The early Church, from fear to courage: Eastertide B

First, an apology… Year A escaped me

I managed to miss writing about the narrative of the Eastertide Sundays in Year A last year, because we were all shell-shocked by the pandemic and locked down with no music.  I empathised much more with the fearful apostles after the Ascension, so I wrote about that, but we have worked through into calmer waters (even if we still aren’t allowed to sing in many churches), so I’m determined at least to have a look at the Eastertide Sundays events for Year B, and A will have to wait until it comes around again.

Christ leaving tomb
the Resurrection…and what happened next
Eastertide Year C

When I wrote about the story in the Eastertide Sundays for Year C, it was because I was intrigued to see how the focus moved from Jesus as the usual centre of the action at the Gospel reading, to what was happening with the early Church, headless and frightened, in the First Reading. Usually our first readings are from the Old Testament, to give deep historical context, but at Eastertide they are from Acts, the account of the development of the early Church, written by Luke.  Usually the Gospel gives us the main story for the liturgy on any given Sunday, but in the Sundays after Easter, time stands still for the Gospels (or even goes backwards) because we are hearing parts of Jesus’ teaching and talkings from earlier periods of the narrative.  The action (at least from the point of view of Jesus’ story) cannot move on until the Ascension.

Second Sunday of Easter, and Thomas
A tender moment : doubt no longer

The first Sunday after Easter, aka the Second Sunday of Easter, is the story of Thomas, an apostle often unfairly criticised.  I’ve talked about him before, so I won’t go into it again here.  His story and its lesson for us all is so important that all three liturgical years are the same.  After this Sunday, though, the Lectionary Years diverge, but not in the usual way by choosing a Gospel writer and following him (Year A : Matthew, Year B : Mark, Year C : Luke).  Most of the Gospels for Eastertide in all three years are from John; but not all.  They are not chronological; they have been selected.

Overview, Year B Eastertide Readings

The First Reading over Eastertide, for all three years, comes from Acts, because the story is now about the early Church, as I explained when discussing Year C, but different sections of Acts come into focus.  The Second Readings differ considerably; Year C takes them all from Revelation, Year A from Peter’s first letter, and Year B takes all its Second Readings from the first letter of John.  In Year B, the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter is the aftermath of the trip to Emmaus (the account of the encounter itself is in Year A), the Fourth Sunday is the Good Shepherd, the Fifth is I am the vine, and the Sixth is what sounds like Jesus’ final charge to the apostles, an envoi of sorts, though in fact it’s from chapter 15 of John’s Gospel rather than later.  As I said discussing Year C, the time in the Gospel readings can go forwards and back over Eastertide, because the linear onward progression has shifted to Acts.  All these B Gospels are from John except Third Sunday, which is from Luke, because he is the only evangelist who gives us the Emmaus story.

Second Sunday of Easter B

The First Reading is from Acts 4, a simple statement of how things were done among the community of believers in the early Church, with everyone sharing and helping each other, and the apostles spreading the word to great effect.  By now, the transformation has taken place; there is a sizeable group of believers, they have become ‘the early Church’, and this is how they are behaving.  All three First Readings (Years A, B and C) have this same message of reassurance, even though they come from different chapters of Acts.  After the tragedy of Holy Week and the surprise and joy of Easter Sunday, here is the pattern for the way ahead being worked out, by a group of converts and believers, just like us.  We stay with the great Easter psalm (117/118), with only minor variations, because the Octave of Easter is like an echo, reverberating the same message.  The Second Reading, from the first letter of St John, gives us the tools to live like the early Church: love, obedience to God, and the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel is Thomas’ encounter with Jesus.

Third Sunday of Easter B : first reading

We start in early Acts, earlier in fact than the previous week, with a speech from Peter, in his new role as leader of the Church.  It sounds in our First Reading as though he is trying to pick a fight, but this is due to slightly awkward editing.   This speech follows the healing of the lame man at the gate called Beautiful, when Peter says ‘Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, I give you’.  The lame man walks and leaps and praises God, now that his legs and feet can support him, and a crowd gathers. 

healing the lame man at the gate called Beautiful

Peter addresses the crowd, ‘Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this?’  and goes on to explain that the healing is nothing to do with Peter and John, but is all the work of (their own) God to glorify his servant Jesus.  He encapsulates the whole story with commendable brevity, and then clarifies that it is not their fault that they killed Jesus because they did not know what they were doing; so now they can repent and turn to God.  Peter turns all the crowd’s assumptions upside-down, he accuses them of a dreadful act, the murder of God’s representative, and then shows them how to clear matters up – all in a few lines.  It is masterly.  Peter has been transformed since Pentecost. He is now a leader, eloquent, confident, convincing, and completely fearless.

