1 May 2011
“Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the Temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.” (Acts. 2:46) In the name …
This past Tuesday I met-up with two other priests, and we went out to lunch at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. If you’ve ever been to Stockbridge, you’ve seen the beautiful front porch at the Red Lion. That’s where we were sitting. Tourists come from all over and take pictures of their friends and family in front of this grand old building. You can ask my family and they can tell you how I like to get into all kinds of other people’s vacation photos, and it was no different on this occasion. I’m the stranger in the background who is waving at the camera, hopefully unnoticed. I like to think that when people get back to their homes and start showing their vacation pictures around that someone will notice me over Aunt Edna’s shoulder. I like to imagine my picture as being seen by tourists from all over the world wondering out loud when they finally get back home, “Who is that guy?”
This is a simple amusement for a simple man or an obnoxious one, but either way my connection with the people front and center in those photos is at best momentary and accidental. Our paths cross only for the briefest of moments and only by chance, and there is a very good possibility I will never see any of these people ever again. This works just fine if I only want to remain the unknown guy in some vacation photos. It is, however, not at all a sufficient formula for becoming Easter people, and having Jesus say, “Who is that person?”. Jesus did not endure the ordeal of the passion and crucifixion so that our paths may unknowingly intersect by happenstance. God did not vacate all the laws of physical creation and raise Jesus from the dead just so that we could hover unsuspectingly in the background. Easter is about God wanting at any and all cost to be a meaningful part of our lives, and we become Easter people when we also want desperately for God to be a real part of our lives. Easter people are the ones front and center clustered around Jesus when the picture is taken, not the stranger in the background waving.
Think back to the Epistle selection we read from the Acts of the Apostles. Luke is telling us about the first generation of Easter people. Last Sunday we spoke about the literally unspeakable wonder of those privileged witnesses to the resurrection. The excitement was so real and palpable that we talked about their experience being real, but their expressions being inadequate. Now today as we move from the day of Easter and into the Easter season, we hear not only about the moment of that singular experience, but its long-term and lasting consequences. Easter didn’t only change Jesus; Easter changed the people around Him too.
Luke shares with us the news that these first Easter people devoted themselves to each other and to Christ. And not only did they worship together, they lived together, in Luke’s own words: “All who believed were together and h3le all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s needs” (Acts. 2: 44-45) The earliest Easter people were not only about Holy Communion; they were about a holy community. And this combined sacramental and ordinary life was shared “ever day,” says the Bible. Easter began with a moment that changed everything, but the ones who were changed, changed for the long run. It wasn’t a one day miracle; it was a mystery they shared-in together “every day”. Church wasn’t a place, an institution, or an obligation. Church was a way of life where worship and world melded together. There was no line of separation any longer between the sacred and the mundane. When Jesus died on the cross and the story is told that the curtain in the Temple tore down the middle, that was the end of the division between Sunday and Monday, between worship and work. God was no longer protected from the world. God in Jesus was in the world. When the earliest Christians recognized this truth, their worship and their ordinary lives merged together as one – “every day.”
We’re not going to be able to replicate that earliest example of an Easter faith. We all hopefully like each other, but can we even begin to imagine trying to spend all day every day together? Can we even begin to imagine trying to live in a Holy Name of Jesus commune out on the back field? We have to modify the first example of church to make it practical, but the message of the first generation remains intact. These people speak to us against a casual encounter with the Christian faith. It is simply not enough for us to be in the background of Jesus’ Easter photos. We can’t be waving unnoticed when Jesus appears to the apostles in the Upper Room on the Sunday after Easter. It’s not enough to be just passing by on Easter. Easter has to grab hold of us and draw us into the picture.
This takes time, commitment and something else that we tend to overlook nowadays: gladness. The only other time Luke uses this word is in the Infancy Narrative when the whole story of Jesus was just beginning and there was that joyful anticipation of His coming into the world (Lk. 1:14; Acts 2:46). We have no trouble associating gladness with Christmas, but we don’t speak of it nearly enough when we talk about church. Luke saw gladness in both new births: that of Jesus and that of church. We do a disservice to church when we strip it of gladness, when we go so far as to speak of it as an obligation. We have no problem with speaking of church as the teaching of the apostles, the breaking of bread and coming together in prayer, all of which Luke tells us about this morning, but how easy it is to slide right past gladness, which is just as much a part of church as any of the other descriptions. Easter people, front and center in the picture, are smiling for the camera because they understand that gladness is a part of our faith, and that’s probably the key to staying in the faith. For this gladness born of faith, we pray in Jesus’ name, so that we can offer our worship “every day.” Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo