Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
We are nearing the end of the 50 days of Easter, and that is reflected in our readings. Later this week, on the 40th day of Easter we will celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord. That is an event without which the resurrection wouldn’t have much value. It also prepares us for the 50th day of Easter, Pentecost. It’s important to know where we are at in this cycle because it helps us better understand the narrative provided in our lectionary.
From the Gospel lesson today, we have a continuation of what is known as the ‘farewell discourse’ in John. This is focused around the last supper, not a post-resurrection conversation, and it’s Jesus ongoing work of preparing his disciples for a time when he is no longer there. This is, you could say, a bit of good news/bad news reading. The bad news is that Jesus leaves soon. In the original context of the reading, he is going to die, but placed where it is in the lectionary, it also points to his Ascension, when Jesus is bodily ascended into heaven. The good news is that the disciples aren’t going to be left alone. God will send the Holy Spirit to continue to guide and inspire the followers of this way. Jesus is telling his disciples, and this message is meant for us too, not to be anxious at his absence. He says, “[The Holy Spirit] will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The work continues, the message continues, and it is the task of the disciples, and now handed on to us to seek the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit in that work.
The work that continues is part of our stories from the Acts of the Apostles. Last week, if you recall, Peter had the dream about eating unclean foods and spent time eating and evangelizing with gentiles in Joppa. Today we hear of Paul, another apostle, having a very similar experience. Paul has a dream, which shows him that his work is in Macedonia. Contextually this is significant because to the ancient listener, especially Greeks and Romans, they would know that Macedonia is the mythological resting place of Olympus, where the gods live, and where both Alexander the Great and his father Philip were born. It is significant that Paul, this very observant Jew, has had this vision and goes on this quest to spread the Gospel in this place.
When Paul gets to Philippi, it is important to note that while he will be evangelizing Gentiles too, he starts with the Jews that reside there. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, and so it is to God’s chosen people that Paul first proclaims the good news. He encounters a woman there who is very interesting in how she is recorded in the Bible. Lydia, of Thyatira, who is called, “a worshipper of God”. She’s gathered with some of the local Jewish community as the narrative indicates, but her name and place of origin would point to her being a Macedonian Greek by birth. She and her entire household are baptized after she hears what Paul has to say.
Again this is an example of someone who might not be on the top of the list of ‘the right people’, but not only is the exemplar of the story but then Paul and his people go to stay at Lydia’s house. It cannot be over-emphasized that Jesus’ ministry and message are for everyone. It is our work as his followers to proclaim this message, to bring this good news to all of the world. No one is left out here.
We are all invited to that holy city, the one that John writes about in his book of Revelation. That final book of the bible can be a little tricky, and I think often in Episcopal circles we shy away from talking about it. John’s Revelation has been so twisted by modern Evangelical teaching, has been used to inspire fictional book series which people mistake for a retelling of scripture, that we often don’t want to touch it for fear of igniting that particular conversation. This is vision and beautiful poetry; John sees the holy city of Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God’s creation in the eschaton. It’s interesting that the first thing the author notes is there is no temple. Now, currently, the temple mount of Jerusalem is where the Al Aqsa mosque is, with its golden dome. It’s where the previous temples of the Jewish nation also were built and then destroyed throughout history. Here it is clear: there is no temple in this perfect Jerusalem. There is no need for a temple because God is there amongst the people.
This passage in Revelation is also the first time we hear about the Tree of Life since the book of Genesis. What better exemplifies full reconciliation with all of creation than that the tree which humanity was taken away from, was barred from accessing again, is there in the middle of that holy city for the healing of all nations.
The gates are never closed, and the nations of the earth will be there. This is full reconciliation in Heaven at the end of time and is the final realization of what Jesus is teaching, and what Paul is up to in Macedonia. We are all welcomed at the table. God’s message is for everyone and our work as Christians is to proclaim it. If we are going to claim this faith, then we must also claim the work that comes with it. Over the next couple of weeks, we will hear of Jesus’ Ascension, of the descending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the continued work of the disciples. We are the legacy of those same disciples, and just like Peter and Paul, we need to listen for the Spirit and go to the places it calls us, especially when those places are full of the wrong sorts of people.