…the psalm and second reading

This same confident touch is echoed in the choice of psalm, the simple and beautiful Psalm 4, which reinforces many of Peter’s points : God’s justice, his favour for the ones he loves, God as the source of all happiness and security.  The second reading is again simple and confident, ‘I am writing this to stop you sinning, but if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father’, so again, we have what looks like a condemnation, but again immediately we have the promise of pardon.

…the Gospel : Emmaus, main account in Year A
so he went in to stay with them (Lk 24)

On the corresponding Sunday in Year A, we have the story of Emmaus, where Jesus falls in with two disciples on the road, and they fail to recognise him. He explains to them how his own death (and subsequent entry into glory) was foretold in the scriptures from Moses onwards.  We aren’t given all of Jesus’ words, but it sounds to me as though he also defends the testimony of the women at the tomb, which the apostles had discounted, as he reproaches them for being ‘foolish […] and slow of heart to believe’ (Lk  24.25).  They prevail upon the unknown traveller to stay with them, and they realise who he is when he shares the bread among them at dinnertime.  Then he disappears.

Year B : Emmaus 2.0

This year (B), what we have is the next stage of the story.  To set the scene, because these are verses of Luke’s account which are not included in our Gospel reading, the two minor disciples, only one of whom even gets a name (Cleopas), have come rushing back to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, even though it is already late, and they have been walking all day.   They find the apostles ‘and those who were with them’, which I am taking as those faithful and long-suffering women, and they all exchange their exciting news.   The atmosphere has been transformed.  You can almost hear the buzzing excitement as Cleopas and his friend (his wife?) tell their story, and the others tell them that the Lord ‘has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’  We never hear anything else about that encounter, but we can hear that the group is beginning to dare to believe that it is all true.

you can even see the fish on the table

Suddenly, in the middle of all the talking, Jesus is there among them, and this is the event that our Gospel reading is centred on.  He lets them have a good look at him, he encourages them to touch and hold him to prove that he is not a ghost.  It is particularly poignant to read these words at a time when we are all still socially distanced.  In a touching, homely detail, he asks them if there is anything around that he can eat, and they give him a bit of left-over grilled fish, which he eats to demonstrate even more clearly that he is really there.  Then he explains again to the bigger group, as he has already done to Cleopas, how everything that happened to him is the fulfilment of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms.  Jesus’ last paragraph is an even shorter summary of what Peter has already said succinctly in the first reading, even down to the repeating of the word ‘witnesses’, a tightly-woven piece of ring composition.

Fourth Sunday of Easter B  (Good Shepherd Sunday)

This might equally be called Cornerstone Sunday.  The First Reading picks up Peter and John more or less at the same point where we left them the previous week.  Peter, the transformed Peter, has gone on explaining his message forcefully and clearly to the assembled crowd, so the Temple authorities are not happy.  They arrest Peter and John and put them in prison overnight to cool off.

Jesus before the high priest, with Peter downstairs

Our reading is what Peter says the next day, in the presence of Annas and Caiaphas, so really in the lions’ den here: these are the people at least partly responsible for the Crucifixion, which Peter knows because he was there in the high priest’s courtyard (Lk 22).  He repeats the same message even more clearly, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and sounds completely ‘confident and unafraid’, as the Canticle in Isaiah 12 says.  He quotes the line about the stone rejected by the builders out of Psalm 117/118, the psalm which comes back and back again through the Easter season for us, but also seriously familiar to Annas and Caiaphas, although they would totally reject Peter’s interpretation of it.  Our reading stops there, but if you carry on reading, the authorities are completely flummoxed by Peter and John’s clarity and confidence and cannot work out what to do with them, so they let them go.

What psalm could we sing after this except Psalm 117/118 (yet again)?  It’s not exactly the same version that we sing on Easter Sunday, because this is quite a long psalm and we sing several different selections of verses, put together in different formats, so I have different tunes to fit.  For some reason this version has v.21 duplicated and used a second time (and out of sequence) in the last stanza, making that stanza seven lines rather than the usual six.  I suspect there’s a mistake there, but it’s of long standing and in every anglophone Lectionary, so I’ve just written an extra bit of tune for it.  The Response is the crucial line repeated, which feels exactly right.

