I.Theme – Christian communities provide love and encouragement
"The Last Supper" – Leonardo da Vinci (1495-1498))
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Today’s readings picture the love and encouragement to be found in Christian community. In Acts, Gentiles receive God’s word and the Holy Spirit just as the Jews do. John, in his Revelation, celebrates God’s final descent into our world to bring salvation and a restored world order. In the gospel, Jesus gives us a new command—love one another; by obeying Jesus, we show our discipleship.
God’s intention is to break down the dividing walls, the separations, between us and God, between us and each other, between us and creation. Jesus came to erase the boundaries, and gave us a new commandment to love one another. This commandment reframes the old: no longer are they to be about exclusion, but inclusion. No longer are people to separate themselves for God, but to come together and love one another for God. Even death will no longer divide and separate us. God’s intentions are for us to dwell together with God, as it was in the beginning. God’s desire is not destruction, but restoration. God is making all things new, and desires for us to participate in the breaking down of walls and the building up of the kingdom, or community, of God.
On earth “you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). Already the Spirit grants you peace and joy through the forgiveness of your sins. For by the cross of Christ, “God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). His Gospel is “a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11:14). He gives freely “from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6), “and death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4). He dwells with His people, adorning His Church as a bride for her husband, “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Therefore, as the Son of Man is glorified by His cross, “and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31), so He is glorified in us by our “love for one another” (John 13:35), which His Spirit works in us by His grace.
First Reading – Acts 11:1-18
During the Sundays of Easter, the first reading is devoted to a series of readings from the Acts of the Apostles,
In the four Gospels, there are a few references to non-Jews, but most of Jesus’ ministry was to his own people. It is clear that Jesus was working to reform his own people and his own faith tradition, but the movement was starting to spill over. Peter and others wrestled with this. . If Jesus truly was from God and was fully human, then it couldn’t be an exclusive message. Besides, the teachings of Jesus—love and compassion—certainly could not be kept inside one group of people, one tradition. The Way, as it was first called, was life-transforming. It was beyond a people, a culture or a single faith tradition. Peter recognizes that the walls of discrimination, even covered with the veil of tradition and religious belief, have to come down in the face of Jesus as the Risen Savior. Jesus lived and died for all, and lives again. The gifts of God are truly for the people of God.
One of the purposes of the Acts of the Apostles was to introduce Gentile converts to the Jewish roots of their new religion, and to explain how the religion broke out of the historical exclusiveness of Judaism. This reading describes some of the steps along that path.
Acts 10 narrates Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, a Roman military leader and his household, some of which is repeated in chapter eleven. In light of his visionary experience, Peter proclaims that “God shows no partiality” but welcomes faithful people of all nations. No doubt word of Peter’s baptism of Gentiles – and their experience of the Holy Spirit – spreads throughout the early Christian movement. We can suspect that some are delighted that the Jesus movement is going global in its embrace of Gentiles as equal partners. Others, especially leaders of the “mother church” are concerned that the gospel might be compromised by the inclusion non-Jewish persons: they believe the Jesus movement is best served if remains closely tied to its Jewish roots, defined in terms of ritual and ethnicity.
Peter’s action of eating with the “uncircumsized” again places him in the actions of Jesus, who eats with “outcasts and sinners.” Why did you risk your own ritual cleanliness to reach out to these foreigners They confront Peter about this disregard of the ritual law.
In his explanation, Peter tells the story of the vision he has on a rooftop in Joppa – in which a sheet of clean and unclean animals are offered for Peter’s meal. His quandary surely is a symbol of the dilemma faced by the early church, or at least the church at Jerusalem. But a voice from heaven says "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." It is only later (cf. Acts 15), that the Council at Jerusalem arrives at some decision about this.
These verses create a new set of eyewitnesses from the Christian community at Joppa. It is these who see how the Holy Spirit acts in the household of Cornelius. These actions, witnessed by others, become the points of Peter’s argument about the inclusion of Gentiles in the mission of the Church.
