Remember the Land Rover

A couple of weeks ago I was in a conversation with some couples and one of them recounted an incident that took place some time ago. The story had to do with a fairly expensive Land Rover sport utility vehicle. You could see the love of the SUV in the face of the middle-class fellow. It still was a fairly new automobile when he went to the Ford dealership to trade it in. The Land Rover still had more value than the new Ford.
With a few thousand dollars in his pocket, the man went to a jewelry store and bought the young lady who would be his bride a diamond ring. Whenever the couple had a difficult time he would point to his ring finger and say the word “Land Rover” and they both would break out in smiles and immediately solve the difficulty.

Father Joseph Brando

Father Joseph Brando

One loving incident that happened over a decade ago maintained the power to bring the couple back together again. That same dynamic also works in the spiritual life. The Church depends on it. The Sundays of Easter take tidbits from the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles to cause us to remember what Jesus said and did. They are meant to re-focus our minds on biblical events that should remind us at a beautiful time of the year to live lives modeled on the resurrection of Jesus. Just think “resurrection” and our lives will return to the true way for us to live.

There are five Sundays in May, the last of which is Pentecost and they include the feast of the Ascension. These holy days tend to remind us to get our spiritual lives in order. So, what I will do this month is to take each of the 18 passages and just bring out the thoughts each passage presents to us.

Beginning with the fourth Sunday of Easter, we first look at the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. There, Luke recalls for us the time Peter cured a cripple. The key is healing. Our Christian life must be characterized by healing. Whenever we are confronted by hurt, pain, and sickness, our presence should offer a healing presence.

The second reading that first Sunday in May comes from an epistle from John. As you would probably guess, the key phrase is the love of God, the Father. He tells us we are the children of God. That’s why he loves us so much. Then, it follows that we, the baptized, are brothers and sisters. Staying aware of our relationship with God and with fellow Christians should result in our attitude toward them. We must adore God and always have good relations with our siblings in Christ.

The Gospel for the day is from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel, where Jesus says he is our good shepherd. He lays down his life for us. This he does freely. So we need to learn that as long as we live we are part of a loving flock and the Lord is watching over us and will find us if we get lost. Remembering this relationship we have with the risen Christ will reduce any tension we may ever experience.

Moving on to the fifth Sunday of Easter, we have a special message. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that the “church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria” was at peace. That described the Church and not the non-Christians. They had all sorts of problems stemming from their history. Christians are about making friends and not continuing hostile attitudes of any duration. We need to intensify our work in this area so that we may overcome the racism and other evils that cause fear. The first time Paul met with Church leaders in Jerusalem they feared him. Thanks to Barnabas, Paul came to be accepted. And that acceptance was proved correct when Jerusalem heard Paul’s dynamic preaching.

The second reading is again from the first letter of John. He wants to convince us that we must love in deed. Love is more than a strong feeling in our hearts. It involves action that comes from a decision we make to give our lives to another and to carry out that decision by what we say and do. John tells us that we must keep the Lord’s commandments. Then, he tells us what these commandments are. They are two: “We should believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” Loving God and our neighbors makes us peaceful people because we love in deed.

The gospel for the fifth Sunday of Easter is from John 15, where Jesus calls himself the true vine and his Father is the vine grower. We are branches. If we want to be productive in deed, we must get the life-giving sap that comes from the center of the vine. We must make sure we remain alive in Christ if we are to do God’s will. But, we don’t have to worry about that because Jesus also said “if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. To remain or to abide in Christ is a Christian’s prime life project. It will assure God’s presence in our lives so that we worry for nothing.

The sixth Sunday of Easter begins with a reading from the 10th chapter of Acts. Another key event took place. Peter baptizes Cornelius, a Roman military officer. Even Paul had criticized Peter for not baptizing pagans. But Paul may not have known what a thorny problem Peter faced. Baptizing pagans would, in effect, stop Jews from seeking to be baptized.

So, the key words here are Peter’s. “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” At that moment the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening. As it were, that proved divine acceptance on Peter’s decision. The big event that we should remember is that anyone who acts righteously can be baptized. We are a world religion.

The second reading that day is from first John again. The topic continues to be the love of God for us. John clarifies an important point here. The love he’s talking about is not our love for God, but it is the fact that he loved us first and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Our sin was and still is not an excuse for God to come to us in love. No matter how unworthy we think we may be, God wants to abide in us. All we need to do is say “yes.” Then we can experience the peace of Christ.

This Sunday’s Gospel also is from John. It is from the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel. We are at the Last Supper. Jesus reminds his disciples that he chose them. It is not the other way around. He appointed them to bear fruit. Jesus’ will is that we have joy to the fill. One might ask about what gives ultimate joy to us. A good answer would be to know he forgives our sins, gives us eternal life and is with us always. There is nothing offered to us on television that can give us greater joy, if that is what we are seeking.

