The Second Sunday of Easter – April 15, 2012

Reading 1: Reading 2: Reading 3: Reading 4: 
Acts 4:32-53Psalm 1331 John 1:1-2:2John 20:19-31

By Bruce Epperly

Practicing resurrection, to invoke Wendell Berry’s poem, involves the interplay of experience and witness. We can “taste and see” God’s presence in moments of new life and creative transformation, but often these moments are inspired by the testimony of others. Testimony or witness can come from a variety of sources: theological reflection, others’ narratives of their experiences, sermons, poetry, art, encounter with the non-human world, and music. Theological reflection, at its best, joins vision with the promise that we can experience that theological vision in everyday life. Purely abstract theologies are irrelevant, regardless of how erudite they may be. Holistic, life-changing theology emerges from concrete experiences of the holy and connects these experiences to the concrete realities of concrete persons.

Today’s passages join resurrection faith with experiences of community. Psalm 133 proclaims the joy of families and communities that share common goals and experiences. Community does not imply uniformity, but a creative weaving together of diverse experiences and persons into a tapestry of blessing. “Look at how good and pleasing it is when families dwell together as one!” (Common English Bible)

The passage from Acts describes the church as the manifestation of divine koinonia, a lively relational community. Holistic faith joins the one and the many, unity and diversity, individuality and community. Like the healthy body, described in I Corinthians 12, every part supports all the others; the health of individual and community are interdependent. Healthy communities support healthy persons and dynamic spiritualities; healthy persons contribute to the formation of healthy and dynamic communities.

The Acts passage is countercultural both in our congregations and political communities. The rallying cry of “me and mine” drowns out the quest for solidarity. Politicians propose budgets that cut taxes for the wealthy, leave the middle class virtually untouched in terms of tax savings, and reduce funding for society’s most vulnerable members. In many ways, Acts 4:32-35, along with Acts 2:42-47, describe a community of prophetic hospitality in which justice and compassion characterize social relatedness. While the Acts community had no political power, these words serve as a challenge both to church and community: “The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say ‘this is mine’ about any of their possessions, but held everything in common….there were no needy persons among them!”

Acts of the Apostles convicts governments and churches alike. They call us beyond isolated individualism to beloved community in which our well-being and the well-being of others is intimately connected. The passage begs a number of questions:

  • What does it say about a nation that is content with millions of people living below the poverty level?
  • How can we as people of faith tolerate the reality of “needy persons,” whose lack is a result of others’ decisions and no fault of their own?
  • What does it say about developed nations who share only modest portions of their wealth to respond to the realities of starvation and epidemic?
  • What does it say about a nation that is apparently content with unequal educational facilities and health care services?

At the very least, the reading from Acts challenges us to look at our congregations: Is anyone needy – in body, mind, spirit, relationships, economics, healthcare – in our congregation? What is our response to the “needs” in our Christian community? What would happen if we chose to defer certain purchases to subsidize a family’s health care costs or insurance payments, to pay the rent for a family in financial distress, to enable elders on fixed incomes to buy groceries and pay for medications, or to insure that children had adequate school supplies and technology to keep up with their peers? Such actions are not a substitute for humane governmental policies, but they will bring greater well-being to a significant group of people. Whether conservative or liberal, Christians are called to support structures of economic, institutional, and educational healing as a priority for both church and state.

Acts is not talking about charity, but responsibility. It challenges the current fixation on the prerogative of “job creators” to amass as much largesse as possible in light of the reality that there are no job creators without consumers and workers. We are all in this together – there is no us-them in the body of Christ, but a dynamic community of brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Epistle of John describes an interdependent solidarity of grace and sin. We have experienced grace and find joy in the sharing what we have seen and heard. But, the experience of grace is completed not only in witness to God’s actions in our lives but our recognition of our finitude and imperfection. Confession connects us with the divine and our brothers and sisters. Like thanksgiving, confession reminds us that we need one another – there are no self-made persons or us-them, but we are all part of a dynamic community of grace and forgiveness.

Confession is an act of solidarity that nurtures greater understanding of others’ imperfections; it may also challenge us to see our complicity in others’ suffering as well as our need to prevent certain occasions of sin – poverty, lack of education and employment, racism, sexism. While God is forgiving and embraces us in our imperfection, God also calls us to see spiritual and physical health as connected – holistic spirituality, like holistic medicine, seeks to be preventative not just reactive.

The gospel reading describes three interesting “moments” in the week after the resurrection:

  • Jesus breathes on the disciples, bestowing God’s Spirit on them. Spirit-centeredness is as near as our next breath, and God is moving through every breath and heart beat to awaken us to God’s calling in our lives. We can experience Pentecost with every breath. This passage challenge preachers to explore breath prayer and imagine God “inspiring” us with every breath. A session on centering prayer might be in order to edify the theme.
  • Jesus is known by his wounds. Resurrection embraces woundedness – Jesus’, God’s, and our own. It does not deny pain, but embraces it with God’s healing power. Jesus’ suffering invites us to embrace our wounds as icons of grace in the context of healing communities. Our wounds, when embraced, create a solidarity of those who suffer, inspiring both understanding and action in relation to the pain of others.
  • Jesus’ encounter with Thomas is experiential. While Thomas gets a bad rap in this passage, we must appreciate Thomas’ position. Only Thomas missed the resurrection. His quest for experience is laudable. He was not content with words, but wanted to see wounds. He wanted to experience the living Christ, not just a story about him. Moreover, despite being left out of the Easter joy, Thomas remains in fellowship with the other disciples. It must have taken great faith for him to endure the emotional distance between their joy and certainty and his doubt. But, he stayed, with all his doubts, hopeful that he too might experience the Risen Christ. When he encounters Christ, his experience of resurrection, wounds and all, inspires him to become a witness to the Living Christ.

Today’s passages invite us to practice resurrection in terms of a community of breathing together, a fellowship of sufferers, a commitment to common cause, a generosity that transcends me and mine and awakens us to communion, a willingness to confess our limitations and imperfections, and a openness to God’s life and light-giving grace.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the PerplexedHoly Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. Contact him by email for lectures, workshops, and retreats.