Fourth Sunday of Easter — April 30, 2023

In this lectionary reflection, editor Teri McDowell Ott reflects on the meaning of awe and the day-by-day pace it sets for the early Christian community.

Year A
Acts 2:42-47

In her book Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age, Katherine May describes her childhood habit of smashing black stones open with a hammer. “The results,” she writes, “were patchy and untidy, but a surprising proportion of them revealed geodes, hollows in the centre of the stone lined in sparkling crystal. I never quite got over the high of finding something so beautiful hidden in something so plain and commonplace.”

On this fourth Sunday of Easter, we read of an early Christian community living in a state of awe. This text from Acts falls immediately after the Pentecost story. Jesus is gone. The Holy Spirit has arrived and the first community of Christians is learning how to live together in their new reality. Signs and wonders are abundant in this enchanting scene. Often idealized and romanticized, this passage gets a lot of attention for the community’s sharing of resources and caring for each other’s needs. But reading this text today, I find myself attracted to the pace this Christian community sets for their life together.

The Greek word for awe can be translated as “fear” or “terror” — but it is not the kind of fear that sends you running. It’s the kind of fear that immobilizes you with wonder and astonishment. The awe of this first Christian community, living in the afterglow of the resurrection and the Pentecost miracle, slowed them to a pace of reverence and respect; a sanctifying of daily, common rituals.

The text says this early Christian community lived “day by day.” Day by day, they worshipped together in the Temple. Day by day, they broke bread at common tables. Day by day, they welcomed new people attracted by the sanctity, beauty and wonder of their lives. Their life together was precious — precious enough to be measured in day-by-day, awe-filled increments. They leaned into their lives, enchanted by all they discovered in their connection to each other and to their God.

May’s book Enchantment chronicles her search to reclaim her childhood wonder. She describes an “absence” that haunts her and society at large; a disconnection from meaning. “The last decade has filled so many of us with a growing sense of unreality,” she writes. “We seem trapped in a grind of constant change without ever getting the chance to integrate it. Those rolling news cycles, the chatter on social media, the way that our families have split along partisan lines: it feels as though we’ve undergone a halving, then a quartering, and now we are some kind of social rubble.”

The first Christian community could have also known this absence, this disconnection, this crumbling into social rubble. The soil of their lives had been completely upturned. Yet they responded with an intentional slowing to find the “day by day” beat and beauty of their new rhythm.

May collects stones and keeps them in a drawer in her study. Cupping these stones in her hand and cradling them in her pockets helps her remember the wonder of what “the earth can yield, if only I’m prepared to stop and sift through it with my fingers.”

What would this Fourth Sunday of Easter yield if we stopped to sift through it with our fingers? What beauty might be cracked open before us if we slowed ourselves to live “day by day.”

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. There is rhythm and ritual to our lives as Christians that can slow our racing hearts, calm our frayed nerves, and position us for awe. As the Easter narrative reveals, our Creator is ready to amaze — there a blossoming red tulip; here a cup of coffee pressed into an outstretched hand; there a child dancing in puddles left by the rain; here the decadent taste of chocolate; there the deep-throated warble of a frog; here the fragrance of lilacs greeting you as you rush out the door. We are not disconnected from the world in which we live. We are not alone and abandoned by God. Slow down. Pay attention. Stand in awe of all that God is doing day by day by day.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What thoughts, feelings, ideas, images come to mind as you read this text?
  2. When have you experienced awe? What did it feel like?
  3. Take a moment to stop and look around you. Where is beauty breaking through to you now? What wonder can be found in this moment? Where is God at work in this day?

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