Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
St. Martin dePorres, Lincoln Heights
(Based on Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:1014, 22-23; John 14:23-29)
"I saw no temple in the city. The Lord, God the Almighty, is its temple -- he and the lamb."
We are coming near to the climax, and the end, of the Easter season. To the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
And today three enormously powerful streams are converging in an incredible revelation.
We have been following the story of the Jesus movement in the Acts of the Apostles, even before it was known as 'church.' We began to see it face its first crucial crisis in the previous weeks, and today we will see how it resolved it. The community was compelled to take hold of its new self-identity.
Then Jesus' discourse at the Last Supper brings us up to the promise of the Holy Spirit: that he will infuse his word -- and his very life -- into our hearts.
And we have been following John's account of his visions in the book of Revelation long after the end of Jesus' earthly life. Today it culminates in the vision of where it will all end, with the Lord at its center, as its only light.
There is such rich material to pray about here. It's almost overwhelming, so much for which to praise our God.
And what's it all really about, when you pull these three streams together? It's all about freedom, about liberation -- and ironically it's all about being bound.
In the story in Acts we need to try to appreciate what a complex story was unfolding. As the good news of Jesus' risen life was spreading, they saw these Gentiles being drawn to join the movement. And so the question had naturally arisen: "To what must these new converts be bound? What must they do?" Remember, this is still a community embedded within Judaism. And for some that led to the clear conclusion that of course these new people would need to be circumcised and follow all the prescriptions of the Law if they were to be admitted to the community.
The passage we just read has cut out a scene in the middle. After the delegation had come to the mother community in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas had given testimony about the work of the Spirit in these new people. So after deliberating, the community -- under the guidance of the Holy Spirit -- comes to this incredible principle. The new converts are to be bound "to no burden beyond that which is strictly necessary!" No idol worship and no irregular marriages. That's it.
Just imagine what that declaration must have been like, for the original community and for the converts. On the basis of that principle the young church is able to let go of a practice that had defined the holy community for centuries, circumcision. And that, in the face of strong objections from the powerful members of the Pharisee party.
Commentators note that this is the central moment in the story of Acts. They describe it as the "turning point", the "emergence of the church from its matrix."
Freedom! Liberation from so much baggage they had been carrying for ages.
And in Revelation John looks at the vision of the holy city, Jerusalem, when the mission of Christ has finally ended, and he makes an extraordinary discovery: there is no temple in that splendid, glorious city.
To appreciate how startling that insight was, we need to reconstruct for ourselves the way the Jewish people had viewed their real city of Jerusalem. There was this great city surrounding the one place which was God's place, the temple (and even more, within that, the single Holy of Holies). Beyond the temple is the secular world, the world of the not-holy. To enter upon the world of the holy you must go to the temple. It is a view of division, of a boundary between the pure and the impure.
And John sees that in the completion of God's work there is no more any internal barrier in the great city, no place which is more holy than any other -- because it's all holy! In his poetic construction there isn't any need even for those natural intermediaries, the sun and the moon. Because God, and the lamb, is its light. There is no darkness. As John had said in the prologue to his Gospel, the darkness had tried to overcome the light and it was defeated.
What glorious freedom! The Spirit will be poured out on each of us. There is no barrier between us and God. (That's really the meaning of the "peace" that Jesus brings: not the end of war, but the overcoming of all that had kept us from God. Peace is perfect communion with his Father.
Freedom, liberation. But ironically with this freedom we are totally, irrevocably bound.
You know, there are some people who are totally taken up with the freedom of the Spirit. They tell us, "I've got the Spirit! There are no boundaries, no limits, we can do as we please!"
What they forget is that J\the Spirit who will be outpoured is the Spirit of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not some totally new divine manifestation coming out of nowhere. It is the Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth -- the Jesus who is alive today, for sure, but the same Jesus who had been there all along. He tells us that the Paraclete, the Spirit, will teach us "all that I told you." What we are to be given is a deeper knowledge and understanding of what he was always about.
And what was that? The command of love, of pouring ourselves out. And dying to ourselves in order to give life to others.
And not only would we understand these mysteries in a new way. Unbelievable, we would receive the power to live them our selves. There is one word of Jesus that is perhaps the most amazing word in the Gospels: "The things that I have done you will do -- and greater than these shall you do!" We are promised the power to surpass the wonderful deeds of Jesus. What liberation, what freedom!
The old limits and boundaries are gone. Unfortunately, in spite of the example of that young community of believers has frequently fallen b ack into the same temptations as the custodians of the temple, adding needless burdens to "what is strictly necessary." And if we are honest, we do it to ourselves. We continually create places and practices and little rituals that are really holy, and we reduce the places where we live our lives to the 'merely secular.'
Why do we do it? We do it because the one thing to which we are bound, the only thing that is strictly necessary; the thing on which we will be judged -- our love for our neighbor -- is too costly. It will cost us our life, as it cost Jesus his.
The truth is that we are infinitely free -- and utterly bound.
But Jesus has also assured us that it is within that boundary that we will find life. And joy. He said "I have come that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.