Reflections on the Readings
May 3, 2015 - Year B
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Alive in Christ
Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
It is Easter. The radiant and resurrected Christ is making all things new. Saul of Tarsus, a figure of terror and murder, a persecutor of the followers of Christ unleashes havoc on the infant Church. Then Jesus appears to Saul on the Damascus Road in a blinding light of resurrection glory. Forever changed, a new man in Christ Jesus, with a new name and a new heart, Paul lived out his remaining days growing in Christ and making him known. One of the most strategic figures of the faith in the history of the Church, Paul's love for Christ is still inspiring and bearing fruit.
We are reminded that Easter is not an event of long ago. Rather, Easter is the very essence of Christianity. For if Christ is not raised, then our faith is for nothing, because no one dies for a dead leader. Yet, in the history of the Church, multiplied thousands have surrendered their lives out of love for Christ, the one who first loved them. Rather than denying Christ, his disciples have borne witness to him with their last words being words of forgiveness for their persecutors. That kind of life and testimony doesn't just happen. The life of every follower of Christ is Easter life; it is the life of the resurrected Jesus. Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna and the last surviving person to have known an apostle, having been a disciple of John. His last words at his martyrdom serve to remind us of the deep love for Christ that is possible: "86 years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?"
So, brothers and sisters, what is it that animates the Church and causes her to be brave and courageous, even when warned not to even speak and teach and minister in his Name? Because imbued with the life of Jesus, the true Vine, we, his branches, his followers have his life living in us! This life is derived. It is from Christ in us. For the life we now live in the flesh is the very life of Christ — Christ risen; Christ gloried; Christ in whom we live and move and have our existence.
We speak in defense of life, the life of the unborn, the life of the elderly, the life of the handicapped, the life of the prisoner, because of Christ, Christ who is not dead but who lives! We are alive in Christ as we remain in Christ. United with Christ we live; because he lives we also live. For without Christ we are not truly alive and apart from him we can do nothing. It is this sweet surrender of the heart that is the most challenging and the most rewarding. Yet the continuous invitation of the Spirit is to come and to know Christ whom to know is life eternal. (John 17:3) In later years, Paul, a seasoned apostle, wrote about his overwhelming desire to know Christ. Writing to the Philippians about his former life he said, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."
Believing in the name of God's son, Jesus Christ, we are alive as God would have us be alive, as we continue in love for him and toward each other; not with mere words or so much talk, but in deed and truth. Someone has said that folks will not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Let us lead a life worthy of Christ and his gospel, fully pleasing him, bearing fruit in every good work in imitation of Christ who came not to be served but to serve. Amen
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com