After the establishment of the Christian Community as the recognized official church of the empire, in the fourth century, the weekly liturgy was quite a big event. There was one church building, a basilica; the word comes from the Greek term for king, so it was an imperial residence. This was the usual place for the celebration. The faithful would gather in the center square and process to the building, but was already beginning the liturgy. They would sing and chant the Psalms as a part of the liturgy. This term literally means “work of the people”.
The Entrance Rite was literally just that, they were entering together from an already common experience of processing and singing. The presiding bishop would enter lastly and greet the community before the readings from Scripture. What remains of all that in our present liturgical form is the Entrance Antiphon or an opening song followed by the “Lord Have Mercy” which is all that is left from the longer processional litany.
These days our procession toward the places of liturgy are the streets, hallways, walkways, stairs and floors we have traveled since last we gathered. Our singing and chantings may have been emotional responses to the events of our lives as we walked or ran or crept or drove. We are a church “for distribution” and for “re-gathering” to hear and remember. We might reflect these days of procession upon the missions of holiness to which we are sent and from which we process to our King’s House. The Church is more than a building; it is the Way of processing with the King and His people.
Steven is taken before the officials who ask him about the truth of what he has been teaching. The previous fifty-four verses of the chapter from which our reading is taken is an historical recounting of God’s interventions with the Jewish people. He concludes with his telling the Jewish leaders that they were stubborn and had pagan ears. They were just like their ancestors who resisted and rejected the prophets before then.
As with Jesus, the leaders were threatened by these words and as with Jesus, they seized Steven, took him out of the city and killed him. His last words were echoes of the final words of Jesus, “Forgive them” and “Into your hands I turn over my spirit”. While all this is going on, there is a casual mention that the people were showing honor to a fiery prosecutor of these new believers, Saul. We will hear of him later and often.
The Gospel passage is taken from the last chapter of the last meal, class, prayer-service and conversation they would have with Jesus. It has the features of a “love-letter”. There are the expressions of a deep desire for union. Jesus is one with the Father and longs to share that with his friends and through them to the “world”. As with a love-letter, there are strong statements of being “sent” and a wishing to be received. Jesus knows that these friends are a “gift” from God to Him. He loves them as He knows the Father loves Him.
Jesus longs for His friends to receive that love as a part of their knowing and receiving themselves. The “world” is not here “the globe”, but those who do not and have not received Jesus as the Love-Letter from God. Jesus has been preparing His friends for their becoming incarnations of His love for the “world” to whom He is sending them.
These intimate sharings are going to be sacramentalised by the actions of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Love is shown in deeds as well as protested with words. Love is the exchange of all that one has with the other who does the same. Jesus has said the words, has lived the words and even to His totally handing over to us all the love He receives from His Father. Intimacy results in fruitfulness. All that He gave, He now gives. All that He shared with the apostles, He says now to us. He is sent to bring us to life and that life is our receiving and exchanging with that same world. Reception of a love-letter, of gifts, of any intimacy is not an end, but a beginning of living with and then beyond the experience of being so loved.
“This is the prayer of Jesus- that His believers may become one as He is one with the Father, Alleluia.” Jn. 17, 22
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook