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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Becoming church (B2E)

At the end of this month we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the dedication of St. Anne's. In year 2000, it was on the 2nd Sunday of Easter that the church was dedicated; this year, the closest Sunday will be the 4th Sunday of Easter. The date was April 30th that year, which put Easter on April 23, about as late as the feast can fall. But I associate the anniversary more with the 2nd Sunday of Easter and its readings than I do with the date anyway, so I will personally rejoice in the "anniversary" this weekend, and get to do so again in two weeks.

 I love the readings for this Sunday, that lovely passage in Acts 4 about the characteristics of the new community, and the story of Thomas, unkindly and unfairly remembered as “doubting.” Also, the second reading from 1 John begins a series from that letter during Easter this year which characterizes the love between God and Christ, and then between Christ and the church, as being aspects of the very same love. John’s letter shows us, over and over, that “God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God in them.” Thus, the activities of love in which the church engages (i.e., in which we engage), are outward signs of the intimate love that exists in God.

Thomas does get a rotten deal with the whole doubting thing. Remember just  a couple of weeks earlier, both in our liturgical timeline and in the gospel of St. John, when Jesus told the apostles that he was going back to Judea to see the family of his now-deceased friend Lazarus? The disciples tried to talk him out of it, reminding him that “only recently” they had tried to stone him. Thomas alone says, “Let us also go to die with him." Thomas may or may not have doubted, but of the whole group, he seems to have been the least cowardly. When the others were still locked up in the upper room “for fear of the Jews,” at the time when Jesus appeared to them all, Thomas was the only one who was out, apparently not afraid, or if afraid, then motivated by love or hunger or something to face his fear and get out into the wider world again. So maybe Thomas didn’t doubt the Lord. Maybe he doubted the losers who were trembling upstairs to have actually seen the Lord, and he wanted to see for himself. I can hear that whole conversation in John with that very inflection. And, in fact, the gospel never says that he actually did put his fingers into the wounds and his hand into the side; it just says that that was the condition he made when he blustered about what the others saw. Jesus invites him, but all that is recorded of Thomas’s response is that he utters that famous prayer, spoken by billions over the centuries as a response to the eucharistic presence of Christ: “My Lord and my God!”

Excerpt from Psalm 118 will be back after a brief interruption from SoundCloud.

That reading from Acts is intriguing, describing early Christian life in Jerusalem as a kind of commune, a recognition of equality among the group, where things were shared in common, and no one was in need. It’s apparent that the communities Paul founded had some of this aspect as well, but that it wasn’t long before this primitive vision of the reign of God dissipated, and the haves held on to theirs at the expense of the have-nots. It’s this kind of situation that 1 Corinthians is written to discourage. At the same time, Paul is careful to commend the churches for their generosity to the Jerusalem church which was clearly falling into hard times, especially in the years immediately preceding the siege of Rome and its ultimate fall in 70 CE. 

So there are three aspects of resurrection life that pop out from today’s scriptures for me. From the gospel, I hear that the paschal mystery usually comes to us in community, convincingly, even in bad times. What I mean by that is, the experience of the risen Christ is usually a communal one, and when it is not, when it is “private,” as in the case of Mary Magdalene and presumably St. Paul, it drives us to community, cogently, as though there were no other option. The Risen One is available to the broken, the confused, the skeptic, and the scholar alike, because God is love, and all to all. 

From the second reading, I hear that love is one (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God! The Lord is one!”) and that love of God, or Jesus, or of another person, other people, is all the same, water from the same river. This love is evident in our actions, when we keep the commandments of God in Christ, that is, to love one another “as I have loved you,” with disinterested selflessness. And in that first reading, of course, there is the practical aspect of divine love shared in a community: religion is political and economic. Christianity is an alternative to the politics and economy of “the world,” of Caesar. As John further puts it in his letter today, 

...whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.

And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

Who indeed is the victor over the world 
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Time to put the “our” back in Our Father. We’re in this thing together, for better or worse. We’re sisters and brothers to each other. As the famed preacher William Sloane Coffin once said, 

“We all belong to one another, God made us that way. From the Christian point of view, Christ died to keep us that way.  We should not put asunder what God himself has joined together. Am I my brother’s keeper? No, I’m my brother’s brother, or my brother’s sister. Human unity is not something we are called on to create—only something we are called on to recognize.” (Collected Sermons, page 206)

That’s what baptism is: an outward sign of that invisible reality. That’s why we built our beautiful church, the third or fourth one this community has built since the late 19th century. We need each other. We can’t do it alone, and we recognize that same incompleteness in others. We don’t think that we’re the solution to anyone’s problems, but we’re not living for ourselves, are we? We live and die for Christ, to him we belong. 

When does this new world start, this new life? Well, today’s the day you’ve been waiting for. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad. 
GATHERING:   Jesus Christ Is Risen Today 422 

SPRINKLING: Glory to God (Bolduc, Mass of St. Ann)
RESP. PSALM:  Psalm 118: Today (Cooney, GIA)   

PREP RITE:   Yours Today (Cooney, NALR)

I had to give up on the idea of doing the new anthem, "Acts of God," this Sunday, out of deference to the hard work and long hours my choir put into Holy Week. I just couldn't ask them to do another rehearsal. It was also kind of a penance for not starting earlier to rehearse the song for this year. Maybe later in Easter! They like "Yours Today" as well, and it won't need rehearsal.
COMMUNION:   O Sons and Daughters
SENDING FORTH:   We Walk by Faith (Haugen) 590 
The community of believers was of one heart and mind,

and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,

but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)