Tuesday, April 26, 2016

6th Sunday of Easter

Peace be with you.  These were the first words Jesus spoke to the Apostles when he appeared to them in the upper room after his resurrection.  They are also the same words used by the Bishop after having been “sealed with the Holy Spirit” during our Confirmation.  But what does this “peace” mean?  As our readings will show, it means allowing space for the Holy Spirit to work around us, within us, and through us…

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
John 14:23-29

How does the Church handle a problem?  This is the challenge faced in our first reading from Acts of the Apostles, which gives us a summary of the Council of Jerusalem.  The question they need to address:  Do Gentile converts need to be circumcised?  Circumcision was established under the covenant with Abraham, and codified in the Mosaic Law.  Though circumcision was traditionally done during infancy, it also was a requirement for any male who was converting to Judaism.  So what of those Gentiles converting to the Church?  Put another way, looking at the larger ramifications, did a person have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian?  The Apostles learn of some others who were teaching that this was necessary, while others felt otherwise, so all the Apostles and presbyters are called to Jerusalem to discuss the issue, coming to the conclusion that this was an “undue burden” that was not necessary.  Our Psalm response, “O God, let all the nations praise you!” reflects the ideals of the Jerusalem Council… that God’s salvation is open to everyone.

Our second reading continues our study of the Book of Revelation.  Last week’s passage showed us a new heaven and a new earth.  This week we are shown a vision of the new Jerusalem… with gated for all the twelve tribes of Israel, built on the foundation of the twelve Apostles.  Most significantly is that this new shining city does not have a temple, because the Lord now lives among us.  It should be noted that this vision of a new Jerusalem would have been quite compelling to those who first read this book because it comes to us at a time not long after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Our Gospel from John continues with a passage from the Last Supper discourse.  Here Jesus establishes the root of our Trinitarian belief by his connection to the Father and the Holy Spirit.  By loving Jesus, God the Father will return that love, and to help us stay in that love Jesus sends us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to support us and guide us.  In this passage you will also find the source of one of the central phrases used in our Eucharistic prayer:  “Peace I leave you;  my peace I give you.”  Jesus says this just before going to his death, made all the more poignant when we hear him say, “Peace be with you” when he appears in the upper room after the Resurrection.

Final thoughts:
The Council of Jerusalem is a significant moment for us as Church.  While much can be said for the questions discussed and their subsequent outcomes, perhaps the most significant element is how the Church addressed these issues:  They gathered as Church and came to consensus.  It is said that this ancient pre-ecumenical council set the model for all subsequent councils.  If the Apostles followed Roman protocol, James or Peter could have made the decision and issued a decree.  If they followed Jewish protocol they could have left the decision to the king or the governing body in Jerusalem.  Instead they all gathered, the twelve Apostles and all the leaders (presbyters) of the established Christian communities, and discussed the issues as a group, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them in their deliberations.

It is a shame that the common impression of Catholicism (even among some Catholics) casts role of the Pope like that of a king or emperor, with the rest of us dutiful (mindlessly) hanging on his every word as if it were a command from on high.  While there may be some historical precedent for this view, nothing could be further from the truth.  At its heart, the Church still addresses issues much like they did at the Council of Jerusalem:  by the consensus of her leaders.  Though the Holy Father holds a certain primacy as the Bishop of Rome, his authority still rests on the collegiality of the Bishops and those fellow cardinals who elected him.  And they all rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them with the loving peace that Christ instills in us.

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