Christ comes through the Church
6th Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles once more provides an Easter season liturgy with its first reading.
In this reading, Peter goes to the house of Cornelius who attempts to pay homage to Peter. Peter stops him, protesting that he is only human. Peter is not God. He obviously represented Christ, however. The Lord had commissioned him. The Holy Spirit empowered him.
Cornelius is a Gentile. His name suggests that he may have been a Roman. In all likelihood, the relatives and guests of Cornelius present in the house were Gentiles. Probably some or many were Romans.
For devout, loyal Jews, if anything was worse than being a Gentile, and of pagan stock, it was being a Roman. After all, Jews at the time were living under the crushing heel of Rome. Representatives of the Roman occupation were despised.
Yet, Peter went into the home of Cornelius, and these Gentiles understood what he was saying. They became part of the Christian community, or the Church. They became brothers and sisters of Christ, heirs to eternal life.
Through Peter, God reached out to Gentiles. Through Peter, the Lord encountered them.
The First Epistle of John is the source of the second reading. This epistle has given Christians several of the best-known passages of the New Testament. It calls upon followers of Jesus to love each other. It states that God is love. God’s love for humanity revealed itself in the gift of Jesus, and in the salvation achieved by Jesus for all who turn to God.
St. John’s majestic, compelling Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is a reservoir of theology, presented in the most eloquent language.
The reading’s message is frank and direct. If anyone truly loves God, then this person will keep the commandments. By observing the commandments, people live in God’s love. Living in God’s love produces joy. It imitates Christ. It creates union with God in Christ.
As the reading concludes, Jesus declares that no love exceeds the love that impels a person to surrender life itself so that a friend may live. “You are my friends,” Jesus says.
In the sequence of John’s Gospel, this passage is not post-Resurrection. Its reference to the crucifixion is clear. For us, Jesus willingly submitted to death on the cross. Through Jesus, God chose to die for us, that we might live and live eternally, because the Lord has made us the friends of God.
Then, as the reading’s last remark, Jesus instructs us “to love one another.”
The second reading makes quite clear the theological fact that loving is not simply an activity of God, rather God is love. What does this mean? It means that selfishness is absent, and everything focuses on God, the beloved. Everything resembles God, the fountain of love.
When Christians are called to love each other, they are asked to be what they should be were not circumstances upset by sin. Created by God, redeemed by God, they properly should mirror God. God is our Father, and therefore humans should resemble God, just as children bear the genetic imprint of natural parents.
We are humans, because our parents were humans. This is our species. We are God’s children, and the species of God’s children, to press the comparison, is to be like God. God is love.
Love is much more than warm-heartedness or kind gestures. The Lord is direct in the Gospel reading. It is keeping the Commandments.
How can we approach Jesus? How can we learn the Commandments, since we all are limited? Where can we find the strength to keep the Commandments?
Christ comes to us through and in the Church. It offers us the sacraments and God’s Word. Peter still lives. Jesus still lives.