by Father Mike Stubbs
A vast cavernous space, such as a church, will often make any sound echo. Infants at Mass sometimes will discover this phenomenon to their great delight — and to the distress of their parents.
In a sense, every time a priest or deacon preaches, it is meant to echo the preaching of the apostles, to continue their message, although adapted to that particular audience.
In Sunday’s first reading — Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — we hear the apostle Peter preaching his first homily. It is directed to his fellow Jews, assembled in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. He concludes his homily by urging them to “repent and be baptized.”
In urging his audience to repent, Peter is echoing the standard invitation that Jesus made when he preached. It forms part of the kerygma, his basic proclamation: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).
Jesus called people to repent, so that they could fully embrace and enter into the kingdom of God which he was announcing.
While it may be obvious that Peter is echoing Jesus’ message about repentance, it is not so clear that he is echoing his message about the kingdom of God. After all, Peter does not even mention the word. But that is where baptism comes in.
Through baptism, we become part of the church. That is why we call it a sacrament of initiation. The Acts of the Apostles account specifies the number of new members brought in by Peter’s preaching: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.”
There is a connection between the kingdom of God and the church, although it is an oversimplification to identify God’s kingdom with the church, as some have done in the past, as though they were exactly one and the same thing.
Rather, the church is made up of those followers of Jesus who earnestly seek the kingdom of God and who have opened themselves to it. It is through the church that we come into contact with the kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed to be near at hand. As part of the church, we are able to experience the kingdom of God.
And having experienced the kingdom of God, we also can repeat Jesus’ proclamation of it, in our own time and place. The echo still continues to reverberate.