Fifth Sunday of Easter [by Ursula Kuhn]

Prot. sermon text Cath. / Anglican first reading Cath. / Anglican second reading Cath. / Anglican Gospel reading
Acts 16, 23-34 Acts 14, 21b-27
/ Acts 11:1-18
Rev. 21, 1-5a John 13, 31-33a, 34-35

Preliminary comments on the day

Easter joy unfolds on the Sundays between Easter and Pentecost. In the protestant church, the fourth Sunday after Easter is called Cantate after Psalm 98 verse 1: “O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things.”

Acts 16, 23-34

Prisoners and yet free

Paul and Silas are travelling through Europe to tell people about Jesus and about God. Hoping that they, too, will be captivated by this astounding message.

But that’s not how things turn out. The message they proclaim, of peace, justice, the breaking down of social class barriers, makes people afraid. And makes Paul and Silas politically dangerous individuals.

They are accused, imprisoned, beaten, put in chains. And what do they do? They don’t moan, they don’t complain: they pray. And sing. Loud and clear. So that everyone can hear them. They pray and sing so loudly that all their chains are burst and their mission can continue.

It’s 1945. He is in prison, and has been for a long time. He’s spoken about his faith and about what unites Christians and Jews. What he proclaims strikes fear in the hearts of some. And makes him a politically dangerous person. What does he do? He writes letters and poems and prayers. He refuses to be cowed. And although the outward chains don’t burst, he has long since freed himself from the inward chains with which they wanted to crush his soul. He is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his faith still inspires us today.

It’s 2015. The civil war in Syria is escalating. The Palestinian-Syrian refugee Aeham Ahmad is living in Yarmuk. And playing the piano. To protest against the war. And the terror. The town is surrounded. Living here is like being in prison. With his music he is able in some way to burst the chains that are crushing the souls of Yarmuk’s residents.

The music he plays, the hope he broadcasts through it, strikes fear in the hearts of some. And makes him a politically dangerous person for ISIS.

And what does he do? He tries to flee to a safe country, and uses his music here in Germany to raise awareness of his compatriots and their plight.

In music, in praise and in prayer, there is a power that we can only dimly sense. It doesn’t heal all wounds. And not everyone comes through alive. And yet: they all possess an inner freedom that strikes fear in the hearts of their gaolers – and that makes a change of heart possible.

Paul and Silas’ gaolers wash their wounds. Bonhoeffer’s letters are smuggled out of the prison by a sympathetic guard. Aeham Ahmad managed to leave the country, and although the civil war is not over, ISIS no longer controls Yamuk.

Music, praise and prayer can free us from the outward and inward chains that can bind us and crush us.

Revelation 21,1-5a    

Easter – a new kind of peace has broken into this world. We want and need to call this to mind again and again.

With his vision of a new heaven and a new Earth, the mystic John paints an astonishing picture: no tears, no death, no more mourning, crying, or pain. Safety, refuge, peace – and in the midst of it all, God Himself.

May we, too, dream of these things – in a world that seems never to have been more dangerous, a world full of war, a world in which right-wing populism is once again raising its voice?

Yes, we may. Indeed, we must. Not only that: the new heaven and the new earth have already come to pass. They are plain to see time and time again – in every resurrection story, big or small.

John also speaks of the new Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned. And that certainly doesn’t justify any misuse of this city for political ends, be it by Israelis or Palestinians or the USA.

When we hear about the new Jerusalem in the joyful, hopeful season of Eastertide, we also hear a message of hope for peace in the Middle East.

The message of this new peace in a new world extends all the way from Christmas to this season of Easter.

We must never cease our efforts to make this new heaven and this new earth a visible and tangible reality, right where we are.

John 13, 31-33a, 34-35

Nonviolent Communication

A gospel reading from Jesus’ farewell discourse for the Easter season. It points beyond what is to come to the new age that will break upon us.

The central theme is love. The love of God that has been shown to humankind in Jesus. The love of God that we are to show towards one another, following Jesus’ example:

Looking at each other with love.

Treating each other with love.

That doesn’t mean ceasing to criticise or object. It embodies a way of thinking and acting that we need to practice until it becomes second nature. This is the principle being fostered by the seminars and workshops on Nonviolent Communication that are taking place in more and more schools and nursery schools.

Treating others with respect, attentiveness and empathy, without denying one’s own convictions.

To bring about world peace, we first need to bring about peace in our own little worlds: in the family, at school, at work. That creates a new culture that transforms how we behave towards one another. Let’s begin in our churches. Let’s practice treating one another with empathy (without accepting everything uncritically) – following the example of Jesus.

Then the world will know that we belong to God and to Jesus.

Ursula Kuhn, Wiesbaden (Germany)