Church ushers get to witness some amazing transformations every Sunday. Some people come in the front door carrying a smartphone and wearing the urgency of world affairs on their face. As you greet them they walk past with their eyes fixed straight ahead, looking for the nearest vacant pew from which they can meet their attendance obligation before making a quick exit to get back to where they left off in the world.
This Sunday’s readings carry great significance for such souls. They offer the first hit in a one-two punch combination that can bring them back to their senses of what’s important in life vs. what’s urgent. Our St. Michael Brothers in Christ group discussed the battle between these two priorities at one of our recent Sunday night meetings. It was the topic of a video presentation we watched, given by Preacher James Merritt, who credited Dwight D. Eisenhower with explaining the significance of this urgent/important distinction many years before. That explanation made us think of the one-two punch we hope you’ll get this Sunday at Mass.
The desired second punch should come with the handshake of peace that follows shortly after the readings. That’s our opportunity to be Christ for each other, and it’s a transformation as important as the one that turns bread into Christ during the offertory. For ten seconds we are freed from the urgency of this world so we can pay tribute the importance of the next one. The next world is the subject of our second reading from the Book of Revelation (Rev 21:10-14, 22-23). It is depicted as a great city powered by the light of the Holy Spirit. All souls are the conduits for delivering this power to others who are without it:
I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
Within the refuge our church offers, the sign of peace we all share provides a lighted escape route—from the dark urgency of smartphones to a new peace made possible by all of us as the delivery device. Our gospel reading from John (Jn 14:23-29) recalls the words Jesus gave us to sanctify this custom:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
This is an important point of transformation for all of us, just as the offertory is the point of bread and wine’s transformation into the body and blood of Christ. We become ministers of his peace and prepare others with the proper attitude to receive that sacrament which offers salvation from the urgencies of our world. Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29) shows us an important moment in the disciples’ ministry when the people they were sent to serve were distracted by false urgencies such as:
Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.
The peace the disciples offered was a release from man’s focus below the belt and an admonition to focus on what’s above: True God and true love:
It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.
In other words, step away from all the energy-sucking false gods in your life and stay true to the genuine power behind your love. That’s the source of the church’s power and it can be the saving grace for anyone enslaved by trivial pursuits.