Easter 2C - April 11, 2010
Last Sunday, my friend Cole commented, "During the Easter season, we read from the Acts of the Apostles, the only book in the Bible aside from the Gospels and Revelation to actually include Jesus as an explicitly present character."
In fact, each Sunday in Eastertide we read from Acts AND Revelation -- no Old Testament reading other than the Psalm, no Epistle. Our daily lectionary gives us great Old Testament stories of triumph -- David and Goliath, Esther, etc. -- but we don't read any of them on Sundays.
Last Sunday, Cole commented on Easter Sunday being as much the birthday of the Church as Pentecost is -- perhaps moreso, with Pentecost being "more of a coming into adulthood than a birth."
And so our Eastertide lectionary offers us glimpses of the toddling, gurgling, early church.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day -- the Jewish observance of Yom HaShoah. Or tomorrow, rather, as it never falls on a Sunday.
It's the 27th of the Jewish month of Nisan. Sixty years ago, when the date was being decided, Orthodox Jews disliked the positioning of a day of mourning during a traditionally joyous month.
But Jews, like all humans, know that grief is not bound by lectionary dictates, that sadness falls in even the happiest times.
So too, our Easteride, our season of Resurrection, is not without pain and sorrow.
The disciples encounter the risen Christ; but Thomas, who was not present for this encounter, is skeptical of their story.
Thomas says, "I will not believe until I have put my hands in the Crucifixion wounds."
Thomas does not say, "I will not believe until I hear again the voice of this One who loved me for so long."
Thomas does not say, "I will not believe until I again experience the charisma of this One who lived life so attuned to the rhythm of the Holy."
Thomas isn't looking for the Divinity Incarnate, the perfected humanity they all followed for so long. Thomas is looking for a broken body. Thomas wants proof that this is the One who suffered on the Cross. Thomas says, "If you want me to believe that the Beloved One has conquered death, then I need proof that this One really did suffer death as all humans do. If this One came back unscathed, then that is not a true journey. If Jesus isn't scarred by that trauma -- isn't irrevocably changed -- then how can Jesus' suffering mean anything to me?"
The story of Thomas reminds us that we believe in the resurrection of the body.
The risen Christ still bears the physical wounds of the Crucifixion.
The Revelation passage, however, reminds us that Divinity is far beyond our human comprehension. I'm using the Roman Catholic lectionary option because I like it better today, but it erases part of John of Patmos's opening description of the Child of Humanity, so I'm revising it to put that back in.
I, John, your sibling who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kindom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches [...]." Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Child of Humanity, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across hir chest. Hir head and hir hair were white as white wool, white as snow; hir eyes were like a flame of fire, hir feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and hir voice was like the sound of many waters. In hir hand ze held seven stars, and from hir mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and hir face was like the sun shining with full force. When I saw hir, I fell at hir feet as though dead. But ze placed hir hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of the underworld. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this."I love the intensity of this imagery -- so much light and metal, so much power.
I have become this person who has become uncomfortable with masculine pronouns for the Godhead (though an assortment of gendered pronouns in quick succession is fine -- we are created in the image and likeness of God, so God has many many genders), but gender-neutral pronouns seem particularly appropriate for this vision. John has a vision of the Second Person of the Trinity, a vision, as The Inclusive Bible says, of "a figure of human appearance" (Rev 1:13). Of human appearance but decidedly not human. Beyond human. This is the Second Person of the Trinity, after all.
Just after the lectionary ends, we would have read the Alpha and the Omega saying to John, "As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches" (Revelation 1:20).
In chapters 2 and 3, we read these letters. Each opens the same way: "To the angel of the church in [thus-and-such place] write: These are the words of [so-and-so]:"
Each letter names the figure who is speaking to John in a slightly different way.
The Inclusive Bible articulates them as follows:
"The One who holds the seven stars in hand and walks among the seven gold lampstands" (2:1)
"The First and the Last, who died and came to life" (2:8)
"The One with the sharp, two-edged sword" (2:12)
"The Only Begotten of God, who has eyes like a blazing flame, and feet like burnished bronze" (2:18)
"The One who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars" (3:1)
"The One who is holy and true, who holds the key of David, who opens what no one can close, who closes what no one can open" (3:7)
"The Amen, the Witness faithful and true, the Source of God's creation" (3:14)
The Divine is so far beyond our comprehension. What does it mean to say that someone is "the Amen"? "Amen" means certainty, means truth. It's used as a responsory indicating assent, and I often think of it as meaning, "So let it be written [or stated], so let it be done." Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary says of "amen," "It is found singly and sometimes doubly at the end of prayers (Ps. 41:13; 72:19; 89:52), to confirm the words and invoke the fulfillment of them" [dictionary.com].
So what is the Word that the Risen Christ is confirming and fulfilling? Well, the Christ *is* the Word.
In John, we read about the risen Christ twice appearing to the disciples in a locked room. Christ says, "Peace be with you." Christ's "Amen" is peace. In the midst of our fear and uncertainty, including our fear and apprehension following trauma and tragedy, we are always offered the peace of our Rock and our Redeemer.
The risen Christ next tells the disciples, "As our Father and Mother, our God and our Creator, has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21). Earlier in the Gospel of John we would have read Jesus saying to the disciples, "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Divine Parent" (John 14:12).
In Acts, we read that many came to the apostles and many came to believe.
People came to the followers of Jesus, because the apostles brought real healing.
After Jesus says, "I send you," we read: "Having said this, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained' " (John 20:22-23). I still don't entirely know what to do with this whole forgiving/retaining sins thing -- one of the most appealing aspects to me of Divine Grace is that my forgiveness is not dependent upon other humans who can be flawed and petty. But this Lent I read Richard Horsley's Jesus and Empire, and Horsley talks about Jesus' releasing people from sin as being part and parcel of the many ways in which Jesus released people from that which oppressed them. Recall the story (also from John -- Chapter 9) where Jesus and the disciples encounter someone who was blind from birth, and the disciples ask Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned that this person was born blind -- the child or the parents?" and Jesus answers, "Neither this person nor this person's parents sinned." Horsley writes:
Galileans and others of Israelite heritage explained their suffering as punishment for their own or their parents' sins in violation of covenant commandments. As Jesus heals his paralysis, he declares to the man lowered into the house by his friends, "son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:1-9)---thus freeing up the life energies that had previously been introjected in self-blame and dysfunctional paralysis.The Acts passage we read doesn't say anything about the apostles forgiving or retaining sins. Instead we read that, "A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured" (Acts 5:16).
The disciples received the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit which sustained Jesus' own life and ministry now moves through them.
And so they go out and heal people. The Risen Christ finds them in a locked room, hiding from those who would persecute them, and today we find them, in the Book of Acts, together out in Solomon's Portico. Apparently no one else dared to join them, but the people held them in great esteem.
Sometimes we feel very lonely and abandoned -- out there all on our own. But often we have support we don't even realize.
We are called out of the closed rooms in which we are hiding -- called out into the towns around the Holy City, to cure those who are sick and tormented. We have encountered the Risen Christ, we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we are called to bring that new resurrection life to the world.
We are called to proclaim peace and liberation, healing and abundance.
We, who still bear the marks of our own sufferings -- perhaps not as deep or as visible as the wounds of the Risen Christ, but marks all the same.
We are called to be vessels of God's healing.
Returning to Psalm 118 for the third Sunday in a row, we read:
God is my strength and my might and has become my salvation. (14)Amen.
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of my God. (17)
God has punished me severely, but did not give me over to death. (18)
God, I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is God's doing; it is marvelous to behold.
This is the day that our God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (21-24)