Revelations 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
The first reading immediately following Easter Sunday presents to us an image of the early Christian community. The lectionary of readings are done in three cycles (A,B, and C) and this year we are reading from cycle C. however on the Second Sunday of Easter the first reading for each cycle comes from Acts and the readings all demonstrate a characteristic of the fledgling community that follows Jesus. The term Christian actually does not apply because at this point they still see themselves as a Jewish community that follows the ways of Jesus Christ so until St. Paul the Apostle develops the term "Christian" their earliest tag is actually "The Way." The characteristics that each cycle presents are as follows:
- Cycle A: Acts 2: 42-47 – dedication to prayer, common worship and communion
- Cycle B: Acts 4: 32-35 – All goods are held in common, communal living
- Cycle C: Acts 5: 12-16 – The power of healing to those that are sick and disturbed
I received a comment once that Jesus was not an agent of social change. To challenge society usually evokes and image of rebellion or some form of civil disobedience. In the Passion narratives that we just reflected on during Holy Week we are told about a social response to the threat that Jesus posed against the ruling classes of his day. Jesus lived with integrity to an alternative social vision. But to live with integrity meant that he had to be public in promoting and advocating for this other vision (the Kingdom of God.) If he had simply lived a personal vision in isolation he would never have been seen as a threat. His methodology for social change was not typical and that is what throws us off. His was not the standard of society so he did not employ violent insurrection (which may have disappointed some of his followers, especially Judas Iscariot) nor did he organize some form of direct action. Instead he was a public example and what he did organize was an alternative community. In the first reading we witness this public community (Peter, John and the Apostles are out in streets healing and preaching) engage in promoting this social transformation through this methodology of community organizing. They are organizing a community that prays, shares, and heals the greater society.
The second reading along with the Gospel passage remind us that any institution, including the Christian Church, needs to always re-evaluate itself from the dangers of corruption and the adoption of social rather than divine values. In the second Chapter of Revelations Jesus has John address the seven early Christian church communities. With many of these churches however Jesus points out forms of social deviation that has crept into them. Ephesus and Sardis have lulled in their works of mercy, Pergamum has accepted heretical teachings, Thyatira has engaged in sexual misconduct, and Laodicea has been corrupted by its own affluence.
The formula for reform is suffering. In Revelations and in the Gospel Jesus demonstrates that purification comes through suffering. What is amazing to me is that the Resurrected Christ continues to bear the wounds of his suffering. This is the constant reminder that is needed to keep us on the social vision that we have been set out to build. Like Thomas we are reminded that the way to live our baptismal calling is to be ever present with the ongoing Passion and suffering that continues to be in our world. We are called to be in solidarity with all who suffer. If we stray from the suffering in our society, if we become lax in performing our works of healing and sharing then we will fall victims to corruption, then we will be the ones that will have to be purified.
In reflecting on the "signs of the times" it certainly feels that our Church is passing through such purification. This is an opportunity for us as it was for the seven churches of Revelations. Let us reflect on the vision of God’s Kingdom as lived and expressed by Christ and early community, and then let us reengage with our community of faith to be heralds of reform for this vision.
John Gonzalez is the director of the North American Passionist Office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. He lives with his family in New York.