5th Sunday of Easter
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
The Church’s season of Easter is a most joyful time for us Christians. Christ is truly raised from the dead, and that means that we have a true hope of happiness, already in this world, and a far greater happiness in the world to come, when Jesus will raise us from the dead. Therefore, death no longer has its tyrannical hold on us, because death itself has been conquered in our name, and for us, by the Lord.
What could be more joyful news for us than the Resurrection of the Lord? And yet we hear this line of Paul’s preaching, in today’s first reading from acts, that somewhat qualifies that joy, moderates it with a Christian realism about this world and our path to happiness. “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” The Christian life is joyful already here on earth but not without suffering and hardships. The unalloyed and infinitely greater joy is found only in the heavenly Kingdom of God, the realm of the new human race, raised and transformed by God’s grace, and we cannot enter that heavenly kingdom without bearing the cross of Christ on our shoulders in this world.
So we have to find our earthly joy while carrying our cross, ultimately indeed, in carrying our cross, by accepting the hardships that inevitably follow from being his follower in a sinful and hostile world. There is no unalloyed joy in this world, only joy in the midst of tears, joy that perdures because we know that death and suffering do not have the last word about life for Christians. His Life and Love are the true last words.
Paul’s caution is a much needed antidote to the kind of superficial Christianity that we find so often in our culture. The temptation to want to follow Christ without the Cross, to have Christianity without the Cross, is tremendously powerful in an age of instant gratification, of therapeutic solutions to all unhappiness, and age of incessant pleasure seeking of every sort. That last thing this decadent culture wants is nay message that involves the cross, any kind of necessary hardship for entering the Kingdom of God which is reduced to some kind of nirvana which wipes away every tear her and now rather than a God who will do this in a world to come. How sad, when one sees all the unhappiness that results from this false religion, above all in the very purveyors of this nonsense dressed up as something new for a new age.
But we know that Paul’s cautions about the necessity of the Cross in Acts and elsewhere are not a denial of the essential happiness of the Christian life already here on earth. The Cross is seen as the natural correlative and consequence of a life lived in divine Love in a world that inevitably rejects that Love because its true master is the anti-Christ, the anti-divine-love, who has been a murderer of that Love in man from the beginning.
In today’s second reading from the Book of Revelations we read about a promise of a “new heaven” and a new earth, where indeed where God will live in man’s heart without any alloy of sin or darkness. That’s why there can be an unalloyed happiness, because it is sin and darkness that causes the hardships of the cross to be borne in this world. When these no longer exist, then happiness can be complete, beatitude through and through because now God can dwell perfectly in the purified soul and transformed flesh of the risen man. God already dwells in us, but so does imperfections of sin and darkness. In heaven, it will be different.
This is the vision of John, and what joy it holds for us especially in the Easter Season which confirms this promise in the Risen Lord Himself.
“Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.
He will dwell with them and they will be his people
and God himself will always be with them as their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,
for the old order has passed away.”
This is the wonderful new creation promised by Christ whose Father makes all things new: “The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’“ He makes us new, and He makes heaven and earth new, “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,
for the old order has passed away.” This is the joy no one can take from us. It is the joy that perdures even in the midst of tears, here and now, and will perdure forever when every tear has been wiped away.