Sunday, April 28, 2024

Between Hospice & Home

5th Sunday in Easter (B)

Readings: Acts 9: 26-31; Psalm 21 (22): 26-28, 30-32; 1 John 3: 18-24; John 15: 1-8

Picture: By John Fornander on Unsplash

My dear friends, what do people consider when choosing a home? Recently, it was reported that someone bought a good class bungalow, not far from here, for a cool S$84 million. Assuming the buyer intends to live in that house, what made her choose it? I’ve never bought a home myself, so please forgive me for engaging in some guesswork. I imagine that, among various other factors, these three would have been considered. First is, obviously, cost. Although, given how rich the buyer is, perhaps this wasn’t really a factor at all. The second is creature comforts. According to the news, along with 6 bedrooms, a pool, living, dining and entertainment spaces, the bungalow has enough room to park 8-10 cars. The third factor is class. Which refers not just to the bungalow itself, but also to its prospective residents. Their ability to buy and live in such a place marks them as belonging to an elite class. So class, comfort and cost. 3 Cs for choosing a home, a place in which to rest our bodies. But it’s not just our bodies that need a home, right? Don’t our hearts and our spirits do too? What factors do we consider when choosing a home for them? This, I believe, is the question our scriptures invite us to ponder today.

But first, perhaps it’s helpful for us to cast our minds back to our readings for last Sunday. Those of us who were here at the noon Mass, may recall how we were encouraged to align ourselves to Jesus, like building stones aligned to a keystone. To follow him, like sheep following a shepherd. To cling ever more tightly to him, like preschool children holding on to a walking rope. Today, the Lord calls us to an even closer, even more intimate relationship with him. More than just clinging to him, Jesus invites us to live and to make our home in him. Just as branches make their home in the vine. To let him be the place where our hearts and spirits find true rest and rejuvenation. In a way, like buying a good class bungalow, to be able to do this is also a mark of belonging. Belonging not to an exclusive class, but to the closely-knit Body of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Chosen and sent by God to bring new life to all the world. Closeness to Christ, and in Christ. This is the first factor, in the choice of a spiritual home.

Next, along with greater closeness, making one’s home in Christ also brings with it a certain kind of comfort. Though not the creature comforts provided by a bungalow. The first reading ends by telling us that the churches throughout Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria were… left in peace… living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit. In another translation (RSV) the word comfort is used in place of consolation. The comfort of the Holy Spirit. This includes not just peaceful external relations with others, but also the deep interior calm described in the second reading. The calm enjoyed by those who live in God. Those who keep God’s commandments. Those who believe in Jesus, and who love others not just in words, but also in deeds. Those who become children of the truth, able to quieten their consciences, to rest their hearts, in God.

All of which already tells us that there is a cost to making one’s home in God. The cost of faith and obedience. Also, when we trust and obey the Lord, we may find ourselves led to make choices that disadvantage us in the eyes of the world. We may even have to suffer rejection and persecution. Perhaps not as obvious or bloody as the sufferings of Saul and the early Christians. But persecution nonetheless. Still, the cost of remaining faithful and obedient, even in the face of persecution, is not something we bear on our own. Rather, if we are able to trust and obey the Lord, it is only through the power that the Lord himself bestows upon us. Just as the vine bestows life on its branches. Isn’t this what Jesus means when he tells his disciples that they are pruned already, by the word he has imparted to them? The same living Word that is imparted also to us, especially when we gather for the Eucharist.

For some reason, I’m reminded of a visit I once paid, many years ago, to a friend’s terminally ill mother. She was living in a hospice, and terribly frail. Skin on bones, and bedridden. Yet her face seemed somehow radiant. And her words consoled me immensely. I don’t remember now exactly what she said. But with a serene smile she somehow expressed her readiness to go to God, her eagerness to go home. Closeness, comfort and cost. I believe these are the gifts she received, at the threshold between this life and the next, and which she also shared with me, in our brief but fruitful encounter.

Closeness, comfort and cost. 3 Cs for making our home, not in a good class bungalow, but in the Crucified and Risen Lord. Sisters and brothers, how might he be offering us these same precious gifts this Easter?

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