving plan. That plan embraces not only the entire human being and the whole of humanity, but all creation, and the Church has all of that as her mission, In view of what human beings have already done to pollute planet earth, and in the light of what their inventions are capable of doing even further to harm the planet and one another, it is essential that the Church’s mission be not to simply look after the world but to be an agent in its renovation. The author calls the Church a bride, because marriage was a metaphor often used in the Jewish Scriptures for the covenant relationship between God and His people.
A loud voice tells the writer that God’s dwelling is with the human race (v. 3). This is the fulfillment of the prophecies that foretold the intimate union of God with His people in this new era of salvation. The intimacy which the first man and woman enjoyed in Paradise and which Israel had experienced in the desert and in the Temple is now granted to all members of the People of God forever. Fellowship with God in the golden age brings happiness. He shall wipe away every tear, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain (v. 4). The words bring us back to the Bible’s beginnings, with Adam and Eve communing with God in the peaceful serenity of creation in the newness of Eden.
The words also bring us forward, to today’s passage from St John’s Gospel. It is the Last Supper, and Judas has left on his vicious mission. Jesus, in anticipation of his ascension, begins to tell how best to bring about his new spiritual creation. Though he speaks at a tragic time of approaching death, it is a time of glory, a glory that is intertwined between the Father and the Son.
Thenceforward, Jesus’ glory will be the cross. The cross is of the essence of life. In warfare, it is not so much the ones who come back who are memorialized, but those who gave their lives; in medicine, it is not the ones who have made money, but those who sacrificed to find cures and to ease people’s pain; in statesmanship, it is not the ones who made headlines for a while, but those who have provided the best for their nation and the human race.
As Jesus continues his farewell, he calls his disciples his children (v. 33), the usual address of a master to his pupils – but now, because of his imminent death, spoken with a special tenderness. Telling them he is leaving a new commandment (v. 34), he speaks of love. But what is new about that? Two big things. For one, Jesus doesn’t equate love of neighbor with love of one’s fellow Israelites, as the First Testament code had done; he extends love to all people without distinction, as he had show in his story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37). Secondly, Jesus’ commandment is new in the ideal it strives to emulate – our love should be as he has loved us.
Those areas of newness are important. Much of what goes under the name of love is selfish, thinking of what it can get rather than what it can give. One who loves as Jesus does acts in Jesus’ way – universally, including enemies; self-sacrificingly, without limit; understandingly, like people who continue to love those with whom they live and whom they know intimately, warts and all; and forgivingly, as Jesus loved his disciples, all of whom never really fully understood him when they were together, and in the end left him in his need.
What will be the results of that kind of love? Today’s first Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, gives an insight into that. The Apostles’ love, now grown to a height it never achieved in the Gospels, brought about the beginning of the new City of God. The instructions the Apostles were giving, the prayers the early Christians were offering, and the common life they were living were contributing to the development of the Church. Today’s reading reports that Paul and Barnabas, by the end of their first missionary journey of preaching a new power of good – the power of Easter – let loose in the world, had strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith (v. 22). Their very successful journey established Christianity in Cyprus, Pisidia, Lyconia, and Pamphilia to present-dayCyprus and Turkey – a journey more difficult for them then spanning the world by jet in a number of hours today. They learned that it was God’s will to open the Church to the Gentiles.
We are now living in that new place that was built by the blood of Jesus and the love of the First Apostles. We must learn how to live here well, so that the early Christians’ love, which was to the limits of endurance, has not been in vain. In the midst of our hardships and disappointments, which are no greater than the hardships and disappointments of Jesus and the first Apostles, we must continue to re-create the universe and establish a new social order. This means doing everything from caring for the environment to participating in local social and political programmes. It means, in short, to build and improve our new city. That new city is not the space-age city of plastic bubbles, climate control, living in space, and the like, but the perpetually fascinating, ever-challenging, and always needed city of the spirit.