Scripture for the second Sunday of Easter:
Acts 4.32–35 (apostles sell all and live in a community of mutual support); Psalm 133; 1 John 1.1—2.2 (John’s testimony of forgiveness and love); John 20.19–31 (Jesus’ encounter with Thomas)
Let’s set aside (for a moment!) the temptation to dwell upon the similarity between the writing of Karl Marx and the passage from the Acts of the Apostles about the life of the early Christian community and ponder the season of resurrection.
There’s much to be found and appreciated in the season of Easter, which is a season, not just an event – 50 days to immerse ourselves in resurrection and its meaning. It can be all too easy to take for granted the resurrection of Christ, but even after two thousand years, it still ought to surprise, if not shock us.
The resurrection stories of Mary Magdalene, Peter, Thomas (today’s reading) and the Apostle Paul tell us something about belief in the resurrected Christ and how God meets our needs. Each of these post-resurrection encounters illustrates the power of Jesus in the resurrection.
Mary Magdalene needed to hear her name spoken in order to believe; she needed a God who had not forgotten her – who still knew her, loved her and would not abandon her. Peter needed to hear “Peace be with you,” and be forgiven to believe; he needed a God who would not hold his denial against him but desired to be reconciled to him and who still had a purpose for him. Thomas needed to touch the wounded places to believe; he needed a God that he could not only see, but touch; a God who knows our wounds because he carries his own. Paul needed to be knocked off his high horse to believe; he needed a God who would challenge his deepest prejudices, overcome his greatest fear and humble his overwhelming pride.
Each of these people experienced transformation through the risen Christ. All of this shows us how God meets us where we are. Whether or not we may find a connection with the experiences of these four, we are invited to join with the left-overs from Thomas’ encounter with Jesus, those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. With open hearts and minds, we will encounter the Christ who will meet us where we need to be met.
At times, in our present culture, it seems that we hear the whole world in the words of Thomas, who will not believe unless he sees. The secular culture is stated to be hostile to Christianity, yet is really just indifferent (and which is worse?). Young people leave the church once old enough to be self-determining. Some people simply eschew any sort of religious affiliation. And there are those who refuse to identify as Christians because of the behaviour of some of those who do. We need to be honest and admit that those who will not believe “unless they see” can only go upon what they see, or do not see, in the church.
And what does the world see? Where will it look? What can the world hope to see?
Returning to the community of faith, the early Church, described in Acts, we are told that people held all things in common, that they cared for the needy, and that “great grace was upon them all.” Christ was seen in their life together: one of the hallmarks of the early Christian communities was the counter-cultural way in which people cared for each other outside the expected bounds of family (or tribal) relationships.
If the world of the early Church had to look at its members to see Christ and to believe, then the same is true now. The world will have to look for Christ in communities of faith that care for those who are needy, that sacrifice rather than hoard, that include rather than exclude, that listen before speaking. Maybe what the world is asking from us is to see what we are willing to risk for the sake of love, for the sake of one who loves us. The resurrected Christ is to be found – and seen – not just in the lives of those who encountered him, but in our lives, too. Will we be open to encounter the Christ who comes to meet us where we need to be met? Will others see and believe, through us?