The power and the presence of the Risen Lord cannot be contained. For this reason, throughout the Easter season, the Acts of the Apostles describe the vitality and steady growth of early Christian communities.
“The churches throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria were left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.”
At a time when many would judge the Church to be in decline, it is important that we should learn from these Resurrection communities. Mutual encouragement seems to have been one of the defining characteristics of those early days. These were communities that “built themselves up”. Clearly the Apostles fulfilled a key role through preaching and calling the faithful together for the celebration of the Eucharist. We should not, however, underestimate the openness of these early churches to the work of Holy Spirit, in whose consolation they rejoiced. Nor should we overlook their determination to overcome the fears and prejudices that might have hindered the work of the Holy Spirit. Many had reason to fear Saul, the once zealous persecutor of the Church. Such fears were overcome, as Paul was accepted and enabled to become the great apostle to the gentiles. Let us, like those first communities, accept our responsibility for the mutual building up of the parishes in which we live. Let us have the courage to overcome the fears and prejudices that close our minds to change.
St John’s first Letter describes the love that enables any community to grow.
“My children, our love is not be just words and mere talk, but something real and active.”
This continuity between the words that we profess and the lives that we live was John’s acid test for the presence of the Risen Lord in the heart of the believer. It is only through such selfless love, shared with those around us, that we can be certain that we are the children of the truth, that we truly engage a troubled world with the presence of the Risen Lord. This, surely, was the power that drove the rapid expansion of the early Church. St John refined his words to two commandments.
“That we believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another as he told us. Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him.”
The Gospel, with its description of Christ as the True Vine, speaks to the doubts that possibly hinder our belief in the regeneration of the Church. The imagery of the Vine to describe God’s people was familiar. The prophet Isaiah had described the Israel of old as God’s chosen vine. Unfortunately, despite constant care, this chosen vine had failed to produce the fruit of virtuous lives.
Jesus revolutionised this image when he spoke of himself as the True Vine. No longer would God’s kingdom depend on the fruitless frailty of its members. The Risen Christ had himself become the True Vine, the source of a growth and vitality that sinful humanity could never find in itself.
This is not to say that we will not, at times, prefer our own ways. It is then that we hear the words of Jesus, allowing the Father to prune away everything that is not rooted in his Son.
The imagery of the vine calls us to a living communion with the Son.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.”
This is the Communion that gives growth to the Church in every generation.