‘Paul and Barnabas carried on from Perga til they reached Antioch in Pisidia.” The missionary journeys of Barnabas and the recently converted Paul demonstrated the vitality of Christ’s presence in the early Church.
The power of the Risen Christ, whose presence could not be confined to the tomb, rapidly reached beyond the domestic confines of the Church in Jerusalem. Within the span of a single life the Gospel had been proclaimed throughout the Mediterranean world.
This undertaking was not without difficultly. We hear repeatedly that Paul was rejected in the synagogues he visited. He was not deterred. In fulfilment of the scriptures he turned to the pagans, something that would have been unthinkable to the strictly orthodox that had preceded his encounter with the Risen Christ. “I have made you a light to the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
The resistance that Paul encountered as he reached beyond the boundaries of his orthodox Judaism should prompt us to reflect on our own attitudes in a changing world. The nature of our settled parishes is changing radically as we welcome immigrants from every continent. Sometimes we want to hold on to the past, feeling threatened by a faith whose cultural expression differs from our own. The presence of the Risen Lord, however, bids us reach beyond the narrow confines of our own conditioning. Christ is Risen! He reveals himself in new ways. Let us welcome him in the strangers who enrich our shores and congregations.
The Book of Revelation continues the vision of our ultimate destination as a Church. We are introduced to a huge number of believers, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language. The make-up of this gathering, assembled before the victorious Lamb of God, was in sharp contrast to the fragmented and competing powers of the Roman world.
The faith of the early Church, like our own, encountered claims that threatened its very existence.
The cult and court of the Roman Emperor demanded allegiance of heart and mind. The refusal to acknowledge foreign rulers as Lord, a title that belonged only to the Risen Christ, resulted in the great persecution. We do not contend with the power of the Roman Empire. We would be foolish, however, not to recognise the powers of commercialism and moral indifference that daily assault our faith.
If we are to be numbered among that multitude, impossible to count, we must choose. To whom does our faith belong: to Christ or to the claims of a passing world?
John’s Gospel brings faith back to the Risen Lord, describing in him the qualities that signify his continuing presence in the Church.
Christ, risen from the dead, continues to be the good shepherd who never abandons his flock. “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never
Faith, the surrender of ourselves to another, is the doorway to the fulfilment of every longing. We long to be known, to be known with an understanding that is love itself. Christ, the Good Shepherd, is that knowledge, that love and understanding for which we long. If Christ is alive in our Church, we shall become a people longing to know and understand each other.