Acts 9: 26-31 – 1 John 3: 18-24 – John 15: 1-8
During these weeks following our celebration of the Resurrection of the lord, much of the attention in God’s communication with us in the Scriptures has been directed at how God relates to us, and how we relate to God in response. An important understanding we need to have about our religion, our faith, is that God is not distant or remote or aloof from us. Rather, God seeks to be a close part of our lives. In Jesus Christ, God assumed our human nature, became a human being like each of us. In the sacrament that is the Church, and in the sacraments of the Church, God presence becomes part of our lives, our very lives.
It is in light of this that we can hear Jesus make use of the image of the vine and the branches. If we graft ourselves to the Lord and to his love and his teaching, as a branch can be grafted to a limb or a trunk, we will be energized by his presence in our lives. If we prune away from ourselves what is dead and stifles growth, then we can develop a bountiful result.
But it is not that simple as the story of Paul’s interaction with the early Christians demonstrate. The story that is told is a very human a very human account. In a way, it is almost humorous. Paul is enthused with his new found faith but he encounters those knew Jesus and they were skeptical. He then goes among his own people, the Hellenists, those who were more affected by the influence of Greek thinking, and live in other parts of the Roman empire. Even these people wanted to kill him because they did not share his enthusiasm.
To the ideal imagery of the union with God depicted in the vine and the branches and the account and the harsh reality encountered by Paul’s new-found faith is added the encouragement found in the letter of John. We are to realize that it is in both our words and our actions that we are to reflect our Faith. No matter what challenge or opposition we might confront, whether from others or even from ourselves in the form of questions or doubts or temptations, we need to be convinced of the truth of the relationship we seek with God.
In our lives, the relationship we have with God is reflected in the relationships we have with others. As we know, such relationship are not always simple but more often they are complex We must be convinced of the value of such relationships and work to make them succeed. So it is with respect to the relationship with God. The branch must be alive itself in order to receive vigor and strength from the trunk.
It is this bond with the loving-kindness, justice , mercy and peace that is to be revealed to the world. It is what calls us to make known in our lives our faith and trust in our good and gracious God
Acts 4: 8-12 – 1 John 3:1-2 – John 10: 11-19
Put in modern terms, what we heard from the brief passage of saint John’s letter might be expected to be heard from a “motivational speaker.” This is the tone that can be heard when he writes: “See what love father has bestowed on us by letting us be called children of God” The restoration and the reconciliation that has been achieved by the Resurrection of the Lord accomplishes a whole new relationship between God and humanity, between God and us. The recognition of this fact is the basis for the enthusiasm and the joy that John expresses.
The nature and the depth of this relationship is illustrated by Jesus in the Gospel. Jesus, as we heard, describer himself in this way: “I am the good shepherd. . .I know mine and mine know me.” The image of a shepherd is probably not all that familiar to us in our own experience. But to his listeners at that time it had much significance. But to “know” someone, as Jesus remarks is more common to us. Jesus is not speaking of some divine knowledge but of how we might “know” someone in our human experience, we can appreciate their thinking. We can anticipate their needs. We ca readily respond to their wants. It is an intimate knowledge which comes from a true bond. This is the nature of the relationship God seeks with us.
Not only does the shepherd know his sheep but, as Jesus states, the sheep him and recognize him. The sheep, like the followers of Jesus, are not the noblest of animals, but they are loyal and attached to the shepherd. The bond between them is mutual.
How, then, are we to appreciate and respond to the relationship God seeks with us that has been achieved for us in the Resurrection of the Lord and confirmed by us in the renewal of our Baptismal promises? An insight is provided to is the life of the early church as it is described to us in what we heard today from the Acts of the Apostles. The faith of the Apostles and the early Christians empowered them and gave them courage.. We hear of the freedom they experienced in knowing that they were no longer captive by failure or sin. Convinced of the loving relationship with God, life could be lived with a true sense of justice and peace toward all persons.
Because of the power of Christ’s graced presence in our lives we are empowered to love without limits. We are empowered to give of ourselves trusting in God’s mercy and to grow increasingly in our potential and ability to reflect god’s loving presence in our lives.
Assured of this loving relationship that our God seeks with so beautifully illustrated in the image of the Good Shepherd, our lives, our actions and our words can radiate the same enthusiasm and joy expressed by John in our faith and trust in our good and gracious God.
