The Sundays of Easter describe an early Church alive with the presence of her Risen Lord. The Good News could not be contained within the narrow confines of Jerusalem. Soon it began to be heard far and wide.
This was demonstrated especially in the first missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas. To an outsider, the events surrounding the death and Resurrection of Jesus might well have seemed no more than a symptom of unrest in a troubled Roman province.
The unfolding events proved otherwise. Wherever Paul and Barnabas went their message of new life in Christ won enthusiastic followers. This could not be dismissed simply as the persuasive eloquence of Paul and Barnabas. Those who preached, and those who heard, had been transformed by the presence of their living Lord.
There was, of course, resistance. The proclamation of a Gospel that questions the fundamental values of any society will always face resistance. For Paul and Barnabas the initial resistance came from a Jewish establishment that opposed the Gospel as a threat to its authority.
If we, like Paul and Barnabas, are to carry the Gospel to a wider society, we must call upon the Lord and the power of his Resurrection. Without his presence we can do nothing. Paul and Barnabas were not universally accepted, and were frequently forced to move from town to town. Sadly, Christians continue to be persecuted and forced to flee in the same part of the world. In our turn, we will continue to meet resistance because of the Gospel. If we are faithful to the Gospel, many of our views, for example on morality and family life, will be rejected.
The triumphant vision of Revelation, describing the countless number of saints assembled at the throne of the Lamb, bears testimony to the suffering of the faithful over many generations. It was a vision born of the inevitable clash between the values of the Gospel and the prevailing culture of the Roman Empire. Such an empire, which embodied the gods of power and influence in the divinisation of its emperor, could never submit to the values proclaimed in Jesus. The vision assured all who suffered that their ultimate destiny was safe in the hands of their Lord.
Today’s society proposes different idols to its followers. Let us pray that our lives might continue to witness to the very different path chosen by Jesus.
The words of Jesus speak reassurance to a Church that will frequently feel scattered and unsure in times of uncertainty and change: “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will steal them from me.”