5 Easter, May 19

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Rev. 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

A child asks of the Passover, “What do you mean by this observance?” (Ex. 12:26). The Vulgate Bible, saying essentially the same thing, uses the word religio for observance, and yet there is something distinctive and stark about the Latin way of construing the question: “Quae est ista religio?” Literally, “What is that religion?” In our time, this has become a burning question; and, as we are learning every day, the answer has real-life consequences. For our good and our harm, the clearer the answer and the more scrupulous and numerous the observances in daily life, the more powerful religion is for personal identity and social cohesion within one group. This, of course, heightens the possibility of conflict between different religious communities.

We have been warned. Religion may be dangerous. There is, however, by vision and wonder, a way of moving outside the limits of religion. Consider this story. “When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air” (Acts 11:2-6). A voice from heaven commanded Peter to kill and eat. He objected, seeing unclean animals. Then he heard this: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 11:9)

After the first reporting of this vision in chapter 10 of Acts, Peter was led to the house of Cornelius. Speaking with Cornelius and other Gentiles, Peter said, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28). With this vision and this visitation, the dividing wall of religion is thrown into the depths of the sea. Henceforth, the preaching of Jesus Christ is the preaching of peace to every creature and to every person. “He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36).

We may have our own vision of a sheet from heaven. In it we see angels and hosts, sun and moon, shining stars, the heaven of heavens, waters above the heavens, the earth, sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous winds, mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild beasts and cattle, creeping things and winged birds, kings of the earth and all peoples, young men and maidens, old and young together. With the eyes of faith, we see things becoming new, and God making a home among mortals. Tears are no more. Crying and pain are no more. Death is swallowed up by life. God is all in all, and we are in God with Christ.

Seeing this vision, we cannot hate our neighbors. We cannot fantasize long about Us and Them. The whole creation is the raw material of a New Jerusalem. “O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your Son to preach peace to those who are far off, and to those who are near”; “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come with the reach of your saving embrace” (Morning Prayer II, 1979 BCP, pp. 100-01). Global love and wide arms and hard wood are the work of Christ for one new world.

Look It Up
Read John 13:34.

Think About It
Love everything.

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