Welcome to Easter 2!!! Here's hoping that I kept the typos to a minimum this week...
Acts 4: 32 – 35
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
The Acts lesson – at least as it appears this Sunday without its context - dovetails nicely with the epistle lesson from 1 John. (What comes before this in Chapter 4 – a bit of a dust-up with the Temple officials – and after – a troubling episode with Ananias and Sapphira – warrant some discussion. The deeper themes of those narratives stand in stark contrast to what we find here). What this lesson does convey is how the new, reconciled community is to be organized. There is no coveting, no competition for wealth or status. Those personal desires are replaced by the desire for the well-being of the whole. Just as all parts of the body strive together for health and wholeness, all parts of the Body of Christ work together to nurture and sustain this new creation in peace, love and understanding. (What’s so funny about that?)
As mentioned, rivalry, retribution and violence form bookends to this tranquil passage, and those things are in large part, the product of the community’s leadership. (Obviously, Peter still has a few things to learn after the resurrection). I think they provide a necessary reminder about how fragile the peace of the new community can be and how easily the desire for vindication and personal success and power can pervert and possibly destroy that tranquility. Loose focus on the example of Christ, turn that gaze, and like Peter attempting that water walk, you will sink into chaos.
1 John 1:1 - 2:2
“…God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true...”
For me this is a perfect companion to the Acts text. The community of the faithful as described in Acts lives in that light, banishing the darkness that can erode good will and harmony. It also reinforces the idea that darkness does not come from God, that is, that God does not fluctuate between violence and vengeance on the one hand, and love and peace on the other. God is love. God is light. There is no darkness at all.
The darkness is our own doing. It is what we bring – potentially – to every relationship, every encounter. Sometimes we are its victim, sometimes we use it to mask our own intent. Sometimes it is the state in which we are so used to living, that we do not realize we have become its silent partner, beneficiaries of – as we say in one form of our corporate confession – the evil done on our behalf, beyond our sight, beyond our ability or willingness to name.
John 20: 19 – 31
OK. Don’t get me started on the whole Thomas thing. (Why in the 4th Gospel does he suddenly emerge as Jesus’ primary foil and not Peter? Once again, hit me up at coffee hour. I would love nothing more than to expound on this one). But, apart from a little Thomas-bashing, this episode with the nail prints and the pierced side has to do with the drift toward Docetism – go ahead, amaze your friends – which was the school of thought that claimed that Jesus only seemed to be human. (Though I was always one to think that the Gospel of John especially left itself open to that sort of understanding. Was he human? Was he divine? Can we get a workable doctrine here?) So, the emphasis on the hands and side, then, is a way of saying – hey, no kidding around now, the crucifixion was the real death of a real human being, in spite of all those things Jesus has said in this Gospel up to this point that might make you believe otherwise. But; also note- the disbelief is in the crucifixion, not the resurrection. Thomas wants to be sure that the guy standing in front of him is the same guy that was killed just a few days before.
So, with that out of the way, we can really focus on the real point of this passage, which has everything to do with peace, love and understanding – still nothing funny about that - and, of course forgiveness.
The first words from Jesus’ mouth as he appears to this sorry band of followers as they cower behind locked doors is not, “Hey, where were you guys?” or “OK, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t summon up a Legion of demons to possess you?” it is, “Peace be with you.”
While it would take me longer than three days just to even think about being in the same quadrant of the galaxy with these miserable failures, Jesus does what no one expects, or at least does what one who was not connected to the Light (see above) would possess the courage or the strength to do. He brings peace, not retribution. He offers forgiveness, not vengeance. And, a bond is formed that that redefines relationship and community and purpose. But wait, there’s more…
He then trusts them to carry this counter-cultural way of being into the world. As I was sent on this mission of reconciliation, so I am sending you. (That’s the right way to read the bit about forgiving and retaining sins. It is not, “you decide who is forgiven and who is not…” It is more, if you don’t get out there and forgive everyone, then some will never know reconciliation and peace. If you don’t get to them, maybe no one will… so, get out of here.”)
As Rowan Williamson once said, “the empty tomb means nothing.” The healing that it brings means everything. We cannot hide behind the locked doors of our own choosing and making. We must confront the pain of the world and offer peace.