Sunday, May 09, 2021

Between Road & River

6th Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; Psalm 97(98):1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Picture: cc Tanti Ruwani

My dear friends, do you know the difference between a river and a road? How about an escalator and a stairway? It’s quite obvious, right? In contrast to a river that flows, and an escalator that… escalates, both a road and a stairway remain stationary. We have to walk down a road, or climb up the stairs. But we can float down a river, and ride up an escalator.

It’s helpful to keep this contrast in mind, as we ponder our Mass readings today. Especially in the gospel, where we hear Jesus using those two big words beginning with the letter c: commandment and commission. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you… I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit… that will last…

I’m not sure, but I think these words can sometimes make us feel like we are simply being driven to do something painful and burdensome. To love by consistently laying down one’s life, in little unseen, unappreciated, even resented ways. To bear fruit that, though lasting, may take so long to appear, that one doesn’t live long enough to see it. Where and how to find the courage to keep walking such a lonely road, to keep climbing such a steep stairway?

And yet, when we ponder them more deeply, our readings reveal another pair of images. Not so much a lonely road or a steep stairway, as a flowing river or an uplifting escalator. For today’s gospel reading is a continuation of that passage where Jesus describes himself as the true Vine, of which we are the branches. We bear fruit not by our own strength, but by remaining in him, by drawing from his life-giving love.

The second reading makes this clearer, when it tells us that the love we are meant to live is not, in the first place, our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away. So the first step we need to take, in order to keep the Lord’s commandment, is to locate and to keep drawing from the living stream flowing from the pierced side of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

Isn’t this what is happening in the first reading? Although Peter may appear very busy, he really plays only a supporting role. The lead actor is God. It is God who helps Peter overcome his prejudice. It is God who anoints Cornelius and his family. It is God who keeps building up the early church. Peter’s part is to recognise and respond to God’s action, to remain in the flow of God’s creative and merciful love. 

We may recall these words from an old hymnPeace is flowing like a river; flowing out of you and me; flowing out into the desert; setting all the captives free… And the word peace is easily replaced with the words faith and hope, love and joy, grace and, yes, even GodGod is flowing like a river…

Sisters and brothers, isn’t this the good news of Easter? That rather than a hard taskmaster, driving us down a stressful road, God is instead a reliable river of grace, carrying us all into fullness of life. What must we do to immerse ourselves ever more deeply in its powerful yet gentle flow today? 

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