I think a lot of us Christians come out of Easter on a bit of a triumphant high. Some of us made it through Lent and the Triduum, but even those who don’t show up for that part of the story find it easy to jump on the bandwagon of Easter morning. O Death, where is your sting? God, joy, love, hope wins! Scoreboard, baby!
The extended Easter season – from Easter through Pentecost – is a favorite of mine, because it’s the one time we spend time in my favorite book, Acts (even though we skip the most entertaining parts). But even though it maintains the upbeat tone of Easter Sunday (unlike the Christmas season, which jumps from baby Jesus in the manger to the stoning of St. Stephen to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in, like, a week), it’s got some challenges for us today.
Take the second Sunday of Easter readings. The Gospel is always the story of “Doubting Thomas”, which we bandwagon, pastel-wearing Christians can guffaw at, because surely we have believed even without the gory stuff. But this year we get the Acts passage (4:32-35) that causes so much consternation for us individualist Americans.
“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, or those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”
Can we take a minute, before we jump to the caveats, to sit with this? This is what it looks like for God, joy, love, and hope to win. This is what love looks like. This is the optimal case of how we should live. Before we put asterisks and footnotes on it, can we sit for a week and examine our individual and collective hearts, to “mind the gap” between where this is and where we are?
Seriously, give it 5 minutes before we move on. What is between you and that life? What is between us and that life? Because whatever it is, it’s worth working on next Lent.
OK, so, yes, this is an idealized version of the 1st gen Church, as Paul’s letters to the very much not united early Christian communities less than two decades after the Resurrection show clearly. And, yes, this is about Christian community living, not political structures. And, yes, the people weren’t taxed; they donated. Throw any other asterisks on that you want to.
But don’t let the caveats paper over the gap between where we are today, especially in the US, and where this says the original followers of Jesus were.
As much as it is an indictment of me (and maybe you?) that the first thing I want to explain away is the part about possessions, don’t skip over the first phrase:
“The community of believers was of one heart and mind.”
That in itself should be enough to make us gulp. (Which I literally just did when I reread that.)
This past week, at Holy Week liturgies, the guy whose job it is to preach to the Pope focused on division within the Church as our biggest problem. (And he’s had that gig through John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis.) The pope’s sort-of #2, the Secretary of State, made the same point. And it’s not just Catholics; my heart breaks over the plight of evangelical Christianity, in which Beth Moore is no longer welcome in the Southern Baptist Church and people of color are saying “enough is enough”. If your denomination or even your congregation doesn’t have visible fault lines around nationalism or sexual ethics or something else, well, God bless you. But as a faith, as a whole, that is not the reality today.
Similarly, look at the first part of the Resurrection appearances in the Gospel passage. What is the first thing Jesus says, every time?
“Peace be with you.”
The Gospel stories of the Resurrection aren’t really consistent about what the risen Jesus is like, but these are pretty clear that Jesus still has holes in his hands and feet and side. So that “Peace be with you” thing isn’t coming from a place of denial. Of anyone who has lived, this Jesus has known suffering. And yet this is his first phrase. Not “Gotcha!” Or “Suck it, Satan!” Or “I win!” Or “Payback time!”
“Peace be with you.”
Again, as with, “one heart and mind,” what gaps do we face, in ourselves and in our communities, between here and there? Do you know peace within you? Do you feel peace in the people around you? Do you see peace in the world?
The risen Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and us, the pastel-wearing, bandwagon-riding Body of Christ? We have work to do.
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