Alive for One Another
Acts 4:32-35, John 20:18-31
April 15, 2012
I had trouble getting into lent this year. I tried picking up a lenten discipline, but couldn’t find motivation to carry it through; I didn’t even care enough to feel guilty about that. And, during holy week I didn’t set foot in church until Easter morning. Usually, I love Easter. I love the drama of reenacting, year after year, the journey to the cross, the harrowing of hell, and the good news of Easter morning. I love trying to walk alongside Mary Magdalene in those early morning hours, imagining her despair, confusion turned to joy.
It is an old, old story, worth telling again and again. And even when I doubt, even when the absurdity of celebrating God becoming human, dying, and rising again is too much for me to wrap my head around, I still love a good story. I’m still willing to say we should let that story shape us.
Still, being a divinity school graduate means I have a lot of liturgy nerds for friends. A lot of Catholics and wanna-be Catholics, people who are way more “high church” than we are around here. I get to overhear lots of conversations about “right” and “wrong” ways to approach lenten discipline, about the proper liturgical practices for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigils, and so forth. I don’t want to devalue those practices, or the meaning behind all of the liturgy. I think it does good work in directing our often wandering thoughts and lives toward the cross.
And yet. It can get a little annoying. Why should we CARE whether you drape the cross in red or black for your service of Tenebrae? Is holy week somehow more holy if we “do it right”? What does doing it “right” actually mean?
And yet. I loved spending Easter morning with you all. I look forward to singing with you, to eating with you, to listening to you play music for us, to watching your children laugh and play, and to joining their antics. It’s a striking contrast to the disciples in our text from John, gathered together, the door barred for fear of the Jews. Our door wasn’t locked last Sunday morning; it was open (at least, it was until someone shut it to drown out the baseball game happening outside). Jesus didn’t have to sneak in, to walk through any walls to get to us; we were expecting him.
When we gather together, I think we expect Jesus to show up. That is one of the blessed realities of life post-resurrection. We know the story, so while we might get caught up in the liturgical drama, we know what’s going to happen.
But we are waiting, still.
Our passage from John tell us there are many other signs and wonders Jesus did in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book. There is a strangeness in these post-resurrection appearances — a surprise. One might alternate between cynical disbelief, and a child-like trust in the fantastical. Would I have believed my own eyes? Do I believe them now?
“He is risen, alleluia!” But do we really believe that? Not just intellectual assent, but do we really believe in the core of our being? Do we live as if this is true? Do we see Christ’s risen body? Do we see more signs and wonders? Is this story happening — now?
This is where our passage from Acts comes in. Perhaps this is what the risen lord means. Maybe that sounds straightforward. But how many times has each of us heard this passage? Do we really know what to do with it? As we look at John, and Christ appearing to the disciples, we might ask, “Does Christ continue to appear in our midst, and if so, where?” Acts is a snapshot of what that ongoing story looks like.
Hear the passage again:
Now 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. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 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.
Realistically, the first question most people probably want to ask of this text is, “Should we really sell all that we own?” Some say yes, some say no. Either way, that’s simply not what most Christians are doing. I worried this week that it might be too soft to read this as an extreme example, to look at little ways we mimic this kind of economic sharing. Are we being too easy on ourselves?
But then again, why do I think I should take this passage at face value when that is so completely not how I read other parts of the bible? How does this text translate from the early church, to the contemporary church? Let’s look at it another way. I think the theme throughout all of our texts today is the simple act of gathering. The disciples, gathered in secret after Jesus’ death. Our Psalm, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
In these times after the resurrection, after this crazy scene from John, the apostles testified with power. They lived in expectation of Christ’s return. Still, I think it would be wrong to read this passage and say, well, they sold all they had because they thought this was it; they were living with a sense of immediacy, that we don’t have. But perhaps we all ought to live that way. Though they were off about the timeframe, in a way they were right. This is it. For them, and for us.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
The question is, how do we live together as a reflection of Christ’s resurrected body? A bodily presence here and now? What does it mean to claim that we are that resurrected body? It’s not new in this congregation to note that our faith is a bodily faith. Yet what is Easter if not a time that we revisit that again.
How is this story made true in our lives together? The story of a doubting Thomas, and the story of radical sharing? Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” It may be true that we never get to see the nail holes, to put our hands in the wounds.
But it is also true that we see the resurrection in these many grains, gathered into one loaf, this body, broken and built up – the church.
What does that look like?
Maybe, it looks like feeding new parents in our community (lots of them).
Working on Habitat houses.
Providing a meal to the homeless.
Building a shed.
CLM’s where we are always learning to make decisions together, to listen to one another.
Our small groups that gather simply to eat and share our lives.
A side effect of living alone is that I eat a lot of meals by myself. The motivation to cook a well-balanced meal is limited when I know it will dirty every dish in the house, cover every inch of counter space (and then some), and that no one will enjoy the fruits of my labor but me. I can make a meal; but whose feet do I lay it at? And so eating with you all is one of the ways I know that Christ’s body is alive: you’re feeding me. And I get to feed you, too.
I think that this texts from Acts is about economic sharing, and that the small ways we do this are a big start. But I think it’s about more than that, too. I think there are other things we share that matter just as much.
The question to ask ourselves is, “What am I laying at the apostles feet?” What do I offer, what do I lay at your feet? What do you lay at all of our feet?
Looking at the different ways we each participate is intriguing. Some of us would rather die that preach a sermon. Some of us can barely carry a tune (well, okay, maybe that’s just me). Many of us can cook, and care for children. Some teach sunday school, some write prayers, some bring gifts of music that tell truths spoken words cannot.
What does it mean to say my gifts are your gifts? That there is not a needy person among us, because if one person doesn’t have time to preach in the next rotation, surely someone else will step in? That, though it might be difficult to find someone to do the congregational prayer, somehow we always have one? Or even that my signing is a marginally better than when I began worshipping with you all three years ago? This sharing — not just of our financial resources, but of our gifts – is part of how we are church together.
When we hold all things in common, we are holding more than money or land. We are holding one another’s lives.
I wonder, perhaps, if I have been lulled by our small efforts, such that I think what we do is less radical than it actually is. I’ve realized that it is not letting us off the hook too easily to say simply, we must keep doing this. We must do it more. We must seek to listen still more carefully, to give still more generously, to receive each others gifts ever more gratefully.
It is one of the most important ways of living hope in a world of death, to not only claim that another way is possible in Christ, but to live as if it is true, because it is true.
If Jesus lives, we are to be that broken body — raised, alive — for one another.