Peter defends his unprecedented decision to baptize the Gentile Cornelius in Acts 10 to critics who reflected the early Christian opinion that Jesus was for the Jews alone, and that faith must be accompanied by a strict adherence to the Jewish law.
Peter explains the baptism as a God-inspired act. God led Peter to recognize that the believing Gentiles’ were included in the kingdom because God granted them the same gifts of the Spirit that the Jewish believers had received (2:1-11). To withhold baptism would have been to oppose God. "’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" With this bold act, the Church understood that God’s impartiality demands the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the life of Christ.
Psalm – Psalm 148
Psalm 148 is divided into two sections, each celebrating an aspect of creation, and calling upon the animate and the inanimate to sing praise to God. The first section, verses 1-6, focuses on the heights, while the second section, verses 7-14, brings us back down to earth again. The psalm is a notable example of parallelism in which the idea created in the first half of the verse is stated in a different manner in the second half of the verse. Thus in the second verse, the first half reads: “Praise him, all you angels of his; * which is then restated in the second half as: “praise him, all his host.”
Psalm 148 summons all creation to praise God. First from the heavens–by angels, sun, moon, stars and celestial waters—and then from the earth—by sea monsters, seas, weather, rocks, trees, animals and people–the praises of God resound.
We are reminded that the relationship of God with creation is not just us (humanity) and God, but between us, God, and creation. We are called to join with creation in praising God, not ignoring or defiling creation. This psalm reminds us that God is the one who has created all, and that all of creation participates in the worship and celebration of God
In verse four we have an image that relates to the ancient near eastern cosmology that is foundational to the Genesis creation account. The “highest heavens” are reflected in the parallel “you waters above the heavens.” “The waters” refer to the Firmament (cf. Genesis 1:6) – a dome or bowl that divides the waters on the earth from the waters above the heavens. The Hebrew suggests that this separation was like a “hammered dish or bowl”.
The second section invites praises from the earth. All of creation is bidden to praise God, from trees, mountains, and creatures that crawl to the rulers of the earth and all people. In the final verse we see the result of this praise. God becomes the strength of his people – sometimes translated as “He has lifted high the horn of his people.” And the people praise God, and God chooses Israel to lead his praises.
The radical amazement, inspired by Psalm 148 leads to practices of radical inclusion. If you are touched by God, then you are inherently valuable and deserve affirmation, respect, and ethical consideration.
The biological, religious, and cultural diversity, affirmed in both Acts 11 and Psalm 148, is not a fall from grace, but an avenue for revelation. As Genesis creation accounts narrate, as the universe emerged bringing forth new species of animals and plant life, with each step God proclaimed “it is good.” God parents forth diversity and nurtures ongoing diversity as part of God’s aim at beauty.
Epistle – Revelation 21:1-6
The Book of Revelation sought to encourage persecuted Christians. Revelation 21 describes the emergence of God’s new creation. "And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Here it takes as a symbol the ancient, city Jerusalem, long a token of God’s favor to the Jews. The image of a new Jerusalem speaks of God’s favor extended and made permanent.
Once the first creation has disappeared and the wicked have been driven off to punishment, all that remains is to wonder at God’s eternal magnificence, reflected in the new creation. Because of its association with brutal storms, raging waters and myths of primeval chaos, the sea no longer exists. Such violence is not compatible with the peace of the world to come.
God then provides a new Jerusalem—a holy city because God dwells in it–that suggests the intimate union of God with the chosen people. “The home of God among mortals” fulfills God’s promise to “be with us” (Exodus 3:12) and Jesus’ assurance that “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The image of a new Jerusalem: The ancient city Jerusalem had long been for the Jews a token of God’s presence with them. God had aided them in capturing and holding it, in making it their capital, in building the Temple there, and in returning to it after their exile in Babylon. Within the holiest chamber of the Jerusalem Temple, they kept the stone tablets of the Law given to Moses in an enthroned chest known as the ark of the Covenant. God was thought to dwell in a particular way in the space above the ark. This all gives richness to the image of a new Jerusalem. This is, in the end, a metaphor for the Church, which is always called to reveal to the human race God’s presence among us.