The second reading is another beautiful extract from John’s first letter about our being God’s children.  John’s letter is particularly significant for the early Church, as he is always completely inclusive.  Anyone can be God’s child; anyone can do God’s will.  The Gospel, marking chronological time again, is away back in John 10, where Jesus calls himself the good shepherd and lays claim to all the sheep, including those ‘not of this fold’, again expanding the potential reach of the Church.

Fifth Sunday of Easter B : I am the vine

We have leapt forward in Acts for our First Reading this week, to chapter 9, and our central character is suddenly Saul.  All sorts of things have been happening to the early Church.  Peter and the apostles have even been put back into prison, but this time an angel came to fetch them out.  They have now been summoned in front of the authorities repeatedly, and Peter’s message remains the same, becoming simpler and clearer at each iteration.  Their numbers are increasing, they have had to rope in some new men to help with practical charity, Stephen has been appointed deacon, called upon to testify and then martyred.  The community is being persecuted by various people including one Saul.  There have been healings, miracles, conversions and all sorts of events. 

Conversion of St Paul
Fierce encounter of the third kind

At the beginning of chapter 9 of Acts, Saul is struck down on the way to Damascus in an encounter with the Lord.  We don’t get any of these events in our reading.  We have Saul, newly arrived back in Jerusalem, and trying to join the disciples who are understandably very suspicious.  Saul has escaped from Damascus in a basket (there are times when Acts reminds you of Dumas, or The Wind in the Willows), and luckily he has Barnabas to speak for him.  He preaches fearlessly and convincingly, and Jerusalem too becomes too hot to hold him.

What psalm after this?  We have Psalm 21/22, which is a great choice, because it is so appropriate for Saul and because he would have known it so well, as a Pharisee and Talmud scholar.  This psalm beautifully takes the words of a virtuous and observant Jew and repurposes them into a call for the whole world to come and join in the worship of Jesus the Messiah.  The ‘great assembly’ in the synagogue which Saul knew so well flowers out into ‘all families of the nations’.

The second reading is John on active love and not being afraid in God’s presence.  The Gospel hops forward to chapter 15 of John and Jesus’ extended comparison of himself with the vine.  Last week, we were sheep;  this week we are branches, part of a growing whole, and bearers of fruit (we hope).

Sixth Sunday of Easter B : all are welcome

Saul has been sent off to Tarsus, to help with the Church there, so the focus of Acts returns to Peter for a while.  He too is travelling, first to Lydda, where he heals a paralysed man called Aeneas, and then to Joppa, where he raises Tabitha (actually labelled as a ‘disciple’) from the dead.  Then he goes on to Caesarea, because he has been sent for by Cornelius.  Cornelius is a centurion of the Roman army, with all that implies about allegiance and position, but he is also a man of virtue who is earnestly trying to do the right thing.  An angel has told him to send for Peter, and even gives him the address where to find him.  Cornelius is not short of servants or soldiers, so he puts a little group together and sends them off to Joppa.

Peter’s vision on the rooftop

As they approach the city, Peter is praying on a rooftop before a meal, when he has a vision in which God lowers a great sheet or tablecloth full of animals, birds and reptiles and tells him that nothing can be unclean if God has cleansed it.  This happens three times, like watching a nature video repeatedly.  He is baffled as to the meaning of this vision, but then the Holy Spirit tells him to go downstairs to see the three men at the gate who are looking for him.  He is to go with them ‘without hesitation’, even though some of them are Roman soldiers.  Peter goes downstairs, welcomes Cornelius’ men, hears why they want him and invites them in for supper and to stay the night; the next morning they all set off back to Caesarea.  It is easy to miss how amazing these events are, how upside-down all this would appear to someone on the outside of the transformation that the early Church has undergone with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Cornelius kneeling before Peter

When he meets Cornelius, they explain to each other how they have each been directed towards the other.  Peter has come with some of his people from Joppa, and Cornelius’ whole household is there, so this is a sizeable group of people.  Cornelius invites Peter to address them all.  All this has happened before our first reading starts. We begin with the meeting between the two men, and what happens next, Peter’s words to those assembled.  What is omitted here (see the list of verses at the beginning) is another of Peter’s summaries of Jesus’ life and death, and the Resurrection.  This is in fact the first reading of the Mass on Easter Sunday.   We usually repeat the Baptismal promises after the Gospel on Easter Sunday, but we don’t miss the Creed because Peter has already said it for us.  This whole section is not in our current reading because the importance of the encounter between Peter and Cornelius is Peter’s new understanding that the Gentiles are to be converted as freely as the Jews, and that God sends his Spirit as freely to the one as to the other.

