The Church’s first scripture for Mass today is an excerpt from the New Testament Book entitled Acts of the Apostles. We have heard select passages from the Book of Acts since Easter Sunday.
The Book of Acts presents Christ as living, present and active in his Church. Once, Christ revealed his divine life and presence to the world in the body of his Incarnation, but now he reveals his divine life and presence in the Church.
This is what the Book of Acts is all about.
The Book of Acts also presents a glimpse into what the early Church was like and we learn that the Church was governed by the Apostles, who served as stewards and priests for the Church. In today’s excerpt from Acts we learn that the Apostles appointed and ordained deacons for the Church who would serve as their assistants.
A lot of preachers will use this scripture as a means by which to talk about how the Church is organized, governed and ordered for mission. All this is good and true. The Church is not whatever we want it to be. The Church has a structure and a form which is given to us by Christ through his apostles. We receive this structure and form in good faith and the Church flourishes when we cooperate with the structure and form that Christ wills for his Church.
But the structure and form of the Church signals a deeper truth that can be unsettling to many- that the reality of the Church is not just about matters of the spirit, but matters of real, living bodies.
The Church is not just a spiritual reality, it is an extension of Incarnation of God in Christ in the world- and the Incarnation is not just a spiritual reality, and as such, neither is the Church. The New Testament describes the Church as Christ’s Body, highlighting a physicality of both the Incarnation and the Church and this physicality signals to us that neither Christ or his Church can be properly appreciated or understood if our reference points are only ideas or feelings.
Coming to know Christ and the Church is best understood as being like coming to know a Body.
Many folks prefer a spiritualized Christ or a spiritualized Church because the experience seems cleaner and less intrusive. Bodies can be off putting and are not easily under our control. That Christ and his Church are precisely this- off putting and not under our control- makes some people wary and nervous.
But you can’t know God in Christ without accepting his Incarnation “in the flesh” and you can’t know Christ in the Church without encountering the physical means by which Christ makes his divine life and presence known in the bodies of those Christ has chosen.
The glimpse our first scripture provides of the early Church does not present an image of the Church where things are easy and free of conflict. The Church is not meant to be something where we evade the reality of human existence or live in denial of the raw facts of life. Christ did not deny himself these experiences and the Church is perfected in our identity as the Body of Christ by accepting that holiness happens to us in our acceptance of the reality of the circumstances of life, rather than trying to flee from them.
You cannot truly know God without Christ and you cannot truly know Christ without the Church and your route of access to both will inevitably be an encounter with the reality of a body
The Church is a Body, but it is also a Temple- this is the image that the Apostle Peter provides for us in our second scripture.
What is a temple? A temple is a place that is set apart for God’s purposes, through which God encounters humanity and humanity encounters God. It is also a place a sacrifice, where we surrender to God that which best and most valuable to us. A temple displays to us in a concrete structure and form what a relationship with God looks like.
If we are intended by God to represent his holy temple, what might that mean?
Well, consider your life, the manner in which you live, what you value and how you express those values. Consider what you are willing to make sacrifices for and the kinds of sacrifices of you make? What is your way of life, from that you can understand what kind of God that you worship and the kind of temple in which you worship your God. Think of your temple as your way of life.
If you are a Christian, your God is supposed to be Jesus Christ it should be clear from your temple, that is, your way of life, that he is your God and your ultimate concern is fulfill his will and purposes for your life.
But is this really the case?
Let’s bring it closer to home. The worship of the Church is temple worship. Our church buildings are not just gathering spaces or meeting halls or faith based entertainment centers, they are temples. The divine presence is in this temple, because the Blessed Sacrament is here. Our worship is not just songs, stories and faith-based self help lectures. Our worship is made real in a sacrifice. In this temple, the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood is offered and through that sacrifice God establishes a relationship with you. That is what Holy Communion is. God in Christ makes himself really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
This place is made a temple because of the divine presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and you are made a temple if and when you receive the divine presence of Christ as food and drink in Holy Communion. You become a temple!
You become, in your reception of the Blessed Sacrament, a movable temple, ranging about in the world, and as such you are meant to be a place of encounter with God in Christ- people should meet God in Christ in you!
Is this what your intention is when you receive the Blessed Sacrament? Do you know that you are accepting that you are a temple, a bearer of Christ’s divine life and presence into the world?
What kind of temple are you? Are you a worthy dwelling place for the one, true God? Does the divine life and presence of Christ have pride of place- is he the central focus of your life or the divine life and presence of Christ pushed off somewhere to the side or hidden away? Is the temple you have created to receive him unworthy and inadequate? Are you an occasion through which people encounter Christ or is the sanctuary of your life so cluttered with false gods that you are not so much an occasion of encounter with Christ but an obstacle to him?
Your manner of life reveals the kind of temple in which you receive Christ.
Finally in his Gospel, Christ Jesus testifies that he is the way, the truth and the life.
What does this mean?
It means the Christ is the way, because he is the privileged route of access to God. It is through Christ that we come to know the one, true God and we discover to our surprise that knowing God is not simply a matter of ideas or feelings, but a matter of a relationship with a living, divine person. And this living, divine person makes himself known to us in Christ the Lord.
Christ is the truth because he reveals the truth about who God is and who we are. In this revelation, Christ falsifies the claims of the devil who accuses us before God of being nothing more than beasts, unworthy of God’s love and mercy.
God in Christ reveals in his acceptance of a human nature, that the devil is a liar and that God gives to us in Christ a dignity beyond what any of us could ever deserve, a dignity that makes us, in Christ, the sons and daughters of God!
And Christ is the life, not just a merely human life, but the divine life. Christ offers this divine life to us, so that we can much more than what our limited expectations impose. To be in relationship with Christ does not simply mean to have faith-based experiences or feelings, to be in relationship with Christ means to literally share in his divine life.
How does this happen? It happens in the Sacraments of the Church. The Sacraments are not just cultural customs or symbols of community values. The Sacraments are revelation of God and the means by which we can participate in and receive Christ’s own divine life.
If it is the deepest desire of your heart to receive Christ as the way, the truth and the life, then repent of your sins, profess faith in Christ and offer your life to him and having done all that, then come forward to receive his divine life and presence in the most holy sacraments of his Body and his Blood.