Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C

Sixth Sunday of Easter C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 14:23-29

Paul was constantly on the road; some places he was welcomed, others he was banned, while others he slipped in or out of with little notice.  On this occasion he is summoned in a vision, in which "there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with" Paul to come and help."  Luke provides a detailed itinerary which finally brings Paul and his companions to Philippi, "a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony."  On the sabbath, they go to a place outside the city gate in search of others with whom they might pray.  In the crowd there is a woman named Lydia, "a dealer in purple cloth."  Paul engages her in conversation, she responds, is baptized and she insists they come to her home.  Thus, the church in Philippi begins.  Paul will benefit from a warm relationship for the rest of his ministry.

This psalm enjoins all the nations of the earth to acknowledge and praise the Lord.

Inspired by Ezekiel's vision of a splendid "new" Jerusalem and by Isaiah's vision of all nations joined together in praise of the Lord, John the Divine is taken by an angel "to a great, high mountain...."  From there he sees that in the "new" Jerusalem , the Temple is replaced by the actual presence of "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb."  There is no night, because "the glory of  God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb."  The nations of the earth will be drawn to this light and, because there will never be night, the gates will never be shut.  "Only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" will enter.  Now the angel shows John "the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb" which nourishes the "tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing fruit each month" and the leaves of the tree are for the  healing of the nations."  In such bliss, the children of God and the Lamb will dwell forever and ever.

The setting is still the very long scene in John's narrative in which Jesus and his followers share what turns out to be their last meal together just before Jesus is arrested.  He addresses a Judas ("not Iscariot").  Jesus says that the love they have for him, his words and his Father are all essentially linked together.  Each flourishes with the others.  And as a further assurance, "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name" will continue to remind you of my words and will continue to teach you.  Jesus bestows his peace, which is more abiding, enduring and reliable than "the world gives."  Do not fret or worry: "I am going away, and I am coming to you."  If you love, recall my words and accept the peace I give you, then you will understand and even "rejoice that I am going to the Father...."

John's gospel makes a brain twisting claim that the presence of Jesus will intensify and spread in unprecedented ways after his absence.  "I am going away, and I am coming to you," is the way Jesus states it in John's narrative.  This paradox occurs for two specific reasons.  First, the words that were said by and about Jesus (which John shapes into his own, distinctive narrative),  go through the fire of human betrayal, arrest and execution and the intensity produces a new element-- pure love.  This new element transforms the discovery of the empty tomb into a reason for reassurance.  Secondly, those who trust these words will find themselves discovering this pure love for themselves in a way that is at least as authentic as anything those who knew Jesus before his absence did!  John rests his entire claim on the power of the words by and about Jesus-- seen through the prism of that never-to-be-forgotten Thursday night, that wrenching Friday all day and the rumors of hope that started Sunday morning-- to not just re-create soem idyllic past expereince of God's love seen in and through these events, but a new experience of God's love wherever they are proclaimed, cherished and learned by heart.

Peter Ochs is leading a bold new approach to scriptures that purposely attempts to free reading and interpretation from the confines of Modernity.  In May 2002 he published a summary of the goals of this project in The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning (see link, below), which includes a fearless assertion of the centrality of scriptures for the ills of Modernity.  Ochs insists:  "To hear is ultimately to read, and to read is, ultimately, to read scripture.  At the beginning of all our re-creative activity is the reading of scripture."  But he goes further:  "This reading of scripture is within an activity of redemptively responding to the destructions of our age and the inadequacies of merely modern answers to that destruction.  The redemptive activity of reading is more than just reception.  It is to receive the words of scripture as directives to us: that we should heal the burdens of modernity and that we should heal them in certain ways."  (from subsections "D" and "E")

This can be a useful restatement of the distinctive power of the words of scripture-- which are, by defitniton as well as expereince-- certainly not human inventions.  For Christians, they declare a refining experience of God's love that takes base, human materials and creates a new element.  John bases his entire gospel on the claim that the words by and about Jesus never lose their power and, for those on this side of Good Friday and Easter morning are even more powerful!

The power of these words is seen in another way.  The episode from the Acts of Apostles, in which simple witness from one person to a complete stranger-- Paul to Lydia-- leads to the founding of a new church in alien territory remind us of the power of these words when conveyed one on one.  But then the vision of John the Divine reminds us that these words spread like wildfire throughout the world so that those gathered in praise before the Throne and the Lamb represent the entire earth.

Jesus announces his inevitable and even necessary absence when he says "I am going away...."  But then he immediately continues that he is coming in a completely new way made possible because of his absence!