Trinity - Jesus juggling
King of all the ends of the earth, and juggling as well
Psalm 97/98 : wider still and wider

The following psalm (97/98) is a victory psalm, stressing the international aspect of salvation.  Nothing has been taken away from Israel, but the pagans have been added (second stanza).  Even the ends of the earth have seen salvation, like the corners of the great sheet in Peter’s vision.  The second reading is another of John’s reflections on the all-encompassing nature of God’s love, and the Gospel is from John 15, following directly from the previous week.  These readings from John are part of the Last Discourse given to the apostles before they all set out for the Mount of Olives where the Passion will be set in train by Judas’ kiss.  Jesus repeats his command to love one another, trying to make this the message that they will all understand and remember even when he has gone.  It is the nearest thing the early Church has to a mission statement.

It is allowed in the rubric to swap the second reading and Gospel for the seventh Sunday  in place of sixth Sunday, if the Ascension Mass takes the place of the seventh Sunday, but the message remains the same, just coming slightly later in the text.

Onward and upward
Ascension
I particularly like the feet and the footprints in this one

The next event after this is the Ascension, whether you celebrate it on the traditional Thursday or the following Sunday; but we have come a long way in these six weeks, and we now know that the group of disciples will find a way to cope after Jesus’ departure.  The early Church is on its way.  There is another of those screeching changes of gear and direction at the beginning of the readings for the Ascension, because we go back (all three Liturgical Years the same) to the very beginning of Acts, with the apostles waiting in the Upper Room.  Jesus tells them to stay there and wait for the Holy Spirit, and after his Ascension, this is precisely what they do.

Penetecost dove
the arrival of the Holy Spirit

But now we already know, because of the Eastertide readings, that after Pentecost, amazing things will happen, and the disciples will find a way to carry the story forward even without Jesus.  The Eastertide readings are like an interlude.  Like the apostles, we are waiting for the next event to happen (first the Ascension, and then Pentecost), but it’s not like the waiting of Lent or the Sundays of Ordinary Time.  We are celebrating the fact of the Resurrection over these six weeks.  This joy is too much for one Sunday, and that’s why we keep on using the double alleluias at the end of Mass as part of the dismissal.  But we need a story to keep us interested from week to week, so we find out how Jesus’ followers started to carry out the charge he gave them. The early Church is a complicated and messy phenomenon. There are several protagonists and there are several different cities where it is all happening.  This is exciting; these are signs of success.  It is difficult to take it all in, especially in bite-sized Sunday chunks; but the Sundays of Eastertide give us a chance to see how the mustard seed of faith takes root and grows into the great tree so that all the birds can come and nest in it.  Quite a story.

Yggdrasil tree
Celtic roots, wider outreach

 

What’s the story in the Eastertide Sundays (Year C)?

Eastertide : celebration which keeps going

[See also now on Eastertide Year B]

After all the joy and excitement of Easter Sunday, the Church settles down to enjoy the Easter season which lasts through six more Sundays. Eastertide  ends with the Ascension and then Pentecost, so specifically this is the period  after the Resurrection but while Jesus is still on earth.   He is still the central character, but he comes and goes at this stage in the story.  It is no longer just the story of what happens to him or what he does.

Christ emerging from tomb
Time for the next phase

It is fascinating to see how the focus of the narrative shifts. Jesus is there, but intermittently. He pays visits to the apostles, to put heart into them, but he often finds them cowering in the Upper Room. They are trying to work out what to do next, in a world which has been totally altered by Jesus’ return from the dead.

But what happened next?

We are so used to the idea that Jesus is the living Lord that we don’t give the apostles enough credit for how hard this must have been. We learn about his Resurrection as soon as we learn about his death on the cross, and the length of the annual wait from Good Friday to the Easter liturgies is fixed and familiar. But the apostles had no missals, Gospels or road maps of any kind. They really were making it up as they went along, with Jesus appearing now and then to keep them on the right path and repeat the same message over and over again until they could let themselves believe it.

Mary addressing apostles
Some (male) people take a lot of convincing……

2nd Sunday, still celebrating but also moving on

The second Sunday after Easter is still part of the Easter narrative itself.  The Gospel is the same for each of the three liturgical years, the story of Thomas and his encounter with the Risen Lord.  It is nearly the same psalm (117/118), just with a different verse in the middle, and, as if to emphasize the point, it is the same psalm that we have been singing since the end of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.  Like a musical octave, the Easter octave strikes the same note.  What shows the change of emphasis which is starting to happen,  is that the First Reading is taken from Acts.

