The Second Sunday of Easter, 8 April 2018

April 8, 2018 | by Nathan Mattox

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Acts: 4:32-35 Psalm 133 1 John 1:1--2:2 John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31

God incorporating (making a body) the apostles (sent) into the Divine act of forgiveness (freeing, letting go), is the primary thrust of this text that I would take as a Process Preacher.  In a recent interview with Tripp Fuller on his podcast, “Homebrewed Christianity,” Catherine Keller spoke about incredible power of Jesus “incorporating” humanity into the Divine “Body of Christ,” and how the church frequently settles for a sanitized, corporatized, “inc.” alternative to the life changing “grace and responsibility” that is partnership with God, or perhaps more scandalously, “embodiment of God.” (, March 15, 2018) A beautiful part of this passage is that Jesus “breathes on them.” This might be thought of as John’s “Pentecost.” Notice that in giving the disciples this commissioning, it immediately follows that the Holy Spirit’s action is primarily that of reconciliation and setting right relationship. The ministry of forgiveness is bestowed upon the disciples. As the Body of Christ, the shrinking, huddling, hiding disciples must move out of their comfort zones and instead engage the world in ways that bring greater peace and forgiveness.

The old lectionary used to pair this John passage with the following from Job, likely because of the parts about “seeing for myself, etc.” harmonizing quite well with the request of Thomas to see the Risen Christ since he had been missing before.

Job 19:25-27

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
   and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
   yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
   and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
   My heart faints within me!

Dr. Greg Riley, who argues for an earlier dating of the Gospel of Thomas than many scholars, points to this passage as a polemic against the Thomas community. Thomas “missing out” is the first pointer that the community of followers of Jesus gathered around the witness of that tradition are “missing out” on something important. Of the four canonical Gospels, it is John’s high Christology that would most likely capture the Thomasine community, but with some important polemic embedded in the text. John is the only Gospel writer to share this story of Thomas missing the first encounter with the risen Christ, and then pronouncing that “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Quite a repulsive prospect for proto-Gnostics, some of whom would come to dispute the bodily resurrection of Jesus at all. The physicality of this “conversion” of Thomas might be a template for Thomasian Christians to instead embrace the bodily resurrection. As an invitation to the greatness of this claim, it is Thomas who utters the first Divine proclamation of any in the narrative, “my Lord and my God.” The earlier narrative conversation with Thomas is brought to mind, when Jesus is in the midst of his farewell discourse, and Thomas says “we don’t know the way to the place you are going.” Here, in the physical encounter, this disciple symbolizing a community of believers, finds the way, the truth, and the life.

Acts: 4:32-35

The passage from Acts offers a case study in “basileic becoming” much like Catherine Keller profiles on pages 170-173 of On the Mystery: Discerning God in Process. (2008, Fortress, Minneapolis). The cue here that the gathered community is participating in “Christ in Process,” is that “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.” Being of “one heart and mind” does not speak of uniformity, but instead of unification of intentionality. In this case, the Divine lure is toward provision for all and the elimination of need. Real world examples of how the church provides for this kind of alleviation of suffering would be invited to reassure the faithful gathered (on this “low Sunday,”) that they are part of something real and substantial — a “rubber meeting the road” kind of faith endeavor, especially when the pomp and celebration and full pews from the previous week might be remembered with a disheartening “back to normal” kind of mentality from the congregation. As Keller says,

This pastor and this congregation materialize the theology of open-ended interactivity. They risk the adventure…. They do not wait passively for a messiah to come or to come again. In their becoming Christ is in process. They cannot save the world, nor would they imagine they do. But they take part in salvation. (On the Mystery, 172).

Psalm 133

This Psalm is a song of ascents — a pilgrimage song, sung on the ascent into Jerusalem.  And once again, the theme of unity is reiterated. “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” As Ron Allen pointed out in the last Process and Faith commentary on this text in April of 2015, the “kindred” spoken of here is an expanding concept, as pilgrimage parties no doubt consisted of extended family going to join the “House of Israel” in Jerusalem. The metaphor relating such unity among kindred to the oil anointing the beard of Aaron and the collar of his robes heightens the experience of such unity to priestly, and even divine status.  

As a raggae fan, it is hard for me to read this text without hearing Bob Marley’s voice singing, “How good and how pleasant it will be, before God and man, to see the unification of all Africans….of all Rastaman” (Africa Unite, 1979) Indeed, as Bob Marley rightly incorporates the Psalm into the context of the hoped for unification of Africa, which Haile Selassie had called for, unity among kindred  bears itself out in political ends, and there is a connection between the pilgrimage out of bondage, “’cause we’re moving right out of Babylon,” and toward greater, higher “becoming” through the creative lure of the Divine adventure.

The theme of pilgrimage and unity would connect with a congregation who though may pale in comparison by number to the previous week, would certainly shine by example of commitment, connection, and “kindred spirit.”

1 John 1:1–2:2

We are writing to you that our/your joy may be complete. Interesting disharmony in ancient manuscripts on whether the object is “your joy” or “our joy,” especially with the textual theme of mutuality on this day. One might take some time with this textual diversity and compare how the two might be one and the same.

Many churches, such as my own, choose to celebrate “Bright Sunday” on this first Sunday after Easter. The day includes laughter, mirth, high jinks, and generally a “loosening up” after Easter. The mention of joy here might be a good springboard into a day of fun and lightheartedness in the service.

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” The physicality of the gospel joy is apparent in the reading. As Cobb and Griffin say, “the incarnate Logos is Christ. . . . although there is no distinction between the inanimate and the animate worlds, in the former the presence of the Logos is barely distinguishable from the repetition of the past. It is in living things that the proper work of the Logos is significantly manifest.” (Cobb and Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition, 98) The “Word of Life” is experienced as a lure toward greater and fuller life. Far from being a set of truth claims that one absolutizes and demands assent, the dynamic truth of the Logos is best understood when it is felt, seen, and put into action. It is this experiential faith that shakes the “word of Life” loose from the bounds of absolutism on the one side and relativism on the other. As Catherine Keller expounds in the “Honest to God” section of On the Mystery, “Say you are open to self criticism and exploration; you know that at best you ‘have this treasure in clay jars.’” (7-8) This humility that goes along with a deep resonance with truth might best be conveyed with humor.

Rev. M. Nathan Mattox graduated with an MDiv from Claremont School of Theology in 2005, and has since served United Methodist congregations in Arkansas and Oklahoma, most recently University United Methodist Church in Tulsa since 2011. A fellow of the Fund for Theological Education, National Council of Churches Ecological Justice Young Adult fellowship, Collegeville Writer’s Workshop, and the Hendix Institute for Clergy Civic Engagement, he also started the University Church Network, a collaborative resource for churches on or adjacent to university campuses. Nathan has been blending a family since July of 2017 with his wife Myranda, and enjoys the company of four chidren, a dog and a cat.