Acts 3: 13-15 – 1 John 2: 1-5a – Luke 24: 35-48
Over and over again, in the encounters that Jesus had with his disciples after the Resurrection, it is made clear to us that they did not simply see him. Rather, we are told that their lives had been genuinely transformed by the experience of the Risen Lord. They went from being timid and fearful, hiding behind locked doors, to being bold proclaimers of the Gospel. Their experience of Jesus raised from the dead was not just a matter of seeing a body which had been resuscitated but a deep awareness that the conquest of death itself in the Resurrection radically changed their understanding and appreciation of life itself. Nothing could defeat or destroy being alive in Christ.
So it is that Saint Luke reports in the Acts of the Apostles that Peter so boldly preached. Peter tells his listeners that they had missed the message and purpose point of Jesus’ ministry. This is the same Peter who, a short time before, had denied even knowing Jesus. Peter’s striking and courageous proclaiming this arose from his experience of the reality of Jesus risen from the dead. This gave him, and the other Apostles, a completely different perspective on life as well as on the nature of the relationship with God that was possible because of the Spirit of God handed on to them by Jesus.
Our Baptisms, which we renewed at Easter, call all of us to proclaim that same Lord. Even more, we are to appreciate the presence and action of the Lord with us through the Spirit with us.
In what we heard today from the letter of Saint John we are gives insight into how this is to be done. If we keep the commandments, the directives of God, we can be assured that we will genuinely know God. If we live as Jesus told us, we will truly com to know him in our lives. Even beyond that, when we repent of sin and failure we will know Jesus as the intercessor who will lead us to the loving Father. This will give us the strength to overcome our weaknesses. We will not, however, experience the presence of the Lord if we allow selfishness and self will to effectively hinder the living out of the Gospel in our lives.
Our own experience of the reality of the Risen Lord differs from that of the Apostles. But, like the disciples at Emmau, we will know the Lord in the breaking of the bread, that sharing of the Eucharist in which we no participate. This experience of the Eucharist permits s every one of us to know the Lord more intimately as we are together in a ways shared with one another and as we go forth from these moments and carry out Christ’s command to love in our daily lives.
As we know and experience the Lord in the Eucharist, as we worship here and carry the meaning of this worship into our worlds, we are to be genuinely transformed ourselves so that in and through us those who are a part of our lives come to know a truly good and gracious God
Acts 4: 32-35 – 1 John 5: 1-6 – John 20: 19-31
Most of us have heard over the years, sometimes to our regret, that actions have consequences. It is exactly this idea that we can consider today as we are gathered to celebrate the Eucharist.
Last week we recalled the Resurrection of the Lord and renewed our commitment in Faith by the renewal of our Baptismal Promises. That was the action. Today we reflect on the consequences. The life of the early Christian community was briefly described for us in what we heard from the Acts of the Apostles. That community was united in life and in its activities through by the faith they shared in Jesus Christ. The community was convinced that it could succeed and be victorious over any obstacle because of their faith in the Risen Lord. This community, however, lived in the manner it did. Not because it had a direct experience of Jesus Christ, they had not seen but they believed.
The portrayal of the early Christian community is one that is genuinely idealistic. It is not unlike that certain idealism that we might have when we consider what might have been or what might be. All the idealism which we may have in life is tempered by reality. Sometimes that reality is harsh; other times it is bitter; sometimes it is defeating; other times that reality can almost eliminate all idealism.
Likewise is this true about the Christian community that developed in the Church. In the history of the Church over the centuries the hope of that idealism was quickly dashed Petty arguments arose as did self-serving heresies. Individuals, in different ways, sought their own benefits, rather than that of the community. All too often persons used the church to pursue their own purposes rather than that of being the experience of the person of Jesus Christ. Such has been, and is, the history of the Church, this community to which we belong.
Our celebration of Easter is a reminder to us year after year that idealism cannot be defeated. It must be renewed. The hope of the Resurrection cannot be dimmed. It must be strengthened. It is as if each Easter we return to that joy of Thomas when he exclaimed with amazement “My Lord and my God!”
Easter calls us to renew the idealism of our own faith a renewed idealism that, perhaps, is especially needed. It is a renewed idealism that expresses in both word and action the depth of faith in a good and gracious god