Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Victor Cancino, S.J.April 24, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

As the Easter season progresses, the Sunday readings provide images of and reflections on  divine intimacy. Christ’s resurrection from the dead, aside from being the wonder that confirmed his disciples’ faith in him, revealed the possibility that all people might now share in divine life. This promise is especially clear in this Sunday’s second reading. John, in one of his letters, summarizes discipleship in one succinct idea: to believe in the name Jesus Christ, and to love one another just as he commanded us (1 Jn 3:23). Those who do so will be drawn into the same divine relationship that Jesus experienced every moment of his life. John assures his audience that “those who keep his commandments remain in him and he in them” (1 Jn 3:24). Believing in Christ and loving our neighbor will open us to the same refulgent life that brought Jesus back from the dead.

Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. (Jn 15:4)

Liturgical day
Fifth Sunday of Easter (B)
Acts 9:26-31, Ps 22, 1 Jn 3:18-24, Jn 15:1-8

How can you contribute to a church at peace that inspires growth?

Who relies on you, like a branch to a vine, and needs your prayer?

How can you shift your prayer this week to focus on God’s desire for intimacy?

Insights on divine intimacy also appear in this Sunday’s first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul, called Saul in this passage, lives out his newfound discipleship in Damascus as he shares his belief in Jesus with those whom he had once persecuted. The work of the Spirit in bringing Saul and many others into peaceful relations with each other is clear from the final line of the passage: “The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord…it grew in numbers” (Acts 9:31). This is a deliberate and serene picture of a church that was thriving in spite of many challenges. The church was now at peace, being built up, growing, and walking in the fear of the Lord.

The phrase “walking in the fear of the Lord” also speaks of divine intimacy. In the ancient world, “fear of” any deity was considered a pious act, and in ancient Israel, “fear of the Lord” was one of the highest virtues. The phrase describes the disconcerting awe that one might feel in the presence of great holiness, but it implies more than just the emotion of fear. The virtue of “fear of the Lord” brings with it desires for connection with holiness and for service to God. These desires appear in the opening line of this Sunday’s psalm. “I will fulfill my vows before those who fear the Lord” (Ps 22:26).  The full nature of the biblical idea of “fear of the Lord” might best be captured by the English word “reverence.” 

Such reverence is its own form of divine intimacy, as this Sunday’s first reading narrates. By recounting the diligence of the first Christians in the breaking of bread, the reading of scripture, their community prayer and life together, Luke illustrates their profound reverence. Sharing an insight similar to John’s, Luke reveals that these reverent practices were conduits of the Spirit that drew members of the early Church into deeper intimacy with each other and God. Of the early church he says, “It was being built up…and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers” (Acts 9:31). 

A reflection on divine intimacy also appears in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Having previously compared himself to a shepherd, Jesus now draws another image drawn from agriculture. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower” (Jn 15:1). Jesus emphasizes the intimate relationship that the symbol implies. “Remain in me, as I remain in you,” for “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:4-5). Like this Sunday’s second reading, this Sunday’s Gospel passage emphasizes relationship. One-on-one intimacy with God is the foundation of discipleship. Christian life requires a profound connection with God, just as the life of a branch depends on the life of the vine.

The Gospel of John has a notable lyricism. Jesus’ long discourses and final speeches are like songs that easily serve as meditative verses. The sentiment of any one verse or single line allows for deep prayer. This Sunday, for example, one might linger with the phrase, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” This is a line of a song between Christ and his Church, lovers who are intimate with each other, who understand their connection in the depths. 

This Sunday’s readings remind us that the cradle of Christianity is modern-day Israel, Palestine, and Syria. In this Sunday’s first reading, Luke reminds us that the church was at peace in that place. Today we also know how much conflict exists in that same place. The readings invite the faithful to pause this week and bring peace into the world through prayer and through intimacy with the Lord. This is the path of peace that Jesus offered to his disciples, and remains a path that anyone who prays can follow. Those who share divine life with God will bear much fruit, because without God, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). 

The latest from america

May 19, 2024, Pentecost Sunday: A critical test of faith is that Christ’s disciples understand one another. That is only possible through constant forgiveness and trust that the Spirit works among all the faithful. 
May 12, 2024, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: This is a sacred image of church: All people understand each other through the Spirit, even if only for a brief moment.
May 5, 2024, Sixth Sunday of Easter: The trajectory of Peter’s lifelong conversion, as he follows the mission entrusted to him, is a constant reminder of the gift of God’s self-revelation to all peoples.
April 21, 2024, Fourth Sunday of Easter: What do Jesus’ wounds have to do with the peace he brings into the world?
Victor Cancino, S.J.April 17, 2024