The Christian Church would probably not have spread so far, nor survived for very long, if it had remained an exclusively Jewish body. Thankfully, from early on in its history, the message of salvation, the Good News of the Gospel, was preached to Jew and Gentile alike. In this morning’s first reading we see this taking place for the first time.The setting is Caesarea, the capital of Judaea, on the Mediterranean coast, midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman army, is a god-fearing and kind man. He receives a vision instructing him to seek out Simon Peter and listen to him. Cornelius sends men to bring Peter. The disciple also received instructive visions, so is glad to go to Caesarea. Cornelius is somewhat overcome when Peter arrives, and throws himself on the ground before the Apostle. Simon Peter is uncomfortable about being worshipped, knowing that worship is due to God, and God alone.
We now learn how Peter’s mind has been changed by a vision which encouraged him to eat what Jewish law describes as ‘unclean’ food. This makes Peter understand that the Good News of Jesus Christ is not just for Jews, but for everyone.
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35)
Here we see the rationale for the worldwide spread of Christianity. Rather than being solely the preserve of a single ethnic group, the Jews, salvation is offered to the whole world. Because of these verses the message of Jesus Christ was brought to this, and every land, and it was shared, and taught to all people. These verses are part of the reason that you are reading or hearing these words today. I, for one, find that amazing. Because Peter had the vision and courage to reach out to non-Jews, the Gospel was able to spread. The effect of the Apostle’s preaching is likewise amazing. His words, and his faith prompt the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. People come to know God, and long for baptism, to be born again by water and the Spirit. God is active in Caesarea. This is where the Church receives its first gentile converts, and starts to become the worldwide body which it still is.
In the second reading, from the First Letter of John, we are reminded that Christianity is a religion of love. John writes about God’s love for us, and our love of God and each other. It is because God loves us that He sent His Son to be, ‘the propitiation for our sins’ (1Jn 4:10). Which means that Jesus makes up for all that we have done wrong. Jesus offers Himself, the Righteous for the unrighteous, to restore our relationship with God and each other. Jesus reconciles God and humanity, bringing together what sin has thrust apart. This is the heart of the Good News. However, as well as dying for us, Christ also rose again. This is what we celebrate at Easter, and is what fills us with hope.
The Gospel reading today continues through the discourses which form part of John’s account of the Last Supper. It includes some of Jesus’ advice to his disciples in the Upper Room on the night before He died. Our Lord talks about love, and how Christian love should imitate the love that Jesus has for us. Christ loves humanity so much that He willing goes to His death on the Cross for us, to reconcile us to God and each other. In this we see that love has the power to transform human lives. Love helps us to be to be something which we were not before. Through God’s love we are transformed and we are able to bear fruit through our sharing of this wonderful love with others.
Those who follow Christ are called to abide in His love, to remain in it, to live and make our home there. It means being part of the Christian community but also standing by the Cross, where God’s love is made manifest to the world. We are called to love God and each other, to transform our lives, to take up our cross and follow Him. To aid us in our lives of faith we are washed by the Blood of the Lamb, and fed by Him. Pope Benedict XVI, speaking at World Youth Day in 2008, explained that:
‘love has a particular trait: far from being indulgent or fickle, it has a task or purpose to fulfil: to abide.’ https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2008/july/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20080719_vigil.html
We experience such love most fully in the Eucharist where Christ continues to give Himself to us. Out of love, He continues to heal our wounds, to restore our relationship with God and each other, and to give us a foretaste of heaven in the here and now. There is nothing on earth as precious as this love. Nothing is more wondrous than this sign and token of God’s love for us. To dwell in Christ’s love is to be united with Him in physical and spiritual communion, so that God’s grace can transform us more and more into His likeness.
The transformation that took place in the lives of believers in Caesarea continues to this day, and will continue until the end of time. As Christ’s people continue to be recreated into God’s likeness, so we are built up in love. Love and transformation go hand in hand. We grow and develop, nurtured in love, and by loving others. This is how the Church has continued to grow for two thousand years. The message of love and radical change continues to be at work in people’s lives. The Holy Spirit is active in the world, not just in the dramatic way seen in the Acts of the Apostles, but in the gradual development of a Christian Faith deepened through a lifetime of prayer and the sacraments, study, and good works. This is no less miraculous just because it is less obviously extraordinary. To live in Christ is to remain close to Him day by day, so that we can live life in all its fulness. We invite others so that they, and all creation, may be remade into the likeness of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen