15 May 2022 at Saint William, Saint Peter, and Saint Agnes Catholic Churches in Naples, FL
Acts of the Apostles 14, 21-27 + Psalm 145 + Revelation 21, 1-5 + John 13, 31-35
A new heaven and a new earth. No more tears, sadness, and no more death is what we are promised, and five weeks after Easter, we might be ready to ask how we get there. How do we get there in a world that drugs us into splendid contentment continually entertained with sports and comedy or an entertainment industry that keeps alive a fairytale world in which we face danger for 42 minutes and then live happily ever after?
We live in a world of security with some measure of health care, security cameras, good locks and gates, metal detectors and insurance for everything from our car to our pets. We protect gun rights and carry on with what can only be called irony with an odd combination of the freedom to refuse vaccinations while being required to wear seat belts. Again, the question remains, how do we get to that new heaven and new earth, and when is it coming?
All the texts of our Sacred Scriptures address that question today, and Jesus speaks to those who listen.
Paul and Barnabas tell us that we have persevere and we have to persevere in change. Telling the Jewish communities that they had to open the door to Gentiles meant they were going to have to make some changes, big ones. They would have to change how they looked at themselves, and what they thought of others who were different. It is the age-old question of the haves and have-nots, the question of the privileged and those “others” It is the need to question the difference between what we want and what we need.
The Book of Revelation with its comforting vision of God’s “new heaven and new earth” tempts us to skip over what it takes to get there. A loud voice from the throne tells us that God’s dwelling is with the human race. Yet, one look at the human race beyond the luxury of our boarders and gates must make us wonder where is that new heaven and new earth because we’re not there yet.
What we have proclaimed for the past five weeks is that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not some once-and-for-all event, but rather a cosmic reversal of everything that is usual into things that are exciting, surprising, and unexpected. However, like the apostles who did not understand what it meant to rise from the dead after three days, we have not yet grasped what it means for us. No sooner is Easter over than some pack up and head north, while the rest of us hunker down for another hurricane season. That is not the way we get to the new heaven and new earth, and hopelessness and an attitude that says: “That’s just the way it’s always been” is exactly what Revelation wants to prevent. It is not that we mope around dwelling on the worst, but that like Jesus, we confront the powers of evil.
The Gospel today gives us a plan. It is the Last Supper. Judas has gone to stir up the power of evil with his vicious mission, and Jesus begins to tell us how to best bring about the new creation. He speaks of his glory, a glory revealed in the cross. The cross is the essence of life. In a war, it’s not the ones who come back who are memorialized, but those who do not. In medicine, it’s not the ones who make money, but those who sacrifice to find cures and ease people’s pain who are admired and remembered. It is with great tenderness that Jesus speaks to us once more from the table revealing how we shall discover that new heaven and new earth, by loving as he has loved, not as the world loves always expecting something in return. We cannot ever say that we love God while any of God’s creation is excluded from our love.
At this table, we become family where the struggles of one become the struggles of all and together we confront the evil that causes so much suffering. It is through the hope and pain of solidarity that we know what it means for God to wipe away every tear that flows from our eyes and the eyes of others. As Paul said: everything will pass but one thing will endure.