The purpose of the First Reading

Usually the First Reading comes from the Old Testament, and indeed, at the Easter Vigil, we have an orgy of Old Testament readings before we get to the Gospel.  It can be a historical echo of events in Jesus’ life, or a fascinating parallel, or evidence of God’s slow plan of salvation from the shadowy beginnings of life to the prophets’ desperate attempts to pass on God’s message.  But now, after the Resurrection,  everything is changed, changed utterly: and we start needing to focus on what happens next.  The next significant event in the story of Jesus’ earthly life is the Ascension, but we don’t want to get there yet, because we are still celebrating Easter.  So the gospel readings assigned for the rest of the Easter season are in a sense marking time; – in fact, they go backwards.  They give us an opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ earlier words, because there are a lot more of those, especially in John’s Gospel, than we have already had room for (we will see this again in the Sundays of Ordinary Time).

The Gospel is usually the main narrative

The gospels for these Sundays of the Easter season, then, are not usually taking the story forward.  After the second Sunday of Easter, the three liturgical years diverge, not for the usual reason, that they are taking their readings in sequence from a different evangelist (A : Matthew, B : Mark, C : Luke), because nearly all the gospel readings for Eastertide are taken from John;  but they all take different bits out of John’s Gospel, so as to include more of Jesus’ actual teaching.  But this is of course a recap of earlier events; time has gone back, not forwards.

Eastertide Year C : the gospels

I’m going to concentrate on Eastertide Year C (this year), because otherwise there will be too much to talk about (if it’s worth it, I’ll cover the other years as they come up – see now Year B).  In Year C, all the Eastertide Sunday gospels are from John’s Gospel. Second Sunday of Easter is the same for all three years, the story of Thomas, taken from John (chapter 20), as I said before.  The third Sunday is the story of the miraculous draught of fishes and Jesus’ charge to Peter; that is another  event after the Resurrection (John 21).  Then we have (4th Sunday) a reading from John 10 about Jesus as the Good Shepherd (very brief, vv 27-30); (5th Sunday), what Jesus says after Judas has gone out to betray him (again very short, John 13 vv31-35, and very obviously back to a previous period), and (6th Sunday) Jesus’ promise in John 14 that he will send the Holy Spirit, and foretelling his departure, like an envoi, and a preparation for the Ascension which will shortly follow (the following Thursday, or in some Lectionaries, the following Sunday).

First Readings : not OT but Acts

The current action, as it were, has moved to the First Reading, because we need to know how the apostles are managing and what they are doing in this changed world they now inhabit.  Jesus is not staying with them as he used to, teaching as he goes along.  Where is the story?  Where is the main character?  Who is the main character?   The apostles are having to work out how to put this new faith into practice. We are not looking for historical parallels, because nothing like this has ever happened before.  The Old Testament has been put on pause while we work this out.

Second Readings from Revelation

Year C is particularly interesting because it uses Revelation as the source of the Second Readings for this same period (in Years A and B, we have readings from the  letters of Peter (A) and John (B), keeping the emphasis on the doings of the early Church, as opposed to Paul’s letters which we have for most of the rest of the year, which tend to be more about doctrine). The readings from Acts in Year C move about inside the book, giving us a general overview of how the early Christians lived.  We get further into the story than in the other years, even into the early travels of Paul and Barnabas, and I think this is why these readings are coupled with the book of Revelation, because Revelation has always been a comfort to the oppressed and persecuted, and the later chapters of Acts describe the persecutions as they took hold.

…and all reinforced by the (carefully chosen) psalms

And of course all this affects the choice of psalms.  They are there to respond to the first reading, reinforce its message and act as a bridge to the second reading.  Their link to the Old Testament readings on an ordinary Sunday is usually fairly clear, and they are out of the same historical context, even if we can’t be sure which is older; but here we have the psalms of David being used as a commentary on early Christian events, after Jesus’ departure, and after the great temporal rupture of the Resurrection.  The context is completely other.  We are singing the Lord’s songs in a totally strange land.  One striking thing is that none of the Eastertide psalms is at all unusual.  They all occur elsewhere in the Church’s year, sometimes more than once.  They are the usual psalms which everyone is already familiar with.  It is the context which has changed.

