5th Sunday of Easter – May 19, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Acts 14:21-27; Psalm 145:8-13; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35
“Love one another.” This is probably one of the most famous things Jesus ever said. But we have heard it so much that it means nothing to us. It has become so familiar and so repeated that we have no way to understand it or allow it to have an impact on us. In this Gospel, Jesus is announcing the moment of glory: his cross and resurrection. Salvation. And in this moment of glory comes the new commandment, the greatest commandment: “Love one another.” But all of this can be so confusing, and we can hear it and never really let it touch us. Why did this commandment change the world? And yet with us, we hear it and nothing happens? “Love one another.” That was one of the most world-changing phrases ever uttered. Glory comes, salvation comes, and it comes when we love one another just as Christ loved us. But how? What does that mean?
“Salvation is a powerful word,” but salvation is not a great word for us, it’s confusing and we don’t really know what it means or what it looks like in our experience. We need a word that is “less technical than ‘salvation’” (Albacete). So let’s use the word “new,” “newness.” “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5a): that’s what we hear in our second reading. Salvation is much easier for us to understand when we think about it as “newness.”
An experience I think we all have is our love for newness. Whether it’s a new car, or a new phone, or a new house, or new clothes, new shoes—you name it! For example, I went on the field trip with the eighth graders on Friday, and for part of the trip they went to the mall and bought new things. And all of them felt happier and more confident and more alive. Newness makes us feel alive. It makes life more exciting, more invigorating. Or another example: I’ve been talking to many of the priests that received a new assignment. And even though some of them received a surprising or difficult assignment, all of them are excited by the newness! They feel awake and alive! Not because life is easy, but because life is unexpectedly new.
And this is key! It’s not just any kind of newness! You can wake up each day and do something completely “new,” and yet still be miserable, life can still be difficult. No, the newness we seek is a newness that is unforeseen, unexpected.
It is the kind of newness when you’ve decided that you’re done, that life is just suffering, that God doesn’t really care—but then that out of nowhere, “beauty passes, happens, without asking permission” (Carrón). You fall in love, completely unexpectedly. And this beauty, this person that looks at us, this person that has a preference for us—this person makes us become ourselves. We are no longer anonymous: someone sees us and prefers us and loves us. Their preference places us higher than the stars. Joy, being caught up in the mystery of one another. You see yourself in a whole new light! What you could never see about yourself is revealed to you; they see in you what you never saw in yourself. Because of this unforeseen event, you feel alive, new, “saved”!
Here’s an experience I had. When I was a freshman in high school I had this huge crush on a girl, and she was a senior. Huge crush on this girl. And we never hung out or anything, but we were both musicians and were involved in several events together—but again, didn’t really talk to each other. Fast forward several years—I haven’t seen her since high school—and I’m home on Christmas break from school and I see her at a bookstore. So I walk over and say, “Hey, I just wanted to say ‘hey,’ don’t know if you remember me…” And she just says, “Michael! It’s so good to see you.” And just like that, newness. The fact that she recognized me, knew my name—this was so unforeseen and unexpected, life took on a newness. It was that simple.
And I could give more examples of this kind of experience of newness I’m talking about. But all of us have had glimpses of it throughout our life. We’ve all had experiences of feeling alive, feeling renewed and awoken to life, of feeling completely ourselves. But these things are always unforeseen. You don’t plan them. They just happen without our permission.
We have to go back to experiences like this if Jesus Christ is ever going to make any sense!
“Behold, I make all things new.” This newness in life, this constant newness is what we want, deep down it is what we desire. We don’t want that daze of binge-watching a show on Netflix for ten hours, or from scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram. That doesn’t give us this feeling of newness. No, it’s much simpler than that. It is the unforeseen, beauty passing, happening, without asking permission; that simple look that someone can give to you, eyes that bring the stars a little closer to earth.
This kind of unforeseen love, this unforeseen newness, this is the experience of salvation, this is what Christ brings when he says, “Behold, I make all things new.”
So then, back to what Jesus says: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Salvation, this newness comes from Jesus’s act of love, Jesus pouring himself out, emptying himself for us. Even though he was repulsed by the cross, Jesus embraced it. And so when we pour ourselves out for others, when we embrace even that which repulses us, when we open up ourselves and live for others and not only for ourselves—when we love one another, not only do they begin to perceive this newness, but we do as well. When you look at others with love, touch with love, act with love and tenderness and compassion for their being (just as Jesus did with us), not only do they experience salvation and newness, but we do as well.
These unforeseen events save us, make us a new creation, give us the experience of salvation, of newness. These unforeseen events give us back to ourselves. This is the difference Jesus Christ makes, the difference that loving as Christ loves makes. This is how the kingdom comes, how God saves.