Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 24th, 2016)

The four Gospels testify to the marvelous and mysterious revelation that God has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life. Each of the four Gospels provides a unique vantage point, a perspective that imparts to us a vision of the revelation of God in Christ- God, who has, as I just stated, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.

What this means is that God, the one, true God presented himself to the world in a body, a human body- the human body of Jesus of Nazareth.

Through this human body of Jesus, God revealed the truth about himself, but also revealed the reason why he created us. He further revealed a way of life through which we could show ourselves to be his friends. All this is what the testimony of the Gospels is about, but most importantly, the four Gospels are about who the Lord Jesus really and truly is- not just a prophet or teacher or activist or politician, but God.

Once you “get” this, that Jesus is God, you “get” what the Gospels are all about. The Gospels are testimony, distilled into stories, from people whose lives were changed because they encountered in Christ, not just a great man, but the one, true and living God! That was the experience that surprised them, shocked them and changed their lives.

The four Gospels present testimony to the revelation of God in Christ as he presents himself in his human body. The New Testament book that serves as a follow up book of the four Gospels, called “Acts of the Apostles” presents testimony to the revelation of God in Christ in a new kind of body, the body of Christ called the Church.

The Church presents select excerpts from the book called “Acts of the Apostles” throughout the season of Easter at Sunday and daily Mass, and each of these readings from the book of Acts is intended to help us to understand how the Church is a marvelous and mysterious encounter with Jesus Christ.

Throughout the Book of Acts, God in Christ intervenes in extraordinary ways to bring people into the Church and also, he begins to act through the Church to continue his mission. The Book of Acts presents the Church as saying and doing the kinds of things that the Lord Jesus said and did.

The point is this: God in Christ has not disappeared, but he remains really present and available to the world in the Church. If the revelation of God in a human body was a surprise, the continued revelation of God in Christ in the Church is also a great surprise.

It remains a surprise to many Christians, as the Church has become, not the marvelous and mysterious Body of the Lord Jesus living and acting in the world, but merely an institution or ethnic identity or social club. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with these kinds of things, but when this is all that the Church becomes, we are getting the Church wrong and missing the point.

The Book of Acts insists that the Church is, marvelously, mysteriously, Christ’s Body- the continuation of the revelation of God, and as such, the Church is a route of access to God and the means by which God offers the world a relationship with himself, and it is through this relationship with Christ in the Church that we become God’s friends.

There is a lot to think about and pray about in what I have just said about God, Christ and the Church. It all may seem hard to understand or difficult to believe, but what I have just said is significant as we live at the time when people, even Christians, are struggling to understand why the Church is necessary or important.

Often times, in our own struggles to make sense of the Church, we reinforce the reduction of the Church to an institution or ethnic identity or a social club. We do this, not out of malice, but because these things are accessible and easy ways for us to understand. But the fact of the matter is that those categories are not what the Church really and truly is or meant to be.

The Church really and truly is an encounter with Jesus Christ, living, present, and active in our lives and in the world. This is why the Church is important and why the Church is necessary.

That’s the lesson that all these scripture readings from Acts of the Apostles are all about.  If the revelation of Christ in the Church seems blocked for us or obscured, maybe this is because we have grown accustomed to thinking about the Church as if it is just an institution, or ethnic identity or social club, and because he are paying so much attention to these things, that we are missing revelation of God in Christ and the relationship that he offers to us in the Church.

The second scripture for Mass today is an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Revelation- one of the strangest, and most often mis-understood books in the Bible.

The Book of Revelation presents what human history looks like from the vantage point of God, and since God sees the deepest meaning and purpose of our lives and experience that we often cannot or refuse to see, what is described in the Book of Revelation seems strange, if not unintelligible to us.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Revelation presents what the Church looks like from God’s perspective, how God sees and understands the Church, and how God sees and understands the Church is not as an institution, ethnic identity or social club, but as his bride, as his spouse, as his wife.

The lesson here is that God understands the Church as a relationship, a relationship with us that is best likened to the love that is shared by a husband and wife.

That’s how God in Christ understands his own relationship with the Church. It might be helpful if we used God’s understanding as the means by which we come to understand our own relationship with the Church.

Finally, Christ, in his Gospel proclaims the primacy of love in terms of his relationship with us, and our relationships with one another.

Love is a nebulous term in our culture, and it has come to mean affirming a person as they are or as giving a person what they desire.

Christ does not intend any of this when he speaks of love. What Christ means by love is willing the good of another person. Love is willing the good for another person. It is not just affirming a person as they are, but willing for that person what is good. It is not just giving a person what they desire, but giving them what is good.

The greatest good we could offer anyone is to make our life a sacrifice on their behalf. This is true love- to make of your life a sacrifice for someone else.

This is what Christ does for us. And this is what Christ asks us to do for one another.

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