Fr. John O’Callaghan OSB
In today’s second reading, from the Book of Revelation, there is the image of a city, a ‘holy city, coming down from God out of heaven’. It has all the radiant glory of the presence of God. It is the ‘new Jerusalem’, a spiritual home, the ultimate home where the people of God live in his presence.
We note that this heavenly Jerusalem has twelve gates over which are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There are also twelve foundation stones, and each of them bears the name of one of the twelve apostles. This is obviously very symbolic. The relationship between the tribes of Israel and the apostles is being alluded to.
The Christian church inherited a great deal from Israel: belief in one God only, and that he is the Creator of the universe. The Jewish religion also taught us basic standards of moral behaviour through the prophets as exemplified by the ‘ten commandments’. It led us to hope for a messiah figure, and even to entertain the daring hope of life after death.
In today’s readings the issue is precisely how much Christians were to adopt or leave aside from their Jewish heritage; We cannot perhaps imagine today how momentous it was to abandon traditions which had shorn up Jewish identity for over a thousand years or how humbling it would be for Jewish people to now share table with those of pagan birth.
It is interesting to witness how the decision was made. It involved, as we are told,’ the whole church’, a first synodal action! Delegates were chosen, and even leaders as prominent as Paul submitted their opinions of the the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. The work of the Holy Spirit through the community was recognised by disciples and, to sum it up, we get that amazing phrase ‘it has been decided by the Holy Spirit and ourselves’. The work of the Spirit, hand in glove with the disciples and the leaders, does not fracture its unity. The holy, apostolic church remains one.
Since that council in Jerusalem to this day there is no question of Christians being bound to follow Jewish practices of circumcision, of obeying Kosher food laws of Jews, or observing their feasts and traditions. The foundation of the church, on the contrary, is the teaching of the apostles, namely that God has come to us in Christ, shared our life, died and rose to new life and this as fulfilment of the Jewish scriptures. This is our core belief and what we celebrate at Easter. It is the good news which permeates our lives, giving us the hope we need to live as disciples.
And we recognise that this city, the new Jerusalem, has more to it than what was inherited from Judaism. We would do well to note the intimacy with God it affords its citizens : as today’s gospel says ‘if anyone loves me he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.’ It is in God’s presence that we live and move and have our being’. This is our new home, the new Jerusalem, now ‘under construction’!
It is a community growing to be the city of God, the city of Peace, as its name indicates. ‘Salem’, a variation of ‘shalom’, means ‘peace’. And our role is to be peace-makers. To contribute by our lives to make this a better world, allowing the Holy Spirit make it a home for all.