John 20:19 – 31
Acts 4: 32 – 35
I went into the drug store this week to pick up a few things and I noticed that all the Easter products were on clearance. Chocolate bunnies with broken ears, bags of jelly beans, brightly colored baskets, “plastic grass”, and plastic eggs, all 70% off!
A smattering of stuffed chicks, bunnies, and even a random frog or two, looked at me hopefully from the nearly empty shelves. I could buy 1 and get one free! What a bargain! Clearly for the retailers, Easter is over and it’s time to clear the shelves for Mother’s Day merchandise.
For us Christians, Easter is just beginning! Having taken the long and challenging journey through Lenten darkness, we now bask in the glorious warmth and bright light of God’s Risen son! We look forward to seeing Jesus appear by the lakeside.
We anticipate sharing a fish breakfast with Jesus, and having him fall in beside us as we walk the road to Emmaus. We shout Hosanna and joy-filled Alleluia!
We look forward with anticipation to the Day of Pentecost when we will celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, present, accessible, and real in each of our lives and in our communal life together.
But for the earliest Christians, for Jesus’ first disciples, there is only the shadow of death and the mystery of the cross still lingering in the air around them. The tomb is empty! Jesus is gone! Mary has come to them proclaiming that she has seen their Lord, alive and risen!
And yet, they still sit in darkness, dis-belief, and doubt.
“It is evening on that day.” That day of discovering the empty tomb…that day of angel visits, that day of Jesus missing. It is evening on that day of fear and trembling …of Flight not fight. It is Easter evening, and the disciples are still hidden, still trembling, gathered behind locked doors. They are Still Afraid.
As promised, Jesus finally comes! Neither locked doors, nor the disciples doubt can keep him away! Jesus appears and now…finally, the disciples REJOICE! And again, I say, they REJOICE!
Jesus offers them peace and breathes on them with the Holy Spirit. Peace, after all the pain…peace, after all the suffering…peace, after the guilt and shame…Jesus appears and breathes on them…filling them with the peace of Christ which passes beyond all human understanding.
When he returns the following week, to assuage Thomas, he says, “Do not doubt but believe.” And these disciples whose many sins he has long ago forgiven, are sent out by Jesus into the world, to forgive the sins of others, and to proclaim the Good News!
Jesus appears to the disciples so they can finally understand what he meant when he said he was not their idea or expectation of a Messiah. They are learning what he meant when he said that he had to die, so that he could rise, so that the joy of life could conquer the fear of death.
He is giving them their final encouragement along the way, along his way, a different way…a road less travelled. He is laying the firm foundation upon which his fledging followers will build, the foundation upon which we are still building.
Jesus appears to them to bolster their conviction, to deepen their resolve, to give them what they will need to carry on without him. Jesus is preparing them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, to open and strengthen their connection with God.
The Holy spirit isn’t a new thing. The Holy Spirit is at work throughout Hebrew scripture and throughout the Gospels…But Jesus is preparing their hearts and minds, opening the lines to allow the disciples, and us, to fully embrace and engage the spirit without a priest, without an intercessory, without a king, without an emperor.
Jesus is preparing them to connect with God and with each other through the awakening of their Spirit and to become God’s one heart and God’s one soul.
We see in Acts how the early Jesus movement is trying to create a new way of living and being together following Jesus’ teachings – they have created what today we might call, an alternative lifestyle…
It is a way of living together that flies in the face of Jewish and Hellenistic cultures which were based upon honor and community standing, prestige, accumulated wealth, patronage, and connections to important people in high places.
It actually doesn’t sound all that different from our culture today, where we too often measure human value in terms of “net worth.”
We are sometimes quick to value people based on their type of employment, which college they did or didn’t graduate from, what part of town they live in, the size of their house, brand of clothes, or the make of their car. That’s before we even get to the color of someone’s skin, their gender identity, their politics, their country of origin, and on and on it goes.
In the face of an unlevel playing field, the disciples, like Jesus, turn things around and upside down and they create a system of equality…maybe even better than equality…”No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. There was not a needy person among them…”
It doesn’t say that they parsed out all contributions in exact measure with each person getting an equal share…it says they held everything in common, no one claiming ownership of anything, everything shared…and not one needy person among them.
Their resources are utilized to take care of each person’s needs. That is very different from sharing everything equally. And there is a big difference between what I need and what I simply want or desire.
Taking care of people’s needs means making sure everyone has clean drinking water before water is re-directed from small communities for resorts and golf courses so that they can water their grass or spray it from fountains.
Taking care of people’s needs means paying a living wage, not paying based on our judgment of the type of employment. It means paying based on how much money a person needs to be able to afford decent shelter, food, clothes, transportation, health care, and the satisfaction of being able to pay their bills.
Taking care of people’s needs means no one going to sleep hungry at night. No one. Taking care of people’s needs means knowing when we have enough and recognizing and reaching out, when others around us don’t.
When our president talks about re-distribution of wealth, he isn’t being Socialist, he is being Christian. As we can see in our reading from Acts, re-distribution of wealth is one of the earliest Christian practices.
“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.” The wealthy weren’t given special dispensation…they were called to share to ensure that all had enough.
Unfortunately, over the last few decades, we have become consumed with the supremacy of the individual vs. the Common good. We have forgotten our own motto…United we stand, Divided we fall.
Do you know what distinguished the earliest Christians? It was their generosity and spirit of all- inclusiveness…their generosity that flowed from gratitude for Jesus’ love and sacrifice, and God’s grace.
They cared for the beggars in the street. They brought food to those in prison. They healed and cared for the sick. They were thought to be crazy because of their communal sharing and generosity of spirit.
We human beings, sometimes forget we are generous by nature. My parents and millions like them got through the Great Depression because everything was shared. Our generosity of Spirit flowed after the terrible earthquake in Haiti, the tropical storm, Katrina, that drown New Orleans, and when Storm Sandy washed away communities in New Jersey.
Generosity of spirit sent firefighters running into the World Trade Center. Generosity of spirit and care for the common good, sent bystanders running towards the sounds of explosions on the day of the Boston Marathon, two years ago, this week.
We just need to remember in the plain old, ordinary events of every day, who we are called to be as disciples of Christ. As Christians, we need to find different ways of being together. We are called to turn things upside down and inside out. We are not called as individuals. We are called into community. We are called to empty ourselves and be of one mind, in Christ.
In her commentary, “Living Wages,” Rev. Denise Cumby Long, says this, “It is time for Christians to reclaim our vocation in the original sense of working for a fair and just society, where evil is named and oppressive structures are transformed.
Our work is to acknowledge the worth and dignity of those who work beside us, [not above us, not below or beneath us, not over or under but beside] whether it be in factory, field, office, or store. We work for the common good, so that we move closer to the day when we may all be “united, heart and soul, with not a needy person among us.”
Let us pray,
Loving God that gives us each day our daily bread, open our eyes and our hearts to make sure that our neighbor and our neighbors children also have bread on their table. Amen