Easter, the Second Sunday

Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in Him you may grow to salvation, alleluia! (1 Peter 2:2).

God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting. (Psalm 118: 1).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“I, John, your brother, who share with you
the distress, the kingdom,
and the endurance we have in Jesus,
found myself on the island called Patmos
because I proclaimed God’s word
and gave testimony to Jesus.
I was caught up in spirit on the Lord’s day
and heard behind me a voice
as loud as a trumpet, which said,
“Write on a scroll what you see.”
Then I turned to see whose voice
it was that spoke to me,
and when I turned, I saw seven gold lampstands
and in the midst of the lampstands
one like a son of man,
wearing an ankle-length robe,
with a gold sash around his chest.

When I caught sight of him, I fell down
at his feet as though dead.
He touched me with his right hand and said,
“Do not be afraid.
I am the first and the last, the one who lives.
Once I was dead,
but now I am alive forever and ever.
I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.
Write down, therefore, what you have seen,
and what is happening,
and what will happen afterwards. (Revleation 1:9-19)”

In this present Cycle of Sunday Scriptures, we will listen each Sunday of Easter to a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, the Book of Revelation and the Gospel according to Saint John. The ‘Sunday’ Word of God will form us as the proclamation of God’s Word ‘travels’ to the world stage of Rome in the Acts of the Apostles while offering hope in the midst of persecution (Book of Revelation) as Jesus, the new day of Creation, makes all things new in our midst (Gospel according to Saint John). The Acts of the Apostles and Gospel according to Saint John are also proclaimed, for the most part, during daily Mass in the Easter Season and the Book of Revelation is the principle source of Scripture for the Office of Readings in this Liturgical season. With such consistency in the proclamation of God’s Word, I think it helpful to explore 1 of these Books more thoroughly through the lens of the Sunday celebration. Hence over the course of these Easter Sundays, we will examine the Lord’s message to us from the Book of Revelation as it presents, among many insights, hope for the faithful whose connection to the Person Jesus undergoes a variety of tests, struggles and persecutions.

The apocalyptic Text proclaimed this Sunday is a shortened introduction to the Book of Revelation. We meet John on “the Lord’s Day” on the “island called Patmos,” a place where dissidents were banished to live out their days in silence. The introduction also draws us into one of Revelation’s more fascinating elements: visions. Throughout the Sacred Text the many visions are vivid and often troubling, capturing the imagination with all sorts of questions that ponder connections between the text and events of the biblical era as well as our own. While preachers and a host of people throughout the centuries have used (abused?) Revelation’s imagery for a variety of reasons, it is important to situate everything in the Text within a holistic context. Problems arise with any part of Scripture that is divorced from its context and Revelation is no different. ‘Keeping everything together’ is essential for a proper grasp of the salvific meaning of this apocalyptic Text.
In the vision before us this Sunday, John speaks of “seven gold lampstands,” a reference to 7 specific Churches that will be addressed individually. In both ancient and contemporary scholarship, many have asked, ‘why these Churches?’ Apringius of Beja, for example, writes in the sixth century: “We have already said that he addressed one church which exists during the time of the whole world, that is, from that time when he spoke to the consummation of the world. Since he now mentions the names of these churches specifically, let us see what meanings they have. . . . There is a mighty mystery in the names which we will examine and discuss to the extent that God allows. Ephesus means “my will” or “my plan.” Pergamum means “to him who divides their horns.” This refers either to the insolence of the powers of the air, or to the arrogance of the heretics. He writes to Thyatira, that is “enlightened.” This signifies that, after the expulsion of heretical pride and after the defeat of temptations from the powers of the air, the holy church is deserving of the light of righteousness. Sardis means the “beginning of beauty.” The church is seized by the sun of righteousness and is illumined by the light of truth, so that she might have the beginning of beauty, the Lord Jesus Christ, and might always shine in perpetual light. Philadelphia means “preserving devotion to the Lord.” After possessing the sun of righteousness, after the illumination of holiness, after the comeliness of holy beauty, the church rightly is devoted to the Lord and preserves herself by an inviolable observation of devotion. Laodicea means either “a tribe beloved of the Lord,” or, as some would have it, “a birth is expected.” Both are meaningful, for she who has merited the beauty of faith and the sun of righteousness and knows that through faith the Lord cleaves to her, might also be a tribe whom the Lord loves, who is both loved by the Lord and preserved by the Lord. (Tractate on the Apocalypse).” While one may debate the basis upon which Apringius ‘defines’ the meaning of each Church, a vast majority contend that the 7 gold lampstands is a way of speaking of the universal Church whose presence in the world is expressed through local communities.
That being said, the introductory vision is vital for a proper view of the visions, for in the midst of the 7 lampstands is the Person Jesus. His centrality in the Church and indeed in the midst of all reality is a consistent and significant message of the Apocalypse. His presence as the Risen Savior is the light against which the lives of the Churches and believers will be measured. As the Word unfolds on these Easter Sundays, the challenge will be to permit the light of Easter to shine in such a way that our ecclesial and individual lives are grounded in the security and peace that Jesus alone brings and gives to a waiting world.