Twenty-seventh in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35
Pope Benedict XVI, discussing the Resurrection in his book series Jesus of Nazareth, wanted to clarify that the mystery was not intended to, and in fact does not, contradict the scientific order of our 4-dimensional physical existence. Instead, it directs our attention to a dimension of existence beyond that order and in addition to it, one that when joined with the physical opens up new possibilities for life – possibilities that are part of the ultimate destiny God wills for us. Almost by way of illustrating his point, the man now known as Father Benedict asks us the question: “Can there really only ever be what there has always been? Can there not be something unexpected, something unimaginable, something new?” Today’s readings tell us, with emphasis and reassurance, that the answer is No.
Look at the journey of Paul and Barnabas recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, spreading a renewed message of God all over the civilized world, building a renewed people and including new members in that people. The message of salvation is the same as it has always been, but is now firmly rooted in the person of Jesus, His dying on the Cross and His rising to a new and glorious life. The Church which these apostles are building up is the new Israel, the restored people of God, but with its borders extended to include even the Gentiles as its citizens, for “of His kingdom there will be no end” (Greek telos, consummation, completion; Latin finis, border, limit). The renewal of creation effected by the Resurrection has “opened the door of faith” to the people of all nations, so salvation may be offered to everyone without prejudice. Something unexpected and new is indeed happening here: the tribes of God’s kingdom are being gathered across the world towards a common point, and that common point is Jesus of Nazareth.
As the new focus of a renewed kingdom, Jesus gives a new commandment to obeyed in His realm: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Make no mistake: this is not an option; this is a basic requirement! Love is the prime directive of the Lord – love like His: impartial, reconciling, and enduring all things. So important, so central is this new commandment that He goes on to say that “this is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is newness itself, a society on earth with love as its law – a love that lasts even unto death, and beyond it into new life. God still requires obedience and fidelity from those with whom He has entered into a covenant; that has not changed. But the revelation that His Law is fully realized as the faithful exercise of love, and may now be summed up in three simple words – “Love one another”? The status quo can never remain the same after such an epiphany, even if we spend the rest of our lives trying to comprehend its implications.
The Second Reading, taken again from the Book of Revelation, ties all this newness together in one beautiful and mystical image: the holy city of New Jerusalem descending from the new heaven to the new earth “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” From ancient times the relationship between God and His people has been compared to a marriage bond, both in its intimacy and its expectation of fidelity. Now that bond is shown to extend to and renew all of creation. When the voice exclaims “God’s dwelling is with the human race,” it is expressing a sentiment that is not new; after all, the Name of God dwelled in the Ark and the Jerusalem Temple, the Presence of God walked the earth in the person of Jesus, and He remains present within the intimacy of the Blessed Sacrament. But the transformation of heaven and earth and the arrival of the glorified holy city points to a total renewal of the very cosmos. “[T]he old order has passed away,” but it is not destroyed any more than the body, the soul, the life of Jesus was destroyed on the Cross. This new order is the old order more fully alive.
The author’s vision tells him, and tells us, that the new dimension of existence displayed in the Resurrection of Jesus will pervade heaven and earth, just as the Gospel message pervades all nations through the joyful preaching of the disciples. It will unite heaven and earth entirely, just as a man and a woman are united in marriage: “the two become one flesh.” And the love that endures all things, the love that resurrected Jesus, will resurrect even the dead and dying physical order and all within it who obey the new commandment.
“The One who sat on the throne said: Behold, I make all things new.” In the end His love will make us new too. But why should we wait for the end? Let that love renew us now, and through us one another.