Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 26, 2019
Reading 1: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Reading 2: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
Gospel: John 14:23-29
I take to heart these readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. I am hungering for the peace of Jesus promised in the Gospel. I want to see the vision of the New Jerusalem of which Revelation speaks, for it bears the eschatological hope of a world illuminated by God’s love and reflected by its inhabitants. And finally, the reading from Acts of the Apostles narrates perhaps the most significant decision of any church “council” — shall we widen the space of our tent and include the wholly other “Gentiles”? Promise, vision, and action — the Sixth Sunday of Easter is not only a continuing celebration of the Easter event, it is the map to our own Pentecost.
This Sunday’s Gospel reads as a foreshadowing of the gift of the Spirit in John 20:19-23. Today, Jesus tells the disciples, “peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). He will greet them with peace after the resurrection. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21). The advocate sent by the Father will teach and remind the disciples all that they learned from Jesus (John 14:26). This advocate is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), which Jesus would breathe upon the disciples (John 20:22). Jesus makes good on his promise to return (John 14:28), by appearing to the disciples despite the locked doors (John 20:19).
A repeated description of the character of God in the Old Testament is faithfulness. God is trustworthy. God fulfills God’s promises. As the incarnation of God, Jesus embodies that same fundamental character. Jesus promises that if one loves him and keeps his word, the Father and the Son “will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23). The Advocate to come will be the abiding presence of the Divine, dwelling within the believer. A key word in that promise is “if” — if I love and if I keep his word. We have a responsibility here, a response to make. But there are no stipulations on Jesus’ gift of peace. As we re-member ourselves around that last supper table in John 14, we may not yet know how to fully love and keep his word, but we can take comfort that along the way of learning, we abide in Jesus’ peace.
The writer of Revelation doesn’t point us in the direction of how to live into Jesus’ promise, but he does paint a picture of our destination. Borrowing from prophetic imagery, in today’s second reading, we hear Ezekiel’s vision of the new Jerusalem (Ezek 40-48) updated for a later period. Traditionally, the remnant of the faithful would be gathered in Jerusalem to await the messianic age (Micah 4:6-8). In today’s reading, that wait is ended. Jerusalem is presented as a bride of the Lamb (Rev 21:9) and the city symbolizes the Church. The wall surrounding the city consists of twelve courses of stones, representing the apostles, the foundation for the Church. The seer describes a city shaped like a giant cube (Rev 21:15-17), a symbol of perfection (1 Kgs 6:19-20), that needs neither sun nor moon for the glory of God illuminates it.
The reading from Revelation widens our vision. It’s not just a me and thee thing with Jesus. The seer of Revelation gives us a glimpse of how we as church, as people of God, can live into the promise with hope. But the gift of peace and the vision of a perfected community on earth require something of us. A decision and an action.
The center point of Acts of the Apostles is the “official” opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles found in Acts 15. In today’s first reading, we hear the authoritative letter composed by the Jerusalem church on the question of the admission of the Gentiles. All the laws followed by the Jews were not to be forced upon the Gentile believers. They need only abstain from idol meat, from blood, meat of strangled animals, and unlawful marriage (Acts 15:29). These restrictions are absent from Paul’s version of the Jerusalem Council described in Gal 2:1-10 where no restrictions were placed on the Gentiles. Luke may have conflated two different events: a council that dealt with questions of circumcision and a decree concerning dietary laws for Gentiles. Though Gentiles had come to faith during Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey, the Council of Jerusalem now makes possible a wholesale evangelization of the Gentiles.
Had the first apostles and disciples held onto a narrow vision of Jesus’ purpose, had they hoped in restoration rather than new possibilities, likely the church as we understand it today would not have existed. The admittance of Gentiles into the community of Good News radically and forever changed the face of the church. That decision, as Luke presents it, opened the peace of Jesus to all, allowed for a shared vision of the future, and invited the other to love Jesus and demonstrate that love through works of mercy and justice.
These readings stand as a litmus test of sorts to measure our own faith. We may readily welcome the peace of Jesus, happy to embrace the eschatological hope envisioned in Revelation but do we continue to respond with love and action. Do we welcome the other in the spirit of Acts? Are the marginalized offered a seat at our table? Are we, like the Apostles, willing to risk making decisions to include rather than limit? Any less is not worthy of an Easter people.
Professor of New Testament Studies