We come now to the feast of the Ascension. Obviously, the story is about Christ leaving his physical mission on earth and going to the Father’s side from which he will come to judge the living and the dead. Nevertheless, this is an Easter event. The first reading is the beginning of Acts. Luke ties Easter with the Ascension by Jesus demanding that the disciples not leave Jerusalem until the promise of the Father, which is the Holy Spirit, who will come on what we call Pentecost. The 12 gathered together asked Jesus if he were now to re-establish the kingdom to Israel. Remember Jesus was of David’s line and could rid Israel of the corrupt high priests who were leading Israel under Roman military control. Jesus doesn’t deal with that issue at all. He does tell his apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes. That promise includes us. However, that power is not political but spiritual. Immediately after that promise Jesus ascends. All the 12 could do was look up to the sky. The Lord would rather, I presume, have them look beyond the sky to heaven. That’s one place he could be found. Or, they could look in their souls. We have the power of Christ there and should learn how to use it.

The second reading for the Ascension is from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. It tells us about that power, which comes from the Holy Spirit. That power is a spirit of wisdom. Poetically, Paul describes this power as enlightening the eyes of our hearts. Imagine a force that empowers our heart. What our innermost desires are, they can become real with the power we now possess but, most likely we do not use. Why not try to use that power the rest of the year?

The Gospel presents us with Mark’s view of the Ascension. Most likely, it originates with Peter. Peter does see beyond the sky to the throne of God, where the Lord, Jesus, takes his seat of power at the right hand of the Father. What he and the other disciples do is what Jesus told them as his final (and most important) words. They proclaimed the gospel and baptized. The Lord allowed them no excuses nor did they make any. Nor should we give an excuse to God.

We now make our way to the seventh Sunday of Easter. There, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter is organizing the Church for a replacement for Judas. They had two candidates who picked lots to determine who the Holy Spirit wanted as one of the 12. Mathias was selected. The key point was that all of this was completely surrounded by prayer. The criteria for membership among them are that they followed Jesus from his baptism in the Jordan to the ascension. Prayer and following Christ also are criteria for our Christian life.

The next reading is again from the first letter of John. Here, the beloved disciple urges us to love one another. We accomplish this state of love by remaining in Christ’s love and enjoying the Holy Spirit. Remaining in love is the perfect method of abiding in God for eternity.

This Sunday’s Gospel is also from John. We are again at the Upper Room on Holy Thursday, a most memorable day. Jesus prays over his disciples, asking the Father that we will always be one with him. That end also is good for us. As Christians, we must strive for unity with God. The danger, John warns, is from the evil one. Unity with God must be proven by our fight against Satan. The devil lies; we must be solidly consecrated in truth. Notice that being one in God is much the same as living in truth.

Finally we end up on Pentecost, one of the most important days on the Liturgical calendar. The first reading, from Acts, tells the story of the Holy Spirit descending on the Church. Their reaction was to be bold in explaining the faith to the crowd. The best we know now is that the Upper Room overlooked the tomb of King David, one of the great attractions in Jerusalem. From Holy Week to Pentecost the disciples were ‘hiding’ there. For about 54 days they were separated from huge numbers of Jewish tourists by only a closed window shutter. They were not bold. The Holy Spirit was the only difference.

The second reading is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul jumps on the Holy Spirit bandwagon. He claims that the effect of the Holy Spirit is different for different people. Whereas we are part of Jesus’ resurrected body, body parts have widely different functions yet remain one with others in the body. As different we may be from other Christians, we are one with them in the Body of Christ. In the alternate second reading (Galatians), Paul names some of the more effective fruits we receive from the Holy Spirit. They include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which one is yours?

The Gospel takes us back to the Upper Room. There the Apostles receive the Spirit of Jesus by means of the Lord breathing on them after his resurrection. Immediately afterwards the risen Lord invests in them the power to forgive sins. In fact, Christ mandates they forgive or else sin will remain in the world. That mandate to forgive continues to us in the present day. We should forgive everyone in our lives and ask forgiveness from those we offended.

We have finished our search for the equivalent of the Land Rover. Look back on 18 alternatives, one from each of our readings of May. They were highlighted as we discovered them. They are: healing, love of god, good shepherd, peace, love in deed, God’s impartiality, God loves us first, chosen, power, proclaim and baptize, prayer, one/truth, bold, fruits, and forgiveness. Choose one that fits you best and continue to develop that reality in our lives. Then, you may experience the Land Rover effect.

Father Brando is retired from the active priesthood in the Diocese of Knoxville.

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