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The Acts of the Apostles again this Easter season is the source of the first reading.
It highlights St. Paul. In an earlier passage, not read in this liturgy, the intensely devoted Jew, after having persecuted Christians, experiences the presence of Jesus miraculously on the way to Damascus.
As a result, Paul converts to Christianity. Eventually, the Christian community accepts him, although understandably some Christians were nervous because of his past record of persecuting them. He had created a reputation of being quite hostile to the followers of Jesus.
At last accepted, in this weekend’s reading, Paul returns to Jerusalem. With his fiery personality and religious fervor now surrounding belief in Christ, he openly debated with Greek-speaking Jews.
Paul was well educated. From Tarsus, he was not a product of the Holy Land, although he was an ethnic and religiously observant Jew. He spoke Greek, the language of the empire and of scholarship.
Paul’s intensity made enemies. The Christians took him for his own safety to Caesarea, the Roman capital of Palestine, a place now in ruins on the outskirts of modern Tel Aviv. From Caesarea, a seaport, the Christians sent him home to Tarsus for his personal safety.
An important statement in this reading is in its final verse. It says that throughout the entire area the Church was at peace and making progress. Notice that the term “Church” is used.
For the second reading this Easter weekend, the Church offers a selection from the First Epistle of St. John.
It refers to its readers as “little children.” Obviously, adults composed the epistle’s audience or most of the audience. Still, the epistle employs this term of endearment. Those who follow Jesus indeed are God’s “little children,” and are small in their vulnerability and need for God.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading, and is part of the long discourse given by Jesus to the Apostles during the Last Supper.
This reading has a deeply eucharistic undertone. At the supper, Jesus gave the Twelve the wine that miraculously had become, through the Lord’s power, his very blood.
Wine is the product of grapes, which grow on vines. In this reading, Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” All who love the Lord are the branches. God protects the vine, even by cutting away branches because of sin.
Thus, Jesus warns people that no vine can bear fruit if it separates itself from the true vine of God.
Drinking the wine, transformed into the Blood of Christ, completes and strengthens this bond between the vine and branches.
In Acts, First John and the Gospel, the Church calls us to absolute faith in and deep love for God in Jesus, risen to life after dying on the cross.
Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith and of our lives.
Part of the Lord’s legacy is the Church. The Church does not, or should not, mean an earthly, visible and coincidental entity that we can take or leave. If we truly are with Christ, then we are part of the Church, and vice versa.
The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, a phrase rich in its references to Paul’s own thoughts. It then also is the vine, and members of the Church are its branches.
Vines and branches involve a living relationship. The vine nourishes and holds the branches. Cut away from the vine, the branches die. This Church offers us divine nourishment, the eucharistic Blood of Christ, and holds us closely to the Lord.
On this weekend, the Church again invites us to celebrate the victory of Jesus over death. If faithful, if part of the Church, the Mystical Body, we are with Jesus, who is the vine. We are the branches. In union with Christ, we live, nourished by the Eucharist. †