Breath of the Spirit: Easter Determination
It is easy to lose the meaning of the Easter season in all its cultural trappings: pastel hardboiled eggs, bunnies, and candy, just to name a few. But even if we stay focused on the resurrection, it can be difficult to hold onto the big picture. We can easily see the raising of Jesus from the dead as something that God does for us as opposed to something Love continues to work through us. If we see the resurrection as only a promise of what will happen to us one day, then we miss so much of its life-changing message. Jesus’ resurrection changed the disciples’ lives then and there! It empowered them to fight for justice and gather people into inclusive communities of compassion. The resurrection is not so much a promise of happiness in another life as it is an encouragement to stay in the joy and mission of this one: to be rooted in joy and love in the face of a world which, at times, rejects it. The resurrection is not about a distant hope, but a current one; not about a remote victory for one day but a determined struggle to love on this day.
May 15, 2022: Fifth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
John 13:31-33a, 34-35
A reflection by Ann Penick
In Lystra and Iconium, the crowds worshipped Paul and Barnabas as gods. Then things turned violent. They were both beaten up. Paul was stoned, yet managed to survive. They went through three shipwrecks, then had the courage to go right back where they had been treated so horribly. They went back because people in those cities had responded to the Good News. God had been at work in a situation that was, humanly speaking, devastating and defeating.
Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps back to Lystra, Iconium, and then back to their own church community in Antioch to report on their ministry. In each city they encouraged those fledgling church communities to stay true to the faith. Whether back in those ancient biblical times or today, being a disciple has never been an easy walk nor always a popular one. Paul and Barnabas knew this and appointed elders in each church to provide for future teaching and leadership. They were able to open the door of faith to the Gentiles—which was not what either of them had set out to do.
Paul and Barnabas strengthened new believers through confirmation, exhortation, organization, and commendation. Those actions are still important today. Confirmation is to prevent Christians from giving in to the pressure of those hostile towards them. Exhortation is to help believers persevere through inevitable trials. Organization provides accountability for all church communities. Finally, commendation places Christians under God’s care. In each town where Paul and Barnabas taught, they were able to build up church communities, install leaders, and establish authority structures in the local faith community so these communities could carry on after they left.
The second reading comes from the Book of Revelation, which is often difficult and complex – also probably one of the most abused, misused, and misunderstood of the New Testament books. In these uncertain times, there are those who thrive on this book, reading into it contemporary events, persons, and nations – and often seeing doom and destruction for those with whom they disagree. But the message of Revelation is one of hope for the whole of creation – and for Christians past, present, and future. It is not a blueprint for the end of the world, but an encouragement for today! God is opening a new future for us, a future marked by the love of Jesus Christ. This gives us hope. Revelation proclaims the promise is finally fulfilled: God is making all things new.
In the gospel, Jesus offers a new commandment: love for other people is grounded in the fact that we are all human and all can be redeemed by Jesus Christ, just as we are. God wants us to experience this incredible, life-changing love, mercy, and compassion: both from our relationship with the Divine, and from the way that Love is made flesh by those around us.
If everyone in every country of the world decided to live only by the law of love as Jesus preached it—"imagine”—the world would be turned upside down—or rather, from God’s perspective, right side up! There would be no more war, murder, stealing, jealousy, anger, discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, racism, hunger, poverty, or other human sins. Jesus tells us, “I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you.” To be an authentic follower of Jesus is not to be the one who is smarter, more pious, more sacrificial, or more influential, but rather the one who is more loving.
The Gospel does not say that we ought to love, but that we love as God has loved us. We are to love without limits and without conditions! It sounds impossible! But we can begin, with God’s help, to work on ourselves. How do we learn to love as Jesus taught us? First, we try to follow Jesus’ example of healing and inclusivity. Then, we seek to let God’s peace dwell in our hearts. Finally, we go out and make a difference in the world with the unique gifts and talents God has given us.
And there is so much work to be done! With wars like the one in Ukraine, oppression in Sri Lanka, injustice and discrimination against people who are LGBTQ+ and people of color, the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic of misinformation and extremism, people starving, animals being abused, human trafficking, the list of people and causes that need our love and energy is virtually endless. But we are an Easter People and as such we refuse to surrender to hopelessness. We refuse to allow trials to keep us down because of our trust in Jesus’ resurrection and our experience of Love. We trust that from our sorrows will grow compassion and hope; that from our efforts justice will be done; that in Love Death will be overcome and new life will rise. This is the message of Easter, the core truth of the Paschal Mystery! Just as Paul and Barnabas and the other disciples faced down the evils of their time with hope and determination, so can we in our own day, and in our own lives. With faith and trust, we ask God: Help. Us. Fix. It. All.
Alleluia and Amen!
Ann Penick is originally from the Chicago area. She and her husband, Jim, live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Ann was ordained a priest with Roman Catholic Womenpriests in 2011. Ann has been serving the faith communities of Dignity Washington and Northern Virginia Dignity as one of their presiders since 2017. She also serves as one of the board members of DignityUSA. In addition, she has been pastoring a faith community of young families in Washington, DC since 2013.