During the season of Easter our Hebrew Bible reading is replaced with a series of readings from the book of Acts. This week’s reading focuses on the aftermath of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and his family. Cornelius was the first gentile convert. His conversion,
facciliated by Peter, did not make everyone happy, and when Peter returned to Judea some “circumcised believers” criticized him. Interestingly their big beef with Peter was not that he had faccilitated the conversion of Cornelius, but rather that Peter had “eaten” with Cornelius and his family. This is important in our understanding of the consequences of the gospel going out into the world. Receiving the gospel and ‘converting’ to its message of hope and renewal is not to be equated merely with ‘making a personal decision for Christ’ that has no bearing on present circumstances. The gospel has social consequences. If you receive the gospel then you are one in Christ with other believers. The circumcised believers were not afraid of the gospel, they were afraid of the consequences of
the gospel. Peter on the other hand had realized that if the Spirit had descended on Cornelius and his family, then who was Peter to object, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
There is no doubt that Psalm 148 belongs in the category “Psalm of Praise”! Important to our reading of Revelation 21 this week is our selection from Psalm 148, “Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps.” The reason I highlight this part of Psalm 148 is that it speaks to God’s mastery of the waters (even of the sea monster!). To the ancient mind waters represented ‘chaos’ and unrest. That is why one of the first acts of creation will be to separate out the waters. Creation is bringing order to chaos. Likewise in the book of Revelation the ‘sea’ represents what is wrong with creation in its present state (the chaos brought on by human sin). Thus when we read the vision of God’s final renewal we hear, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
Have you ever wondered why God’s restored world in the book of Revelation is not a garden?! Instead we are presented with a city–the new Jerusalem. Interesting. Perhaps it’s because there are no longer just two of us (Adam and Eve). 🙂 Whatever the case the new Jerusalem is a welcome sight–and more importantly it is the place that God takes up residence with humanity, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
Our gospel reading is Jesus’ well known “new commandment” saying. The new commandment of course is anything but a new commandment (how is “love each other” anything new from what had already been said by God throughout the ages?). “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love forone another.” Perhaps the “newness” of the command was tied to the glorification of Christ spoken about previously in the pericope. The glorification of Christ, paradoxically, in the gospel of John is accomplished at the cross. Jesus is “lifted up” according to John (both literally and symbolically) at his crucifixion. This selfless act is the ‘new love’ by which we are all to lay down our lives for each other.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts, thoughts, prayers, and hymns for Sunday consider the ‘new’ work that is accomlished by Christ. This ‘new’ work has ‘new’ social consequences–such as those we read about in the book of Acts. These ‘new’ social consequences point to (or proclaim) that the one who can tame the seas of chaos will one day come to be with us in the ‘new’ Jerusalem.