May 17; 6th Sunday of Easter; Year A

6th Easter 19 20A New SOP of the Spirit

Like any good leader, our Lord in His farewell speech is laying the foundation and preparing His disciples for the future. He is providing them with the “tools” to face life without Him. A kind of SOP for the Church after His departure.

Our Lord is certainly not painting a nice rosy picture of the future. He does not want them to have any illusions. The world will hate them as it has hated Him. They will have to face persecution just as He did. They will soon be excluded from public worship or prevented from expressing their faith openly. Synagogues and the Temple, their familiar places of worship, will eventually be closed to them. They will have to adapt to radical changes in this hostile new environment. It would not be easy.

So how will they survive? It’s not going to be easy, just like it isn’t easy for the Church of today to make adaptations during this time of social distancing. The early Christians were no different. They will be a community apart from the rest. Social distancing from the larger Jewish community would be forced upon them. What would continue to unite them, give meaning to their lives and provide them with an identity, would be their connexion to Christ. How would they stay connected to Christ after His departure? By keeping His commandments. Just as the Jews would hold on to their religious identity by keeping the Law of Moses, Christians will find their own sense of identity by keeping Christ’s commandments.

The church community which Jesus prepares for them will replace the old temple now destroyed. Christ is the New temple, He is the one who leads us to His Father’s house, where they will experience the presence of God in the fullest sense of the word. Jesus tells them “I am in my Father and you in me and I in you”. The Christian community is where the Father and the Son will dwell and each member will experience the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you.”

Our Lord’s promise is a good reminder that though the Church has worshipped and continues to worship in buildings made of stone and mortar, it is not these church buildings which define us. Long before Christians worshipped, celebrated the Eucharist and prayed in their churches, they were doing all these in their own private homes. Where Christians gathered in the name of Christ, there was the Church.

While the gospel provides us with a vision of how the Church looks from within, the first reading, from Acts, turns us out to the world. And so we are presented with a picture of the early Christian community in Jerusalem, the example of the Church growing by devoting itself to the teaching of apostolic doctrine, holding property in common, praying and breaking bread in the Eucharist. These fundamental pillars did not just form the basic SOP of the Church, they are signs of the indwelling of God, the Most Holy Trinity.

But the Church does not only exist for itself. Since the Church’s existence is predicated on keeping Christ’s commandments, she must now obey Christ’s command to move out. She can no longer be self-absorbed. ‘You will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judaea and Samaria and indeed to the ends of the earth.’ Today, we see Philip living out that commission as he enters the hostile world of the Samaritans and proclaims the Gospel. The Spirit of truth now drives the Church out of its comfort zone. Through the power of the Spirit, the disciples of Christ continue the work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God expands into new territories, both spatial and spiritual.

The SOP provided by Christ in the gospel and in the life of the early Christian community presents us with a perfect model for the Church today. Once again, we find ourselves physically cut off from our churches. We have not been socially shunned but we have chosen to isolate ourselves in order to protect the vulnerable in our community. There is no doubt that this poses many new challenges and difficulties. But the SOP of our Lord and that of the early Christians remind us that hardship can provide us with a great opportunity to grow interiorly and outwardly.

In times like these, it is especially important to remember God’s promise to be with us even when we are unable to be with Him physically in His churches. He who made us, and gave us His own Son for the salvation of the world, will not leave His children in this time of need. Similarly, as we continue to navigate through the many restrictions and limitations imposed by social distancing, we should not let this be an excuse to refrain from reaching out to others and sharing the good news with them. Notice how adversity, persecution and hard conditions did not deter the early Christians from giving witness to the joy of the Risen Lord in their lives. In fact, hardship seems to spur them on to greater heights and zeal.

As we prepare ourselves to return to church for our masses, adapting to new SOPs established to safeguard public health, let us never forget the two fundamental SOPs meant not just for our temporal wellbeing but for our eternal happiness - to grow daily in communion with the Living God by keeping His commandments and to reach out to our neighbours and share the good news of salvation with them. Let’s take care of our health and safety but more importantly, let us be always seriously concerned for the salvation of our souls.