5th SUNDAY OF EASTER (A) MAY 10, 2020

Acts 6: 1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2: 4-9; John 14: 1-12

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE: We have posted a review of Donald Senior’s: "Jesus: A Gospel Portrait" on our webpage. Go to: https://preacherexchange.com/ and click on "Book Reviews." There you will also find past book reviews listed at the bottom of the page.

These Pandemic lockdown days are especially difficult for prisoners. You might consider dropping a card to one of the death row inmates listed below – we list three different names each week.

Our reading from Acts gives modern Christians a reality check. The Easter season is a strong reminder that we are a diverse community united by our faith in the risen Lord. But we don’t always feel so united, or express our unity. We are aware of controversies, small and large, in our local, national and international church. Indeed, our differences and struggles can be so strong they break out on the evening news. It is not just about church scandal; but other issues as well. In the diocese where I am currently preaching, for example, there is a bitter controversy between diocesan leaders and parishioners being played out in the media over which parochial schools are to be closed by September, and this is not in response to COVID-19.

The growth and enthusiasm of the early church tends to get emphasized in the Acts of the Apostles. When we compare our present church scene with the one described in Acts, we can feel like inferior Christians, a long way removed from our ancestors – the "true Christian" community. But today’s first reading dispels our fantasies about that "ideal" first generation of believers...they had their problems too!

It seems the Greek-speaking Jewish converts (Hellenists) in the community felt their needy were being neglected by the more dominant Hebrew speakers. The Hellenists challenged their leaders on this issue and, in effect, got the early church to face diversity and equality among its members. Early in Acts we discover that the community was already preaching about their risen Lord. But as a sign that Christ was truly alive and in their midst, his followers would also have to continue his works – by not showing favoritism and by reaching out to feed the hungry and neglected in their own community. That is the challenge the believers face in today’s passage.

What is remarkable about the early church is that the "whole community" was called upon to choose those for whom the apostles were to pray and lay hands. These chosen would be the ones to feed the hungry in the community’s name. We pray that current local and church struggles don’t divert us from our primary concern as the baptized – faithfully proclaiming the Word of God and serving those in need, especially our vulnerable sick and elderly cut off from their loved ones and vital supplies during this pandemic.

Today’s gospel takes us back to the Last Supper. This seems strange since we are in the Easter season and expect such a reading during Holy Week. But our own times are reflected in this reading. Jesus’ impending suffering and death will have unsettling effects on the disciples. He is preparing his followers, not only for "the hour" of his passion and death, but also for the subsequent days during which they will find themselves without his daily, visible presence for guidance and strength. These times will become very difficult for them as they are for us now. So he is reassuring that we will not be left to navigate through the storms on our own.

Jesus makes another "I Am" statement. Whenever he begins speaking to his disciples in this way, we know he is pronouncing another truth about himself that will form the foundation for faith in him. He says to those around the table, that he is "the way" to God. Instead of all the legalistic observances their religious leaders insisted upon in order for people to get right with God, believing in Jesus takes us into God’s grace-filled presence. Jesus’ "way" of loving is also the way for us to live.

He is "the truth" we can trust. He has taught us about God’s nature and we trust that what he said about God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness for us is true. If someone preachers another "truth" about a harsh, avenging and exacting God, we ought to reject that message. Instead, we trust that Jesus himself is the truth about God and by living Jesus’ truth will be how we live out God’s will for us.

We are not just obliged on our own to live according to Jesus’ life; not just asked to model our lives on his. Rather, he is "the life." When he tells his disciples, "I am going to the Father," he promises that he will come back to take them to himself. As we approach Pentecost we yearn again for the Spirit Jesus promised us that will take us to himself, unite us with him and empower us to live the life he lived. This Spirit is his life for us and quickens our own spirits, enlivening us so we can live Jesus’s life. Through the promised Spirit, his is "the life" that is now within us.

A class of Catholic high school graduates had a home-coming celebration. They chose today’s gospel as one of the readings for their worship celebration. The choice of scriptures seemed to be a natural, for Jesus speaks about going to prepare dwelling places for his followers and coming to take them to himself - isn’t that a true homecoming? The graduates had traveled a long distance since their high school days and they were excited about their "homecoming," for they wanted to celebrate the close ties and support they felt during their school days. They were lucky, because of the "stay-in-place" requirements, most students must forgo any homecoming celebrations and even graduation ceremonies!

Jesus’ statement about being – "the way and the truth and the life" – does promise us all a homecoming. In fact, those who knew him experienced the "dwelling places" he had provided for them. They learned that these dwelling places weren’t just reserved for the next life. His life was a work that provided a homecoming for all. When he sat at table with people there were no place cards indicating rank and favorites. There was no list of places reserved for the most accomplished of the world. Jesus promised rest for the weary, comfort for the comfortless. All found a place of honor in his presence – all were invited to feel at home with him and his Father.

People felt at home with Jesus: wherever he went he offered a dwelling place to those he met. For example, unlike other religious leaders, Jesus talked to women in public, counted them among his followers. He put people ahead of religious customs, if they were sinners and considered unclean and banned from ritual, they would find a home in his company, for he was God’s presence to them. When Jesus turned to the criminal on the cross he promised him a dwelling place with him in paradise. Even those caught in sin, like the woman caught in adultery, found in Jesus a place of forgiveness and acceptance. In many ways he was saying to those who came to him, "Welcome home."

Jesus provided a "homecoming" to all who heard his words and accepted him as "the way...the truth... and the life." His message: in God’s Word there is a home for all, "Let’s let bygones be bygones....make yourself at home....put aside your heavy burdens, ambitions and sins... be accepted for who you are, a child of God. I have prepared a place for you, and that place is secure in God and awaits you in all its fullness. Your acceptance of me gives you a secure dwelling place in God even now."

Meanwhile, keeping our eyes on the final homecoming and the dwelling place we will have with God, what shall we do now? We ought to look around: is there anyone we can make feel at home – those of lesser economic, social, or cultural status? Who are those who have achieved less in the world’s eyes, but need to know how important they are before God? How can we make them feel at home? If we have faith in Jesus’ name then we need, through our words and works, to make the places we live, work and socialize, dwelling places that reflect the presence of Christ.

Faith in Christ is a dwelling place that empowers us. We have security in him and, as we gather for Eucharist, our worship should feel like home to all those who come – the "regulars," and those we rarely see. But we know some in our gathering don’t feel entirely welcome and equal. They don’t feel our gatherings places are their homes too: some single parents, divorced, gays, women, immigrants, migrants, etc. We pray that, while we find a home in Christ, we be strengthened to work for a church and a world that will be home to all. We wait for the Pentecost Spirit with anticipation of a renewal we cannot accomplish on our own.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: