Sunday, 29 April 2018 : Fifth Sunday of Easter (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Scripture readings, we heard about the Lord Who spoke to us with His parables, comparing Himself and the Father as the Vine and the Vinegrower. In the first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard the first works of Saul, who would later on be known as St. Paul the Apostle, just right after his conversion to the faith.

What is the significance of these passages to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is ultimately a reminder for all of us, that everything we say, everything we do, and all the things that we have, ultimately belong to God and must be for God. God is the source of everything we have, and He is the One Who has given us and blessed us with everything we need, most important one of which, is our life.

God is the True Vine, from which everything else originated. Nothing can exist when they are separated from God, and if one should sever himself or herself away from God, sooner or later, he or she will perish. Sadly, in reality, there had been many occasions throughout history, when individuals separated themselves from God and chose to go their own way through disobedience against the will of God.

Firstly, God created Angels to serve Him and to glorify Him. But one of the Angels, the greatest and the mightiest among them, the most brilliant one, Lucifer, chose to rebel against God and against His Creator and Master. He wanted to claim God’s position, and in doing so, severing himself from God. As a result, he was thrown down and banished from heaven, forever from then, known as Satan, the great enemy, whose defeat and final destruction has been assured and prophesied.

But Satan did not want to go down quietly and on his own, so he tried to strike at those whom God loved and cherished, in particular His most beloved ones, that is us mankind. That is why, he struck at our ancestors, Adam and Eve in the Gardens of Eden, tempting them to disobey God’s commands, alluring them with sweet lies and false promises, the temptation of knowledge and power, essentially providing them with an ‘alternative’ to God’s way.

And unfortunately, they chose to listen to Satan over their obedience to God, and thus mankind fell into sin by eating the fruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. All because of their greed and unbridled desires, and having Satan who manipulated these greed and desires, we fell, and we sinned. And that was how mankind severed from the True Vine that is God. God never intended for us to be separated from Him, but unfortunately, we chose such a separation.

Why did I choose this narrative for today? That is because the account in Genesis is truly symbolic and relevant for what we have heard in today’s Gospel passage about the Vine of the Lord. By a tree we have been cast down, as we ate of the forbidden fruit instigated by Satan and by our own greed. We have chosen to sever ourselves from God, and as the Lord mentioned in the Gospel today, that no one who is separated from God can have life and survive, indeed, all of us mankind have been destined to perish together with Satan in eternal damnation.

However, God created us all in His very own image, far greater than all the Angels, even that of Lucifer, the tempter of all. And He created us all because of His great and unsurmountable and perfect love for us. If He has created us all because of His love, then it is illogical for God to desire for our destruction and annihilation. It is us who severed our connection to Him, but He wants to restore that connection He had with us.

And how did He do so? He did so through another ‘tree’, that is the tree of the Cross. While once mankind, having disobeyed the Lord by eating the fruit from a forbidden tree, fell into sin and disgrace, now, with the New Man, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, He bore the tree of the Cross, that bore a new fruit, the fruit of obedience and faith. It was Christ’s love and obedience for His Father, which ultimately redeems us from our sins and from our past wrongdoings.

By the cross, we receive the fruits of God’s love, and we saw His commitment to the Covenant which He has established with us. And through the cross, the Vine is remade and reestablished, with God and man reconciled and reunited by the actions of Christ, equally Man and equally God. The Cross is the bridge which has connected God and mankind, bridging over the previously impassable gap between the two.

Now that Christ has restored the vine, all of us who believe in Him as Christians have been made parts of the vine as members of His Church. He has established the Church in this world, as the physical and real existence of His all-embracing Vine. And how did we become part of this Vine? It is because we have received our faith from the Church, from the priests and our bishops, who themselves, received their faith from their predecessors.

And ultimately, those received their faith from the Apostles, who received their faith from the Lord Himself. Thus, while the Lord is the Vine, the Apostles are His principal branches, and our priests and bishops are the branches that emerge from those principal branches, and all of us Christians make up the entirety of the Vine, as members of God’s Body, the Church.

