The Easter readings from the Acts of the Apostles continue to underline the vitality of congregations raised to life in the presence of their Risen Lord. The first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, now brought to its conclusion as the Apostles returned to Antioch, underlines a defining aspect of our Christian faith.
In a phrase adopted by Pope Benedict to initiate the Year of Faith, the Apostles reported “all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the pagans”. The Church, and indeed every parish, must remain faithful to this missionary spirit. If we are alive in the spirit of the Risen Lord then we, like Christ himself, should live lives that speak to the world in which we live.
Very little will be achieved by preaching at the world. It is quite clear from these early accounts that believers were attracted to these congregations by the selfless love that characterised their coming together. Each and every parish can become “a door of faith” through the loving welcome that it extends to its neighbourhood.
The Book of Revelation, with its vision of a new heaven and a new earth, describes what the presence of the Risen Lord is already bringing about in our lives. The vision is centred on “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband”.
The Temple in Jerusalem had always symbolised God’s presence among his people. Through his death and Resurrection, Christ himself became the new temple of God’s abiding presence. To those who believed in him, and remained faithful to his words, he made the amazing promise that they, in their turn, would become living temples of his presence. “You see this city? Here God dwells among men. He will make his home among them; they shall be his people, and he will be their God; his name is God-with-them.”
While this vision describes the triumphant conclusion of God’s saving purpose, its reality is already lived in our communion with the Risen Lord. In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul describes us as God’s building, the temple of his presence. To be one with Christ is to be a new creation, to become the earthenware vessels bearing his presence to the world. Paul’s descriptions of what we become in Christ echo the assurance of the one sitting on the throne. “Now I am making the whole of creation new.”
In his final instruction to his disciples, Jesus prepared us for this new life. Each and every moment lived in obedience to his love ushers in the new creation. “My little children, I shall not be with you much longer. I give you a new commandment. Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.”
God’s love alone has the power to create us anew. In the words of St Paul, such love, at work in our hearts, reaches out to the length and breath, the height and depth of all that it is to be human. It takes us beyond all knowledge, bringing us to the utter fullness of God.
This kingdom for which we long comes into being as we forget ourselves, giving ourselves to the countless opportunities for love that come our way each day. “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”