FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (2018)
Psalm 22:26-28, 30-32
1 John 3:18-24
John 15:4a, 5b
“The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up…, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.” (Acts 9:30)
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles makes the early church sound rather idyllic, and, in light of the ever-present headlines announcing the dwindling number of Church goers, the Church of the Acts looks like the opposite of our present reality. Indeed, it is difficult to find peace in our world or our Church, and there is no evidence that overall the Church is growing in numbers. How much we long for that peace that only God can give. Our readings for this Fifth Sunday of Easter tell us where that divine peace can be found.
God’s peace can be found in community. Our first reading from Acts recounts the story of Saul’s arrival in Jerusalem. Things have changed for Saul, and he possesses a burning desire to “belong.” Saul desired to “join the disciples,” but they were understandably “afraid of him,” and skeptical that he could be capable of becoming a follower of Jesus. After all, his reputation as a notorious persecutor of Christians preceded him, and the disciples had no intention of allowing this wolf to mingle with the sheep. Saul found an advocate, a friend, in Barnabas, who took him under his wing and interceded with the disciples, convincing them that Saul’s life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus was authentic. Saul would become Paul, and he found his place in the early Christian community, and that community would be changed for the better because of his witness.
What would have happened if the disciples had been unable to shed their biased preconceptions of Saul? Would the Church have survived without Paul’s dynamic witness? What does the disciples’ forgiveness of Saul’s well known past say about the importance of forgiveness in the building up of the Church? Paul’s newly found faith was nurtured and supported in the community of believers, and it was there that Paul would find the peace that the risen Christ so desired to give to his disciples.
God’s peace can be found in loving. Our second reading from the First Letter of John reminds us “children” of God that we are called to “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” It is not enough for us to profess our love verbally. Our love for God must find its expression in a demonstrable love of neighbor. No peace is possible for the Christian unless their love for God compels them to reach out to their neighbor, especially to the poor and disenfranchised.
God’s peace can be found in an intimate union with God. This last of the “I am” statements of Jesus in His farewell discourse in the Gospel of John declares that Jesus is the “true vine.” The organic metaphor highlights the necessity of an intimate union with Jesus. Jesus is the vine, and on account of our attachment to that vine we are able to thrive and “bear fruit.” As “branches” we cannot bear fruit on our own. Without a genuine and sincere attachment to the Lord Jesus we are unable to “bear much fruit and become [His] disciples.” Our friendship with Jesus is like that of a living organism. His grace is meant to freely flow within us, transforming us and making us alter Christus, other Christs. It is because of that union with Christ that we can become, in God’s eyes, all that we are called to be.
Jesus also reminds his listeners that reaching our full potential as God’s children will not happen without pruning, a pruning that can sometimes be painful or difficult. The Vinedresser, God the Father, prunes off the lifeless branches in order to direct the plant’s energy into those branches that will produce both leaves and fruit. This pruning rids us of all that might prevent us from becoming the persons God wants us to be: selfishness and pride, arrogance and lust, greed and vanity, wrath and gluttony. In the face of possible pruning, Jesus declares “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Don’t separate yourself from me; don’t try to make it on your own.” It is our connection to the source of all life that enables us to produce much fruit.
It is worth asking: How strong is our connection to the vine that is Christ? Is that connection the most important thing in our life? We might also ask, how much energy do we actually draw from the vine, from God? When hardships and difficulties assail us, does our connectedness to the Lord sustain us, guide us, and uphold us? As Christians we are called to draw on the life-giving grace that flows to us from God in order to give life to others. That is what producing fruit is all about!
We began by saying that this Fifth Sunday of Easter tells us where the precious gift of God’s peace is to be found. Let us experience that peace in the community of believers, by loving our neighbor, and abiding in the ever-flowing grace of a generous God.