Now, it is important for us all to take note, that even though the Lord, Who by His love and ultimate sacrifice on the cross has reestablished the crucial connection between us and Him, but the threats presented by Satan and all of his wicked allies have not ended yet. Instead, these threats and attacks will only increase all the more, because Satan, realising that he has lost his grip on us, will try all the more to bring us down with him.

That is why, as all of us should well realise, that becoming a good and devout Christian in this time and era is increasingly becoming a challenge for us. Increasingly, keeping our faith as Christians and standing up for our faith become more and more difficult, as our Christian values of love, of faith, of hope, and of zeal, clash with the increasingly immoral ways of this world, seduced by Satan and his allies.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us are called to follow the examples of the Apostles, including that of St. Paul, who willingly chose to turn to God after his conversion, dedicating his whole life to the service of God, to preach the truth and the Good News of the Lord to His people, that many more people would repent and be saved from the certainty of eternal damnation in hell.

God wants us to be courageous in our faith and to be devoted to Him in this way. He does not want those who are just Christians in name and by formality only. He said this in the Gospel passage today, as He said that those branches that is not healthy will be cast aside and thrown away, pruned to make sure the whole Vine is healthy. To each and every one of us have been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and now, whether we are to use them or not, and how we use them, is entirely up to us.

Let us all therefore pledge ourselves to God, and to His cause, inspired by the examples of the Holy Apostles and saints. May all of us, faithful disciples of the Lord be able to commit ourselves, our time, effort and attention, to do God’s will through our every words and actions, so that we are truly Christians in spirit and in action. May the Lord be with us all through this journey, and may He help us all to persevere in faith. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

Sunday, 29 April 2018 : Fifth Sunday of Easter (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 15 : 1-8

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the True Vine and My Father is the vine grower. If any of My branches does not bear fruit, He breaks it off; and He prunes every branch that does bear fruit, that it may bear even more fruit.”

“You are already made clean by the word I have spoken to you. Live in Me as I live in you. The branch cannot bear fruit by itself, but has to remain part of the vine; so neither can you, if you do not remain in Me. I am the Vine and you are the branches. As long as you remain in Me and I in you, you bear much fruit; but apart from Me you can do nothing.”

“Whoever does not remain in Me is thrown away, as they do with branches, and they wither. Then they are gathered and thrown into the fire and burnt. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask whatever you want, and it will be given to you. My Father is glorified when you bear much fruit : it is then that you become My disciples.”

Sunday, 29 April 2018 : Fifth Sunday of Easter (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

1 John 3 : 18-24

My dear children, let us love, not only with words and with our lips, but in truth and in need. Then, we shall know that we are of the truth, and we may calm our conscience in His presence. Every time it reproaches us, let us say : God is greater than our conscience, and He knows everything.

When our conscience does not condemn us, dear friends, we may have complete confidence in God. Then, whatever we ask, we shall receive, since we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. His command is, that we believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, and that, we love one another, as He has commanded us.

Whoever keeps His commands remains in God and God in him. It is by the Spirit God has given us, that we know He lives in us.

Sunday, 29 April 2018 : Fifth Sunday of Easter (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 21 : 26b-27, 28, 30ab, 30c-32

I will fulfil my vows before all who revere YHVH. The lowly will eat and be satisfied. Those who seek YHVH will praise Him. May your hearts live forever!

The whole earth will acknowledge and turn to YHVH; the families of nations will worship Him.

Before Him, all those who rest in the earth will bow down, all who go down to the dust.

My soul will live for Him. My descendants will serve Him and proclaim YHVH to coming generations; they will announce His salvation to a people yet unborn, “These are the things that He has done.”

Sunday, 29 April 2018 : Fifth Sunday of Easter (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 9 : 26-31

When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples there, but they were afraid of him, because they could not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the Apostles. He recounted to them, how Saul had seen the Lord on his way, and the words the Lord had spoken to him. He told them, also, how Saul had preached boldly in the Name of Jesus.

Then Saul began to live with them. He moved about freely in Jerusalem and preached openly, in the Name of the Lord. He also spoke to the Hellenists; and argued with them. But they wanted to kill him. When the believers learnt of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Meanwhile, the Church had peace. It was building up throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, with eyes turned to the Lord, and filled with comfort from the Holy Spirit.