2nd Sunday of Easter

April 27, 2003
See Also: 
Reading 2: 
Psalm 133
Reading 3: 
Acts 4:32-35 or 1 John 1:1-2:2
Reading 4: 
John 20:19-31

When I was growing up the Sunday after Easter was almost more important to my dad than Easter. As I grew older that fact made less and less sense to me, particularly since so many of my friends did not go to church that Sunday. One day I asked my dad how come it was so important to him that we all were in church the Sunday after Easter. His answer was intriguing to me and has continued important ever after.

Essentially what he explained was that Easter was like the crowds that Jesus preached to but were nowhere to be found when Jesus really needed them. By contrast, the Sundays after Easter were like the day-to-day experience of Jesus and the early church—real work days, unencumbered by curiosity seekers and miracle questers. Almost as a postscript he would observe that the reason that particular Sunday was called “down” Sunday was because attendance was down, not our spirits.

The Gospel reading for today reminded me of those earlier experiences. This Gospel more than any other is concerned with the work of the Spirit—Jesus’ and the people’s.

The sub-text is that the spirit of Jesus is incarnate in the community even as God’s spirit was incarnate in Jesus. To be in relationship with one another and God because of Jesus is to know and experience the spirit of Jesus, and through that knowing and experiencing to create community.

In the specific text, John 20:21 -22, Jesus returns to his friends, bestows his peace on them, sends them into the world, and then breathes on them with the direction to “receive the Holy Spirit.” Notice is here being served: Jesus’ era is over—the era of the Spirit has begun. His life is completed. The life we can now have because of his life has begun.

And what is that life?

The Spirit is given to the community. In turn, the community is to give the Spirit to the world—to breathe Jesus’ spirit into the world. This work is to begin now, immediately. There is to be no waiting for Jesus to return and no looking forward to a reward-filled afterlife. The second coming has happened in the coming of the Spirit. The future is now. This is a radical community, the community of the escaton.

So much exegetical emphasis has been placed on John’s concern with seeing and believing that too little attention has been given to how what is already believed determines what is to be believed, and, therefore, how one is to see what is to be seen. There are certain presuppositions operant in John’s version of the Jesus Story that are important to discern.

In this 20th chapter the very way in which the writer deals with the characters, viz, Mary of Magdalena, Peter, Thomas, the other disciples, suggests a community that understood that human beings are complex combinations of courage and fear, understanding and ignorance, sensitivity and dullness and that none of it is to be judged or dismissed since all of it is the stuff of transformation and recreation—the motivation for being born again, renewed, reinvigorated—inspired to new life.

Therefore, to believe in Jesus is not a formulaic affirmation that guarantees personal salvation but rather a grateful response to an affirming and empowering God who asks us to do the same for one another. That “doing” builds the community, and in turn, that community understands that to be conduits for Jesus’ spirit in the world requires living from the heart, where all things are made new.

We could say that John’s understanding of community brings to fruition the blessing in Psalm 133. (That is not to suggest that the Psalmist had that in mind but rather that the early church, peopled by Jews, in its creative and imaginative use of its own history, gave new meaning to old understandings). John’s imagination saw the preexistent Logos incarnate in Jesus, Jesus incarnate in the community, and Jesus, as the only begotten Son of God, the Son through whom the entire family of God was to benefit—a benefit that was to be shared and passed on.

The Psalm calls attention to God’s desire for peace and harmony. The context for that awareness is the inheritance by the firstborn son of the father’s domain, which included the younger siblings (and their mates) coming under his protection and uthority. Through the oldest son/brother the entire family was to benefit. Through that familial benefit all received the divine blessing of peace and harmony

Similarly, the text from Acts, although representing a different community and another point of view, suggests what is possible in the world when people who are not related biologically consent to be related spiritually. Not only is community created but also power is generated. That consensus and power combine to inspire people to cooperate rather than compete, (“hold all things in common”) and thereby free the apostles to extend the community’s work into the world.

--And what is that work? To empower the world with the spirit of Jesus—not belief in Jesus but the work of Jesus: feed the hungry, cloth the naked, free all prisoners, affirm God’s blessing on the world. So much for “Down Sunday.” The work of Easter has begun.

About thirty years ago Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Fundamentalists, with the help of the media, began to coopt the center of religious understanding and belief. Those belief systems have in turn given rise to the mega church phenomenon and an ever-increasing array of attacks on “other” belief systems. Neither criticism nor counter attack will return old line/main line Christianity to the center. But if we are to provide a (valuable) counterpoint to current and prevailing points of view we must be willing to be bold beyond imagining in our use of the Bible and the Pulpit to the end of transforming our people’s understanding and way of talking about the very nature of God and reality. The Eastertide is a most opportune time for that work. I wish you well in all your boldness.