Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Marks of the resurrected Jesus community or maybe rules for the household of the Risen Lord, that’s what the texts for this second Sunday of Easter reveal. The fellowship of the One who was raised from the dead looks different from the cultural landscape that surrounds it. Those who have experienced and believed the grave-busting power and love of the Son of God respond with transformed lives. At least that’s what happens in the New Testament.
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possession, but everything they owned was held in common.”
“We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship is with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
“There was not a needy person among them for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
According to these passages, this second Sunday of Easter ought to be at least as memorable as last Sunday. The offering ought to be HUGE! The confession sequence might take some significant time, what with all that honest confessing and magnanimous forgiveness happening. Not to mention the rush out the door at the end of the service as everyone scrambles to go where Jesus sends them. Great grace is going to be exhibited all around, so much so that it will spill out into the streets because the ones who followed Jesus have experienced the miracle of his risen presence, right?
If not, why not? That’s a question to be gently raised this week. If our experience of Easter hasn’t resulted in a revolutionary change in our hearts, lives and community, why not? What are we missing? Do we need some extra proof, like Thomas? That’s fair. I think Thomas shouldn’t be the scapegoat for all doubt and doubters forever and always. I am grateful for his honesty. I’d be upset, too, if I had been the only disciple not present when Jesus walked through the locked doors, exhaled the Holy Spirit and gave all the others his peace. If we are with Thomas this week, that’s a faithful place to be.
We may well need reassurance that Jesus truly lives in a world so utterly awash in death, dying and evil. We may need to ask for some help from our fellow disciples and from God, too. We may need to feel the Spirit’s breath on our neck, touch the not-yet-healed wounds of our Savior in order to know for ourselves that the testimony of our friends is indeed true. Jesus doesn’t seem to mind making multiple appearances, so it is perfectly reasonable to ask for them. I don’t believe Jesus judges our limits. Instead he honors them, even if we sometimes must wait for that assurance.
So, if you haven’t yet been moved to sell your land and give the proceeds to the apostles, or you can’t quite forgive a deep hurt you suffered, or accept that you are forgiven for one you inflicted, or you feel overwhelmed not with peace, but with anxiety, Jesus’ promise to never leave you abandoned remains true, and the Risen Lord makes multiple appearances, and the Holy Spirit still blows where it will. Keep gathering with the disciples. Keep asking to touch the wounded side of your Savior. Keep expecting to see, believe and proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” Faith is not a one-and-done experience; it is a lifelong process.
Maybe your Easter hasn’t translated into transformation for other reasons. Maybe you have felt the nudge to let go of that grudge or that property or that worry but you have resisted because somehow those grudges and those possession and those obsessions define you or drive you or make you feel strangely comfortable. Maybe the thought of such radical letting go is more terrifying than holding fast to all the things that keep you up at night. Maybe going where Jesus sends you is outside the plans you have for yourself or the expectations of others for you. The ideas of peace and forgiveness and grace and generosity and belief and even radical following are great in theory, but inevitably disruptive in practice. Dead gods don’t demand much. The Living Lord demands our heart, our soul, our all.
The thing is, however, that it is in the reluctant following, the nascent believing, the faltering forgiving, the mumbled confessing, the miserly sharing, that the peace of Christ creeps in and the Lord of Love breaches barriers and we start to feel something strange stirring our hearts, maybe even the Holy Spirit moving us beyond ourselves and into the world.
We’re all Thomas, somewhere between yearning to know and finally believing. We’re all hovering between Easter and ordinary time, having glimpsed resurrection but still wondering if it is too good to be true. We’re all waffling between forgiveness and resentment, confession and covering up our sin, sharing and hoarding. But living, breathing, took-on-our-sin, defeated-death, Jesus walks into all of those in between spaces, even when we padlocked the door. That’s the power of God. That’s the promise of Jesus Christ. That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s the relentless truth of Easter, believe it or not.
So, if the pews are sparse this Sunday, the offering quick to count, the music not as grand and swelling as last week, that’s all right. The Risen Christ is still in the midst of us, granting us peace, giving us the Holy Spirit and sending us out to forgive, share, extend compassion, tend to those who have need – in short, sending us to exhibit the marks of the resurrected Jesus so others can see him and believe, too.
- Read through John 20:19-31 and make note of the gifts Jesus gives his disciples. How have you experienced those gifts?
- Have you ever had a season of deep doubt? A crisis of faith? How did you come to belief again? Or did you?
- When have you experienced radical generosity, either extending or receiving it? What moved you to give? How did it feel to be the recipient of such generosity?
- Jesus says that we are sent no less than God the Father sent him. What does that mean for you? For your community of faith? Where are you supposed to go? What are you to do there?
- Forgiveness is a prominent theme in these Easter texts. Why? How do we practice the forgiveness we are called to extend?
- Does our experience of the Risen Christ move us to a radically new lifestyle like it did the early believers in Acts? Should it?