“The truth I have now come to realise….is that God does not have favourites, but that any body of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Just as on Sundays during Eastertide we read from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, so we do in the daily Mass lectionary which itself gives us much to reflect on the development of the first Christian communities and I would recommend the reading of this fascinating work of history to all of you as on Thursday this week we begin the traditional novena of Prayer that we may be renewed by celebrating the Feast of Pentecost.
As we see today at the centre of the early Church’s mission was the discovery of the universality of God’s love. In fact, last week at Daily Mass, from the fifteenth chapter of Acts we studied the Church’s first Council. While today we call such councils Ecumenical or in our more local Church Conferences or Synods thankfully in AD48/49 the Holy Spirit was a welcome guest as there was but one item on the agenda!
The influx of Gentiles (such as Cornelius) into a predominantly Jewish Church caused a major problem for the apostles. While the majority of the new Church were welcoming to those newly converted there was a strong lobby that all should obey the rigorous rites of Judaism alongside the celebration of the Last Supper. Leaving you to read the text of the Council, it is in Chapter 15, when you read the book, the Living Words gives this summary: -
“The Council was able to recognise from key prophetic Scriptures that God’s original plan was the salvation of the whole world.”
or in the words quoted by S James the less who shared a feast day with S Philip last week:-
“After that I shall return and rebuild the fallen house of David….then the rest of mankind, all the pagans who are consecrated to my name will look for the Lord..”
The day after the Feast of Philip and James, that is last Tuesday, saw us in England and Wales, celebrating the feast of The English Martyrs. The Office of Readings that day opens with the words of S Paul VI at the 1970 Canonisation in which he exhorts: -
“This age of ours needs especially the example of those who have given the perfect witness of their love for Christ and his Church.”
I found myself reflecting on those words in the light of my comments on the way we have of synodical government and the disunity of the Church, not that I would suggest we shall be challenged as were the Martyrs.
This leads us to the whole Christian vocation as we see set out in this morning’s Gospel: here, once again we return to the scene of the Last Supper that would have been so familiar to both Philp and James and of course S Peter. In the words of Jesus, he offers himself as the model of love, willing to go so far as to suffer danger and death to express love. This is expanded by S John in his first letter, S John who you will remember was seated next to Jesus at the supper: writing to a later Christian community John says: -
“My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God.”
The truth of the matter is, it seems to me, that what the Christian vocation is: it is to love Jesus and accept the sacrifices that that will incur; for when we speak of Christian love, we are not in the realm of sentiment, you know that warm, cosy feeling but a conscious decision to share ourselves with others; yes, to give of ourselves for the sake of another.
The early church was both vibrant and suffering but most especially open to radical new thinking, not of belief but of practice. We need to remember that Peter was hesitant to go into the home of Cornelius, because, of course, he was a Roman Soldier but spurred on by his trust in Jesus he came to his renewed understanding of God’s love. At the Council of Jerusalem there was a strong body who wished to add Christianity to their roots yet spurred on by the Holy Spirit the Apostles saw that God’s revelation had not stopped but continued. Thus, it is, I believe that Jesus reaches out to us to continue to break barriers, to reach out not only to those with whom we feel comfortable. Being a Christian is a risky business for it takes courage and conviction to understand that we must love as Jesus loved.
As I have already said the days between Ascension and Pentecost have long been observed as a Novena of Prayer, reflected in the texts of the Mass and Divine Office, for the renewing gift of the Holy Spirit. As we celebrate this 6th Sunday of Easter today, we have nearly four days to prepare for that time of prayer, let’s do so awakened and encouraged by the examples we have had set before us, that, in the words of today’s Collect: -
“that what we relive in remembrance we may always to in what we do.”
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