5th Easter: The New Jerusalem
Revelations 21: 1-3 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "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).
Forty years ago there were some religious people and some religious denominations who were very upset with NASA, the space program. They decided that the space program must be a sham because the Apollo astronauts circled the moon and then landed on it but did not report that they had found the New Jerusalem. These denominations were so fundamental in their word for word literal interpretation of the Bible that they were convinced that the New Jerusalem had to be up there in the sky somewhere waiting to come down. Since we can never see the backside of the moon from earth, they were sure that was the location of the New Jerusalem. They were upset with NASA because they decided that NASA was hiding the truth.
The New Jerusalem is not on the moon waiting to come down upon earth. But the New Jerusalem does exist. The place where God makes his home among mankind is real. It is the place where his name is Emmanuel--God with us. God’s City, the New Jerusalem, is right here. His City is the Church.
Now by Church I don’t mean the buildings and institutions of Rome. Nor am I referring to our splendid Church buildings in this country, the most beautiful, of course, is St. Ignatius, but who’s bragging? By Church I mean the People of God, united with Jesus Christ and empowered by His Holy Spirit.
The Church is the People of God. Human hearts that have been written upon by the Spirit of the living God have become the means of communication from Christ to other people. The starting point of an understanding of Jesus is faith, faith as it is actually believed, lived, proclaimed and practiced in the Christian Churches. Walter Kasper, Christian theologian, writes that faith in Jesus Christ arises from encounters with believing Christians. Jesus says: “This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another.” (John 13:35) People encounter Christ in people who continue his life. These people, these disciples, living in union with Christ and making his presence a reality in the world, these people are the New Jerusalem. These people are the Church.
We priests experience many meeting with Christ present in his people. We are humbled by these meeting. There are people in this parish who have become fervent members of the faith because they have experienced Christ in other members of this parish.
Jesus Christ became one of us so that all of us may see, hear, touch and be fully exposed to God’s love among us. His Spirit unites his people into a single family, the Family of God, the Church.
Do you remember the theological statement: ‘There is no salvation outside of the Church?” It is important that we develop this thought.
Our salvation, our relationship to God, comes through Jesus Christ. He is the Divine Mediator, the one who has re-established our union with God. This is the gift of Easter. The continual meeting of mankind with the Risen Lord transforms us into Daughters and Sons of God. This is the eternal Easter we celebrate every day of our Christian lives.
There is no way of being united to God outside of the Church because Jesus only exists united to his family, the People of God, the Church. There is no salvation apart of Jesus Christ. That is why we say that there is no salvation outside of the Church.
However, not all who profess to be Catholic are within the Church. There are many who profess to be Catholic but who live pagan lifestyles giving lip service to religion due to cultural ties or family pressure. Many times priests meet people who state: “I’m Catholic, but I don’t practice the faith.” Catholicism is a lifestyle, not a membership in an organization. You either do it or you are not it. You either do it, practice the faith, or you are not it, not Catholic.
Certainly, the Church is not limited to those who profess Catholicism. Those who profess Catholicism fully accept all the means of salvation offered as realizations of the Spirit of Jesus Christ among his people. These means are, primarily, the seven strongest ways that Christ is present in his Church which we call the seven sacraments. But we must also remember that there are many who profess Jesus Christ, who live in his life and who share his life with others, who do not profess Catholicism. They are the Church, People of God, giving witness to Jesus as Lord by their love for each other. They may be fervent Episcopalians, or fervent members of various Protestant traditions. They are Christians.
There are also those who are the Church who have received a partial revelation of God’s Word in scripture but who have not received the fullness of this Word in the Gospel. These people have been called to receive the salvation of Jesus Christ, to be united to God, through the covenant of Moses, that is the Jewish people, or only through the faith of Abraham, the Moslem people. It is our belief that the fervent and sincere Jew, Moslem, and for that matter, the fervent and sincere Hindu, Buddhist or Animist, etc, all who seek a relationship to God share in the salvation of Jesus Christ, even though they do not know of Him.
There are good people who have never received a call to seek God through any particular religion, but who seek God with a sincere heart desiring to do what is good and right in their lives. Their concept of God matches our concept of God even though their terminology may differ radically from our terminology. Their pursuit of goodness demonstrates their membership in the Church, the New Jerusalem, even though they do not acknowledge the very existence of the Church.
God works his salvation for all people, but always through the union of Jesus Christ with his people. This is the Church, God’s way of being related to the world.
We Catholics need to come to a deeper understanding of the extent of God’s revelation to us. We are at the heart of his revelation. We are called to share in his seven special presences that are the sacraments. People are incorrect if they say, “It does not matter whether you are a member of one faith or another as long as you live this faith.” This is only true to the extent that it reflects God’s particular revelation of his word to the individual. No one can move from a tradition with a greater sharing in the truth to one with a lesser sharing in the truth. A Christian cannot be justified in becoming Jewish, because this means rejecting Jesus as Lord. The Catholic cannot justifiably turn away from the truths that are the seven sacraments, because this means rejecting the real presence of Christ in, for example, the Eucharist or in Penance, or the Sacrament of Matrimony.
The New Jerusalem is the transformation of the world into the Body of Christ. Revelations goes on to say that there is no need for sun or moon in the New Jerusalem for Christ is its light. But the New Jerusalem is, simply put, people. Encounters with people who love as Christ loved are themselves encounters with Jesus Christ. A person can read thousands of books about Jesus, but he will never meet Jesus until he meets a sincere Christian.
We, the members of the New Jerusalem, have the deepest of responsibilities in the world. We must render Christ present for others in the way we love them and in the way we love each other. Charity, love, is not just something that we do. Love, loving the way Christ loved, sacrificial love, is how we express the essence of our being as Christians. The world needs witness of this love. The world needs Christ. And He can be found only in the New Jerusalem, among the People of God.