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The Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2016 

      In Greek mythology there is the story of Sisyphus, king of Corinth, a greedy, tragic figure who offended the gods to the point that they doomed him to spend eternity in Hades pushing a huge boulder up a mountainside.  Each day, Sisyphus would succeed in getting the impossibly large rock within inches of the top, but always the slope of the mountain was such that the stone would slip and fall to the bottom, and he would have to start all over again.  Every day.  Forever.

     That ancient myth speaks to the meaninglessness of life and the futility of human endeavors. There is only effort, endless effort. And success is endlessly elusive.

     Standing over and against such cynicism is the Christian gospel of hope that views life as a purposeful mission, a journey to glory.  But gospel hope is not Pollyanna hope.  It is hope rooted in the Easter mystery we are celebrating during these fifty days, the mystery that took Jesus to the very pinnacle of glory but only through the dark valley of death.

     That kind of hope is powerfully pictured in the new heavens and new earth of today’s reading from the Book of Revelation: a creation more wondrous by far than this one, the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city where God delights to dwell among mere mortals like us, where God wipes away the tears from every eye, where death and mourning, crying out and pain are no more. A glorious picture of hope, to be sure.

     But, my friends, what about this city?  What about Seattle or Renton, Bellevue or Burien?  What about any of our cities that are so far removed from the heavenly Jerusalem?   Is there no connection between these cities of ours and the City yet to come?  Are we simply to bide our time in the earthly city with our eyes firmly fixed on the heavenly city?  Christians have certainly been accused of assuming such a pious and passive attitude "pie in the sky when you die" mentality, but the accusation is unfair.

     As followers of Christ, we know that there is a vital link between the human city and the City of God.  We know that in every hungry mouth we feed, every homeless person we shelter, every prisoner we rehabilitate, every defenseless life we champion, every outcast we befriend, every injustice we refuse to tolerate – we know that all these things, when done out of love and in the name of Jesus Christ, are putting in place the building blocks of the City of God, and turning the story of Sisyphus – pointless labor leading nowhere – on its head.

     In the Christian gospel there is no giant boulder endlessly rolling back on itself.  There are steep hills to be climbed, for sure, sometimes exceedingly steep, but the boulders we push are really building blocks, and the building blocks are love.

     "A new commandment I give to you," we heard Jesus say in today’s gospel. "Love one another as I have loved you.  By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  I can find in all the gospels no more important words than those words of Jesus, and no more important challenge for us as his followers.  And the truth is that, by our love, we are laying the foundations, raising the walls, building the dwelling places of the City of God.

     But we have a long ways to go, don’t we!  We are daily surrounded with painful reminders of just how far. The homeless and hungry, the victims of random violence, the elderly with no security, the sick without proper health care, abused children and oppressed minorities, the untreated mentally ill – all these people, sisters and brothers everyone - are the Sisyphus of today, endlessly pushing the mythical boulder that keeps falling back on them.

     My friends in Christ, we are called to be at their side: to lend our hands, our hearts, our time, our treasure, our voice - whatever it is we have - to turn their burdens, their boulders into building blocks for the heavenly city.

     In just a minute now, a wonderful group of people who have been on a very intentional journey of faith for a long time, will stand with us to profess their faith and they will then be confirmed in that faith and receive the Eucharist for the first time. How good it is to have them join us, and what a joy it is to welcome them! Together, hand in hand, may be do our part to build the heavenly city which God insists on building with human hands!

        Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303