Musician king with courtiers
Let’s all join in with David’s psalms

First Reading and psalm, 2nd Sunday : starting the (new) story

We start in Acts 5 (so after the Ascension and the revolution of Pentecost), where the author describes ‘the faithful’ as meeting ‘by common consent in the Portico of Solomon’.  All still good Jews, at this stage, almost like another Jewish grouping or sect.  No one else dares to join them openly but their reputation is good, the numbers of believers increases, and there are many miracles, so people take their sick out of doors and place them where Peter’s shadow will fall across them so that they might be healed.  The psalm in response to this is still the Easter psalm (117/118), because we are still celebrating and everything is going well.  It is the second reading which darkens the mood slightly, as John introduces himself: ‘I am your brother and share your sufferings, your kingdom, and all you endure’, but then moves on to describe Jesus appearing to him, telling him not to be afraid (as so often) and charging him to write down what he sees.  The Gospel, as I said earlier, is the story of Thomas  -and the end of John’s Gospel in some of the early manuscripts.  The focus of the story is shifting.

3rd Sunday

This First Reading is only ten verses later, in the same chapter of Acts, but the clouds are gathering in our new story.  The high priest demands an explanation from these observant Jews with their inconvenient add-on doctrine.  Peter and the apostles have the chance to bear witness before the Sanhedrin, and this time they are released, but they have been warned again, and it’s clear that trouble is in the offing.  The psalm  (29/30) celebrates release from danger, acknowledging the reality of suffering (‘At night there are tears’) but showing an unshakeable faith in victory for the right side (‘but joy comes with dawn’), which is then shown in the celebration in the Second Reading (Revelation 5).

4th Sunday : the story develops

We leap forward several chapters this week to find Paul and Barnabas taking the story forward as they deliberately widen their appeal (Acts 13).  The Jews in Antioch mostly aren’t interested, even though Paul and Barnabas are still attending the synagogue religiously.  So they preach to the pagans, who are very happy to hear them, and are expelled from the town.  The answering psalm (99/100) makes us into the rejoicing pagans, hearing and accepting the word of God : ‘We are his people, the sheep of his flock‘, and we stay with this sheep imagery, with the persecuted martyrs of the Second Reading being led by the Lamb, and the Gospel being part of Jesus’ discourse on the Good Shepherd.  I couldn’t resist quoting Bach’s Sheep may safely graze in the accompaniment to the Alleluia verse because it was so apposite.

Banquet with sheep on table
The sheep/lamb metaphor made flesh at an Easter banquet

5th Sunday

Paul and Barnabas set off for Iconium at the end of last week’s reading, and they are already retracing their steps, heading for Antioch again.  This gives us a very clear idea of how the young churches were beginning to stand on their own feet.  Elders are appointed, the visitors encourage the locals to persevere in their efforts, and they move on again, going back to report to HQ – and, crucially, explaining how the mission has broadened to include those who weren’t Jews to start with, ‘the pagans’, people like us.  This has been a very successful trip, even though there are regular mentions of sufferings and hardships, and the psalm for this week (144/145) celebrates that success : ‘All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord’, not just some of them, and ‘Yours is an everlasting kingdom’.  The second reading is one of the most beautiful sections of Revelation (21 :1-5) describing the new Jerusalem, the establishment of this kingdom and the end of death and suffering.

Lady = Church scaring off dragon=Satan
the dragon being seen off by the lady in Revelation

6th Sunday : the next stage of the story

Now the question of whether you have to be a Jew as well as a Christian has come to a head, and there has to be a council of ‘the whole church’ to sort it out.  Here we see the Church operating as a Church, raising important questions, deliberating and discussing, and then making a judgment which is promulgated to the members.  We don’t have the discussion in this reading, but you can look it up, it’s all there in the text; here we have just the conclusion ‘decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves’ (note the order).  Earlier Peter has come to the same conclusion about God calling also the pagans, when he meets Cornelius after having his dream about the tablecloth (Acts 10ff).

engraving of Peter's vision
Peter, the angel, the tablecloth and all the different beasts

The psalm (66/67) emphasizes the universality, one might almost say catholicity, of the Church’s final decision :’the nations […] the peoples[…] the ends of the earth’ and the response beautifully endorses it :  ‘Let all the people praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you ‘ (my italics).  The second reading continues the description of the new Jerusalem, and the Gospel goes back to Jesus’ words about the Holy Spirit and his own departure,  as we get ready for the Ascension.  But although the Lord is leaving the earth, we have seen that the Church, though still small and feeling its way, has the leadership it needs to continue the work it has been given.

Armenian kachqar with ornate cross
The cross sprouting new life from every corner

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