Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter 2005

Building a Church

Electing a new Pope is one of the things the Catholic Church does to renew itself. The primacy of Peter as focal point of unity and love in the Church has been a strong part of the way the Church sees itself. We pray for our new Pope, Benedict XVI, in our Eucharist today. May the Spirit be with him.

One can observe, of course, that the funeral of Pope John Paul II, and the election of Benedict XVI did show that the Church is very much male centred, and old men at that! The Cardinals are even older than I! Old yes, but the elderly are those amongst whom we hope to find wisdom and guidance for a community. The word “presbyter” in the New Testament used of the person we have come to call “priest” has as its root the “elder” in a community. The elder in a community is one in whom we find wisdom in a spiritual sense as well as that of leadership. Then again, such wisdom is not confined to the elderly and can be found in the young. So whatever the limitations of Church structure the instalaton of a new pope or ordination of a priest is part of the work of the Spirit renewing us.

The primary thing we do, however, to build the Church is to prepare people for baptism, confirmation and first eucharist by prclaiming the Gospel to them. The Church is “ekklesia”, a people gathered by God for his worship and service to the world. God in his word calls us to change and become a new people.

The reading from Acts today, describes a particular situation in the early church that needed resolution. The solution was found by instituting a new ministry, that of the deacon. It seems strange to us that they went to all that trouble just to distribute food to some widows! Not that widows are unimportant. Recent study of the passage suggests a possible different understanding of what is happening here.

The 12 apostels were not just concerned about waiting on table as such. Rather, it was their ministry to the Hebrews rather than the Greeks that was causing the problem. They were building the church up in both groups. The Greeks felt that the Jews were getting preferntial treatment. The Church could not make another apostle. They had already made up the number to twelve again. But they could call others to serve the Gospel. So they laid hands on seven men to look after the Jewish side of things. So the deacons were not just waiting on table, they were preaching the gospel to these Hebrews. Stephen, as we hear later in the Acts of the Apostles, did not confine himself to waiting on tables, but became an evangelist himself and was martyred for his preaching..

So the church itself has within it the means of renewing itself, that is, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers the Church to change the way it works and institute new ministries. That same Spirit is calling our children to Confirmation and First Eucharist at Pentecost.

Jesus message to the disciples in the Gospel reveals a difficult time for him as he tries to encourage his community of disciples. He must go and leave them. His leaving to go to the Father entails the Cross. Like any good leader he cannot ask them to go where he himself has not gone. He is reassuring them and us that he is not leaving to abandon them. But to show them the way.

Like Thomas we want to know where we are going before we get too excited. Jesus invites us to make an act of faith in him and take it one step at a time. For the present he seems to say the destination of the journey is one another, the living stones making up a spiritual house as we heard in the Letter of Peter. It is there that we find Christ, the way, the truth and the life.

Then again like Philip we want a clear experience of God. We would like a vision. We want to know where God is in all this. Is God still with us in all the trials of our world? Is God still with the Church, we wonder, when things are not right? We would be more at ease in our faith so we think if we had clear signs to answer our questions.

Jesus shows Philip that in fact he has been experiencing God all along by being with Jesus in his words and deeds. So too we experience God by our love for one another as Jesus loves. The community, the Body of Christ, is where we experience God, as paradoxical as that seems. A community that is living his words and deeds. If God can do wonders through Jesus, God can do the same and more, Jesus says, through his disciples.

Fr Graham