We prepare for the liturgy of this Sunday by delighting in the realization that Jesus has truly risen and we with Him. Easter is behind us in one way, but around us and before us as well. Joy is not always an emotion we experience constantly, but it is our orientation as Christians.
We pray, not for smiles, but the quiet peacefulness which comes from union and belonging. We live joy rather than express it by whistling, laughing, and or singing. Even with tears of sadness and loss a Christian is invited to live the quiet joy of the embrace of Jesus. The living grace of the Resurrection moves us towards following Him through the carrying of our personal crosses and those of others. We are invited to pray for such a joy and to live it through all our human experiences, and that is not an easy grace to live.
While reading over the First Reading for this Sunday, I opened the tenth chapter of Acts and read the story related there in. I said to myself, “I wrote about this chapter just recently. Did I write a Reflection for the wrong Sunday?” I checked back and found that the First Reading for Easter Sunday a few weeks ago is taken from the same chapter. So to refresh your memory, I place here what I wrote then.
The context for our First Reading is delightful. Cornelius, a devout and prayerful man and a centurion of the occupying Roman army has a vision while praying in his house in Caesarea. In this vision, he is told that his generosity on behalf of the Jews has been accepted by God. Cornelius is then advised to send for Simon, called Peter, in Jaffa.
Meanwhile Peter has a vision while experiencing hunger shortly before dinner. A large sheet presents Peter a menu of various creatures and is told to eat. Peter announces that he does not eat unclean things. The accompanying voice admonishes Peter, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane.” Peter was pondering all this when the two men sent by Cornelius arrived to take him to Caesarea. Cornelius has gathered his relations and friends to listen to Peter’s words. We hear Peter’s proclamation which is a brief summary of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Peter assumes that these unbelievers have heard of the events of Christ’s death.
After Peter’s address, we do not hear this as part of our First Reading, the Holy Spirit descends and Peter announces that all will be baptized. The Jews who accompanied Peter wonder at their being baptized without their being circumcised. Peter’s vision of the unclean creatures then comes into focus. Peter and the early church is to extend the baptism of the Spirit from Jerusalem through out the entire world. All creatures are clean now in the universal love of the resurrected Jesus.
What our First Reading today adds is the actual baptism of those non-Jews upon whom God has sent the Holy Spirit. God plays no favorites, shows no partiality. All are included in the “New Creation” brought about by the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.
The Roman centurion is, to the Jewish mind, as far from God’s embrace as Rome is from Jerusalem. Peter, remembering his vision of all the various foods, extends the inclusion offered by Jesus to the ends of the earth, including the hated Roman oppressors.
What we hear today is a simple, straight-forward command, which if observed, will continue the personality and central characteristic of Jesus Himself. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Before saying this, Jesus tells them that He has loved them as deeply and intimately as the Father has loved Him. Remaining in this love will make keeping this one and only summation of all His teachings, possible and meaningful.
We are named “friends” and “chosen”. This is central to our following of Jesus. If we believe who we are; if we take our name seriously, then the actions of loving will follow. Jesus tells His disciples, and ourselves, that “you are a part of Me, as Vine, you are known, loved, and chosen to be fruitful.” The “fruitfulness” is that for which Jesus came. The fruitfulness is ourselves, beginning with the disciples and spreading through the early church to all the ends of the earth, including us.
Two weeks ago Jesus told His disciples about the “shepherd” laying down his life for his friends. Love is not always felt, but is expressed in deeds especially the generous surrendering of greeds, envies, demands, expectations. Always, this loving is easier to talk about than execute. It begins with being loved as a gift and not earned. The disciples were asked to receive their being loved by Jesus as the Father loves Him. Remaining in that love will result in remaining as “sent” and “loved” sacraments. Many books have been written about love and how to be loved and express love.
Each of us is writing that book by how we lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers, but not destructively to ourselves. We are fruits as well who are to remain whole and with joy. I have written this Reflection about love and this is easier than going out of my room right now and into the kitchen where there will be a mess, as always. Loving my brothers is easier to write about than washing, drying, putting away, wrapping up; the list goes on. Anybody know what love is that does not call for laying aside our demands to follow His command? If so, you write about it and you will be famous.
“Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” 1 John, 4
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