Church and City

6 Easter

Acts 16:9-15 • Ps. 67 • Rev. 21:10,22–22:5 • John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Paul has a vision, which, though crafted in mind and imagination, is nonetheless a divine gift, clear instruction to set out for Macedonia. God gives the dream and the direction just as God may at times prevent advancement of the Word (Acts 16:6-8). A deep listening and penetrating discernment are therefore urgently necessary. Having arrived at Macedonia, and having remained there for some days, Paul “went outside the gate by the river, where we [Paul and Silas] supposed there was a place of prayer” (Acts. 16:13). Women are gathered at the river. Paul begins to speak, not knowing what heart awaits the seed of his sowing.

Lydia, we are told, is a worshiper of God, and she is listening, but her listening is more than curious attentiveness, more even than her own piety. Who is like the Lord our God who sits enthroned on high and yet stoops to touch an auditory nerve? “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly” (Acts 16:14). Having been baptized, Lydia then prevails upon Paul and Silas, insisting that they stay in her home. The Lord opens her heart and then chains her to love. “Who can express the binding power of divine love? Who can find words for the splendor of its beauty?” (Clement I, Letter to Corinthians). Lydia, her household, Paul, and Silas form together a beautiful catholic church, a sacramental sign which awaits the holy city, a new Jerusalem.

Lydia, we are told, is a dealer in purple cloth, a detail not to be ignored. For the church of which she is member and the holy city which she awaits is a gathering of every gift and every skill, a migration of color and song and dance. The kings of the earth will bring their glory into the holy city (Rev. 21:24). “The Lord has painted with many colors. … The Lord has founded many treasures” (Saint Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron; 1, 18-19; SC 121, 52, 53). Human culture is consummated in the holy city, various gifts assumed and celebrated and coordinated. Miraculously, the human family is gathered in peace, everyone basking in divine light (Rev. 22:5).

In the meantime, on planet earth, everything is not yet fulfilled. Creation itself, St. Paul tells us, is groaning. Creation waits “to be freed from its bondage to corruption, so that there will be one freedom, shared by creation and by the children of God when their glory will be revealed” (Ambrose, a letter, Liturgia Horarum, vol. iii, p. 152). Waiting, however, is not without hope, for in waiting the Church receives divine gifts of a real and irrevocable presence. “Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 14). Strangely, the Church groans with a deep sense of God’s absence which is itself an aspect of God’s presence. “I am going away, and I am coming to you,” says Jesus (John 14:28). The manner of his coming is often secret, but is no less real for being hidden.

Fortunately, there are some signs to which we may with confidence return again and again. The water of baptism, the bread of heaven, the cup of salvation, the book of our God, and silent wonder at the gift of creation are thin places where grace seeps in and gives a new supply of energy for the living of our days. “I am coming to you!”

Look It Up
Read John 14:23. A new home.

Think About It
Take your purple scarf into the holy city. God wants your beauty.

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