Weekly Meditation: 24th April 2016

Acts 11:1-18

Psalm 148

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

Life in the early Church was not always easy and straightforward. When Jesus died, all his disciples were Jews. In his resurrection he appeared only to Jews, and the first converts were all Jews. These new Christians had been raised in Jewish families who kept the Law. It dominated and ordered their lives, with weekly Sabbaths, the annual atonement day, the other festivals – Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles – which drew them to the Temple at Jerusalem, and the rules that directed their conduct, even what they ate and with whom. Things had to change, however. Jesus had come as the saviour of the world, not only of the Jews.

After Cornelius became the first Gentile Christian, news spread that Peter “went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:2-3). This would have been shocking to Jews. They still had much to learn and understand about the love and grace of God. No doubt, in their minds, salvation was still tied up with keeping the Law, and the Jews were still God’s exclusive, chosen people.

Christians were under a new commandment now, however – to “love one another” (John 13:34). Love was to be their hallmark (13:35). It would identify Jesus’ true followers just as circumcision and Sabbath-keeping had identified Jews. Jesus had given this command before he died. There was much that his disciples still did not understand at that time, but he told them to love each other. Love would hold them together until the resurrection occurred, until Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit; it would unite them in their proclaiming of the gospel, and would sustain them under persecution. Ultimately, it would enable them to welcome into their midst others who were different.

Christianity has continued to present challenges to its followers; its message is at times disturbing and confrontational. As Christians we have to learn to accept all those whom God has chosen, and we have to allow God’s challenging words to us both through the pages of the Bible and by means of the Holy Spirit.

John’s vision of the new heaven and new earth that he shares with us in Revelation 21:1-6 is one such message. Just as receiving Gentiles into the Church was a challenge for first century Christians, this overturning of the universe is a challenge for us. John saw “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem” descending from heaven (21:2), and he heard that God was coming to be with humankind, intimately living alongside them, wiping tears from their eyes and taking away all that could cause harm and distress (21:3-4). This is not the way we usually understand our future; we tend to think in terms of going to heaven to be with God, but in John’s vision it is God who comes down to set up his tent in our midst. It is actually a picture of heaven and earth coming together.   Startling as it may be, it is a wonderful image of the earth – with all the beautiful features that are so familiar to us – being restored and renewed, and bound eternally with heaven so that God is never again separate from us. It is, in fact, a greater restoration of the situation that the writer of Genesis describes for us, before the Fall, when God walked and talked with humans in Eden (Genesis 3:8).

God does impossible things. He raised his Son and defeated death. He bound Jews and Gentiles into one family, and – one day – he will bring heaven and earth together, and live with redeemed humans.

By Susan Thorne