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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter: Be the Dance
May 9, 2011
Marlene Milasus, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth, NJ

Here at our monastery, and in Catholic parish churches as well, we’re listening to daily readings from the Acts of the Apostles during this 50-day Easter season. The calendar also tosses in a few apostles’ feast days, like Philip, James, and Matthias, and we get a sense of the amazing stretch of the Gospel message as it begins in Jerusalem, spreads rapidly through the Middle East, and by the end of the Acts of the Apostles, comes to Rome in the person of Saint Paul. The more those early Christians were persecuted, the greater the spread of the Gospel. The small band of disciples who had followed Jesus and later experienced him as alive again had grown to the point where the Gospel message was now, only a few decades later, at the center and capital of the then-known world. And remember, there were no social media platforms or 24-hour news cycles to convey the message.

As I listened to the readings for today’s feast of Philip and James, I asked myself: how did this happen? Theologically I can answer that the Holy Spirit was at work, but what was it that drew women and men from every walk of life, from a diversity of ethnic and national groups, to take on this new life of the Christian disciple? 

Yes, even in the earliest years, the Christian community had a series of beliefs, a set of moral practices, and a particular way of worship. You could call this the three C’s: Creed, Code, Cult. Was this what drew people into the community of Jesus’ disciples? 

Or was it the deep enthusiasm (a word that means “full of God”), the joy of living in the assurance of Resurrection, the vibrancy of the community, the sense of a common passion, that attracted people? 

Perhaps it was exactly that, combined of course with the interior pull of the Spirit. Creed, code, and cult are necessary, like the steps that need to be learned if you want to dance. However, the dance is always so much more than its steps, and life as a disciple of Jesus is infinitely more than the particularities of doctrine, morality, and common worship, important though they are. In fact, that word “common” is key to the whole question. No one is called to be a Christian by herself or himself. Every Christian life is part of the Body of the Risen Christ, and together we become a dance choreographed by the Holy Spirit, who is always at least a few steps ahead of us. 

So as we head into the last few weeks of this Easter Season and prepare for Pentecost, let’s resolve not simply to do the steps, but to be the dance. The early Christians weren’t counting heads to see if their numbers were growing; they were too busy doing the Gospel, being the Gospel, being the dance. And so they grew. They were their own best advertisement for the Christian life.

Maybe there’s a message in all for us, as a Church and as monastic communities: Be the dance.

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Sister Marlene Milasus is a member of Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth, NJ, St Walburga Monastery. Currently, she is serving as community treasurer and liturgist. She works in a monastery retreat program and is a licensed New Jersey boiler operator!