6th Sunday of Easter

16 May 2019

Acts 16.9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21.10, 22-22.5; John 14.23-29

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JESUS tells his disciples, “I am going away and I am coming to you.” Only after his bodily departure will the Spirit be poured out, so that he and the Father can make their home in them.

The Spirit, Jesus promises, will “teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”. During his earthly ministry, the disciples have continually misunderstood the Lord’s teaching. As Romano Guardini explains, their lack of comprehension is not due to the complexity of Jesus’s teaching, but flows from “the faultiness of their relationship to him: they do not really believe” (The Lord).

The disciples truly believe and comprehend only after they have witnessed Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, and been drawn into his paschal victory by his Holy Spirit; for God is not an object within the world which we can scrutinise from a distance. We can know him only when he reaches out to us. It is through his incarnation, his paschal victory, and his sending of the Spirit that God comes and makes his home within us. In Guardini’s words: “One does not ‘believe’ from a distance. One cannot consider Christ and his teachings and decide to join forces with him, cross over to him. He must come and fetch us.”

Christ promises his disciples a “peace” that is not given “as the world gives”. This world’s false peace involves a collusion with the powers of sin and death. In contrast, Christ wins our true peace by overcoming those powers (cf. John 16.33). After his paschal triumph, he draws us into his life. As St Augustine explains, “What is it he leaves with us, when ascending from us, other than his own presence, which he never withdraws? . . . It is he, therefore, who becomes our peace, both when we believe that he is and when we see him as he is.”

As in previous weeks, our reading from Acts shows how the promises made in the Gospel reading are fulfilled in the life of the Primitive Church — and the passage from Revelation shows how they will be consummated in God’s new creation. In Acts 16, we see that it is the prompting of the Spirit which leads Paul to Macedonia. As Beverly Roberts Gaventa observes, “when Paul and his colleagues attempt to steer the course, they are corrected. It is almost as if they wander around Asia Minor until God grants them a direction” (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Acts). Having guided the apostles to Philippi, the Spirit then “opens the heart” of Lydia. As Guardini would have put it, the Lord has “come and fetched” this woman and her household.

Luke emphasises Lydia’s status as someone on the margins. As Gaventa explains, she is “female, perhaps a former slave, apparently operating without a male protector, and her story begins outside the margins of the city”. Clearly, though, her means are sufficient to offer hospitality to Paul and his companions. In a pleasing echo of our Gospel reading (with the promise of Jesus and the Father to “make our home” with the disciples), her invitation to Paul and his companions is to “come and stay at my home”. An experience of the divine presence leads on to abundant human hospitality.

This pattern is echoed in our Revelation reading, in which John’s vision of the holy city is of a place completely filled with God’s presence: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” The city is characterised by a hospitality that stands in contrast to the exploitation of imperial Rome. The gates of the city are never shut.

The kings bring their glory into this city of their own free willthan have their wealth extorted. As Joseph Mangina writes, “We define our human spaces by the goods they hold in, but also by the threats they help to exclude. But the new Jerusalem rests securely in the generosity and peace of God. It is fundamentally unthreatened” (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Revelation).

The empires of this world impose their false peace by domination. In contrast, the peace of the new Jerusalem — the peace given to each disciple — is the fruit of the paschal victory by which the Lamb has conquered violence and death.

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