7 Easter, Year C: City of God

SUNDAY’S READINGS | May 29, 2022

Acts 16:16-34
Ps. 97
Rev. 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

Incredibly, we hear Jesus praying for the Church of our time. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

We believe because we have received the Word of life from others, who in turn received it from others and they from others in a long evangelical chain reaching back to Jesus and his first disciples. The staggering diversity of time and place does not undercut the essential oneness of the Church. Jesus prayed that the Church may be one, and his prayer should be regarded as both petition and answer.

We say in the Catechism that “The Church is one, because it is one Body, under one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ” (BCP, p. 854). Sharing in the life of the Head, the body shares in the glory that the Father gives to the Son and the Son to the Father, which glory Jesus calls “the love with which you [the Father] have loved me” (John 17:26).

A supernatural infusion of glory and love — that is, the Holy Spirit — elevates the Church and all her members into a divine vocation and existence such that present life is a foretaste of divine communion in the Holy Trinity. In some real and mysterious sense, we are on the threshold of glory, united to the source, purpose, and goal of all creation. We are one in Christ, but we are not yet perfectly one, for Jesus prays “that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).

While the path toward complete union with Christ is, in the end, assured, it remains at times perilous in this life because it requires the dissolution of the old humanity and all the evil to which it is continually tempted. Human beings build cities, adopt customs, and exact punishments against those who offend accepted mores, often with horrid cruelty: nakedness, beatings, stocks, prisons, solitary confinement, all for the advancement of a social order of quite limited scope (Acts 16:20-24). Within defined parameters, the earthly city may show signs of peace, order, and high culture, but it is built and sustained by a ritual of violence. City-states are prodigious in finding reasons to war with other city-states, always for the preservation of some higher good. Humans are also willing, in various ways, to enslave each other or otherwise use each other as mere instruments for economic gain. A slave girl possessed by a demon is treated not as a person in need of sympathy and healing, but as a tool who “brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16).

The Spirit of the risen Lord enters this situation to create something new. At the command of Paul, the demon comes out of the girl. That deliverance, of course, “disturbs the city and its customs,” and so provokes the force of the state against Paul and Silas. They are stripped, beaten, cast in prison, and have their feet fastened in stocks. But the risen Christ is an earthquake, the shaking of foundations, the opening of doors, and the unfastening of chains. The risen Christ disturbs the city to create a new one in which the glory and love of God are seen in every person and reverenced in everything.

Look It Up: Acts 16:33

Think About It: You are baptized. Now wash someone’s wounds.

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