Some of you know I have an abiding—and perhaps annoying—interest in fitness and nutrition. I have strong opinions about stewardship of the body as an important part of our spiritual practice. I even dabbled, some years ago, as a personal trainer. What I loved most about training was that it provided me with a whole lot more ways to talk about transformation.
For most of us, any kind of transformation—physical or spiritual—is a slow process, two steps forward, one step back, at best. Dramatic, peak experiences are rare. There’s a reason why our Holy Week and Easter celebrations happen only once a year. I have been thinking about this a lot in the context of the post-Resurrection experience of the first disciples and of us as we move through these Great Fifty Days.
This past week I have been struck by stories of the emotions that often follow the intensity of Holy Week and Easter—the tearfulness, the inarticulate longing, the hypersensitivity to beauty and sadness. I found myself tearing up more than once this week, sitting in the chapel, or on a morning walk.
I think this two steps forward, one step back experience, overlaid by the intensity of the Paschal Mystery, is perhaps what it’s like to be Thomas or, for that matter, any of the apostles.
Like Thomas, the good news of resurrection has left us longing for connection. Maybe the reality of what God has done for us in the resurrection hasn’t taken root in us in the ways we think it should. Maybe we were on fire a week ago (this happened to one person literally, at the vigil, but she’s fine), and this week has felt disappointingly ho-hum.
I think this connection, this rekindling of the intensity of Easter, is what Thomas is looking for when he challenges Jesus. He’s not looking for proof; he’s looking for touch. Connection. He might have heard Mary say: “I have seen the Lord.” The disciples who were there when Jesus walked through the walls of their safe house told Thomas: “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas missed it. He longs for the same connection they had. And he gets it.
What about the rest of us, those about whom Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”? What about the new believers we read about in the Book of Acts, baptized by the thousands? What Jesus leaves for us is his presence in community. When Jesus says “Peace be with you,” he is talking about shalom, which means so much more than how we normally think about peace. It does not mean calm, or solely the absence of conflict. Jesus leaves his disciples with wholeness, righteousness, a vision of community built around justice and the reign of God.
A week ago I preached a sermon I titled “the Resurrection Mandate.” In that sermon I talked about the consequences of Easter being our mandate to witness to resurrection and to gather and be community in the way that Jesus gathered community.
Before the passion, all of Jesus’ earthly ministry was about creating community, offering an alternative way of living together. Being in community is one of the ways that we resist the oppression and degradation that our own day has to offer.
The Book of Acts is the story of the unfolding work of both of these mandates. It is the story of the first disciples on the ground without Jesus, telling their faith stories, creating community and striving for God’s. I suggest you read the whole Book of acts this Easter season.
The Christian community we hear about this morning in the Book of Acts sounds either too good to be true or disturbing, depending on your perspective. The whole group was of one heart and soul, everything they owned was held in common, and there was not a needy person among them. When we measure ourselves, as community, against this description, we are sure to come up short. Consider, instead, this Acts community as an illustration not only of particular practice, but of the power of God among believers. It is a slice of life in Christian community at its very best. As we shall see as we journey through Acts this Easter, life in the early church was not all sharing and mutual love. Two steps forward, one step back.
Though thick and thin, though, we live out our faith in Jesus by being part of a community, like this one, with all its quirks and foibles.
I recently joined a new gym. It’s not an open gym where people work out on their own; it’s one of those places which only offers classes. I actually hate classes; I signed up for a trial class because one of the managers occasionally attends church here, and I got to know her a bit. The place has a great social media presence—and this is the most important part—and she just kept inviting me. They use the language of “tribe” a lot, and the minute you walk in the door, you get introduced to three or four friendly people—not too friendly!—who want to know all about you. (I know, that approach is not for everyone.) I immediately felt at home. It turned out that I liked the classes, and wanted to come back. When I did come back, everyone called me by name and offered to help me with whatever I needed help with. I was hooked, as much on the promise of community as on the physical benefits of the particular workouts.
Then, of course, I realized that in order to get all of that benefit, I have to work at it. I have to show up, first of all, even when I don’t feel like it, even when it’s dark and raining in the morning or I’d rather be answering email or cooking breakfast. I have to contribute financially so the place is there for me and for all the others who need it. And I have to be as helpful and encouraging to others as they all were to me. Even when it’s a challenge.
I obviously tell you all of this because I think it’s a great metaphor for the community life that I believe is both Jesus’ gift to us and his charge to us. (Don’t even get me started on the aches and pains that emerge as you commit more deeply.)
As we enter into this season of life on this side of the resurrection, I hope we will all consider Jesus’ gift and charge to us, of gathering and being communities of disciples. Are there ways we are being nudged to venture in more deeply, or to stretch in some way? Where is the power of God at work in us? How do we share that power with one another? These are the questions of an Easter community. Taste and see.