In this new Jerusalem, God is not content with isolation, polarization, and rugged individualism. God seeks an interdependent healing community in which we find wholeness in God’s embrace. While God transcends the world, God is within the world – the home of God is among mortals. It is here in the pastor’s study and in the worship space. God is here, bringing forth a new earth, providing comforting and reassurance to those who have suffered persecution.
In an expansive universe, our faith and practices should also be expansive. Diversity beckons us to grow in relationship to the experiences and practices of others. Faith is a holy adventure, advancing toward rainbow colored horizon and beckoning us to widen the circle of grace.
Gospel – John 13:31-35
John, chapter 13, begins Jesus’ long Passover supper discourse. Here he speaks of his coming passion as his glorification. In the same breath he reminds his disciples to love one another. The end of Jesus’ life is near. The appearance of "some Greeks" in 12:20 appears to be the event which marks the approach of "the hour," which, in the fourth gospel, is a term used for Jesus’ crucifixion. When these Greeks wish to see him, Jesus says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (12:23).
For John, “glory” means a visible revelation of God’s presence and holiness. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection manifests God’s glory in the fullest sense. The cross is not a humiliation but a glorification and the revelation of God’s plan for salvation. " . Death on the cross is glorification because it resulted in resurrection and exaltation. Jesus’ own glorification only serves further to glorify the Father.
At this point, the fourth gospel begins ratcheting up to new levels of intensity. The "hour" is a time of crisis. Jesus is "troubled" (12:27) but nevertheless asserts that he came precisely for the "hour" when he would be "lifted up" and "draw all" to himself (12:32).
In 13:1, the significance of the "hour" is stated explicitly. It is when Jesus will "depart from this world and go to the Father." He washes the disciples’ feet (13:1-11) as an example (13:15) for the disciples to follow. Then, Jesus is again "troubled" (13:21), this time because he will be betrayed by Judas who has just "gone out". The fourth gospel tells us, portentiously, that it is night (13:30).
John 13:31-35 is a familiar passage. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is asked a question about which is the greatest commandment, and Jesus replies with both the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4 (Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind), and adds a second: “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But in John’s Gospel, the Shema isn’t there.
Instead, Jesus says that he is giving them a new commandment. In what way was this a "new commandment"? Had not Leviticus 19:18 also encouraged loving one’s neighbor? Yes, but in that instance, the exhortation was to "love your neighbor as yourself." Here, the disciples are to "love just as I have loved you." Jesus’ love becomes the model for all love and the basic obligation of the new covenant. God’s unconditional love has been revealed in a new way in Jesus. Jesus is more than the standard for Christian love; he is its source. His love is both affective and effective, bonding the Christian community and bringing salvation
This takes place just after he has warned them that he will be betrayed, just after we are informed that Judas is the one who will betray him—Jesus tells them they must love one another. If we have love for one another, everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. Even the ones who betray us and hurt us, we are called to love. Even the ones who deny us (the passage goes on to foretell Peter’s denial). We are called to love.
The Jesus in John’s Gospel realistically recognized that because we cannot see God we cannot directly return love to Him. Love for the Father can only be expressed in love of all our brothers and sisters. A second element of newness concerns the norm and standard — no longer a healthy self-love ("as yourself") but the more demanding personal example of Jesus ("as I have loved you"). Finally, this commandment is new by reason of the object. "Your neighbor" has been replaced by "one another." Such reformulation gives us no permission to hate our enemies; rather, it insists on the absolute necessity of love within the whole Christian community. This is the bottom line "by which all will know that you (really) are My disciples."
The embodiment of Jesus’ command to love – and this commandment is grounded in God’s love for us and not our own achievements – was the motive force behind the growth of the early church. Church historians note that the Jesus movement grew not only because it presented a meaningful vision of life and enabled people to trust their lives to a loving God, but also because the earliest communities embodied Jesus’ own radical hospitality in caring for widows and orphans who might otherwise become prostitutes or put out on the street, affirming women as equals in the faith, providing burial services for members and outsiders, and by supporting the sick, unemployment, and orphaned