A New Life in the Spirit - Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > A New Life in the Spirit - Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)

In the first reading of the Mass today we are taken back to Pentecost day and the account of the first proclamation of the Christian Gospel. The reading begins with the declaration of St Peter: "The whole house of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ". This is a succinct presentation of the message of the Church to the world. It reminds us of what the essential message the Church presents to the world: it is a proclamation of Jesus Christ.

Pope Benedict captured this in these words,

"Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ... Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians... Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world."

The Christian is one whose whole life, their very existence, is centred on Jesus Christ and expressed in a living relationship with him.

What St Peter says to his Jewish listeners should not be passed over too quickly. He is making bold and daring claims about the Jesus of Nazareth whom they all knew. When St Peter declares that Jesus is Lord, he is ascribing to him a divine title. To say that he is Christ is to declare to his Jewish listeners that Jesus was the promised Messiah. In other words, this is a bold declaration of faith.

Such was the conviction of faith by St Peter that many of his listeners were, as St Luke describes in the reading, "cut to the heart". In other words, the preaching of St Peter not only engaged their minds but touched the deepest core of their being. They were moved to faith.

In considering the extraordinary effect that the words of St Peter had on them it is worth mentioning that this preaching was clearly a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. St Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit. He words not only carried personal conviction but were words imbued with a deep faith and real spiritual potency. There was an evident spiritual power associated with his preaching that stirred the hearts (or, better, the souls) of those who listened to him.

Such a response was a clear indication too that the Spirit was moving in the lives of those who had gathered to listen to him speak. Clearly they experienced something quite real, almost tangible, occurring within them. This was far more than just the intellectual acceptance of what St Peter was saying. It was a life changing moment for each of them.

So they asked the question: "what must we do, brothers". These people felt a need to respond in some way to what they had heard. It was not enough to go home with some new ideas about what God had done in Christ, but they needed to appropriate this into their lives. They were seeking a way in which this truth could be  incorporated into their lives in such a way that it could change them. They had the conviction that they needed to do something about what they had heard.

St Peter is able to answer this question immediately. The answer does not surprise us. Yet it is not without some significance. Peter could tell them that they needed to be baptised in the name of the Trinity because this was the explicit instruction that Jesus had given to his disciples at his Ascension: Go out to all the world and proclaim the good news, baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are very familiar with this formula. We are familiar with this unique Christian action - the washing with water and the invocation of this formula of words. It was something quite distinctive and new to his hearers. They probably knew about what John the Baptist had been doing, but this was raised to a new level - it has a number of very significant aspects.

Firstly, for believing Jews who accepted that there was only one God, this formula announced that the one God was a trinity of persons. It pointed to the way in which the believer now is caught up in a wonderful and dynamic relationship with the living God. The believer discovers God principally as Father and they can see themselves as His beloved children. They accept that Jesus is the Son of God and saviour of mankind. They are aware that it is in and through their faith in Christ that they are saved. They now live a life in the Spirit, not just bound to observing the commandments of the Law they now live an interior life of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a dynamic presence in their lives.

Further to this, the direction given by St Peter introduces what we know as the sacramental dispensation. Those who believe in Christ are drawn into a life of faith whereby the grace of God is mediated through sacramental signs. As the Lord taught Nicodemus, unless you are born of water and Spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of God. Water and the Spirit: the use of a physical substance and a spiritual result. There is an external sign and an accompanying spiritual effect. God has chosen to draw us into divine life by means of sacraments. We are human beings and God uses material elements accompanied by a form of words to carry out his saving work in our lives.

Thus, St Peter has introduced a new way of faith. He has marked out the distinctive character of the Christian dispensation. He has set the foundations for the way the Church will not only proclaim its message, but how the Church will be the conduit of  the saving work of Christ in the lives of believers.

He adds that submitting to this sacramental disposition is not just some symbolic gesture but will have real effects. If you are baptised, he explains, "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit". The Christian life is not simply a code of behaviour or a set of beliefs but the participation in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit shaping and creating us as true sons and daughters of God.

To become Christian is to have a new life in the Spirit.

My brothers and sisters, we have been reflecting upon the first preaching of the Christian Gospel. In one sense what we are hearing is what we know and believe, but in anther way we need to hear the basic message of the Christian Gospel again and again. We need to let the words of St Peter speak afresh to us, so that we are refreshed and inspired in the living of our Christian faith.

So today let us, each of us, hear the proclamation: Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and has risen is Lord and Christ. He is the Christ, the saviour of mankind. He is the divine Son of God risen to glory. Believe in him.

We can make a personal act of faith - Jesus you offered your life on the cross to save me from the power of sin and death. You have redeemed me. You have risen and in your resurrection you offer me eternal life. Today I humbly and gratefully acknowledge you as Lord and Christ. I bow before you in adoration and worship and surrender myself to your saving power. In your mercy raise me up to fulness of life in you. Grant me the Holy Spirit that I might live a new life empowered by your divine grace. Amen.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, May 10 2014