Held in Common: A Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter

Easter 2, Year B

Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

April 8, 2018

 

Held in Common

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May our eyes be open to see You–
because we are seen by You.

May our ears be open to hear You–
because we are heard by You.

May our hearts be open to know You–
because we are known by You.

May our hands be open to share You–
even as you hold us, always.

May our sense of separation cease
as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus

 

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. (Acts 4:32).

When my sister and I were little, we didn’t exactly get along at times.  We had this strange sort of sibling rivalry where, on each of our respective birthdays, the other child needed to get a present as well.  I couldn’t stand it when my sister got all the attention—and the presents—nor could she stand my being in the spotlight for my own birthday.  So, often enough, we both got presents.

And although we shared a little house and our rooms were right next door to each other, not one of my toys could go to her room, nor any of hers to mine.  My toys were my own, and her toys were her own, and we just kept accumulating toys—plastic junk, really, that broke within weeks and lost its luster within months and ended up thrown in the back of the closet.

We grasped onto our little plastic treasures like they were made out of gold.  There was no way we would share them with each other.  There was an invisible wall of separation between us dividing “mine” and “hers” that could not be breached.  It took a message from on high—usually in the voice of our mother—to break through the barrier of warped possessiveness and make us share with one another.  Even in those moments of sharing, it seemed we only let the other person hold the toy long enough so that we could say we had shared.  Then, back to the grasping and clinging and back to our side of the invisible wall of separation that divided “mine” and “hers.”

I’m sure we were the only ones who experienced that in our childhoods, right?

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 

Perhaps there is no other verse in the Bible that makes us start grasping for a door out of the pressure we feel than this one!  Verses like this make us so uncomfortable!  I can feel the gears start whirling in my own mind: “But of course they could do that then.”  “Well, this sharing was possible then.  It was part of their culture.”  “That was then, but our life is more complex now.  This just isn’t possible.”

Even my brothers and sisters who claim to be Biblical literalists suddenly become experts in historical criticism or metaphor and analogical methods when they encounter a verse like this that places a direct demand on you or affects your lifestyle directly.

Ah, those swirling gears of rationalization that turn on when we encounter one of those spaces where our practice of faith really does start to question the way we live in the world—the assumptions we make about what it means to be a Christian in this Westernized context.  Those moments when we feel convicted and pressured and pinched about just what it is going to cost us not only to confess that Jesus is Lord but to actually live it.

And, honestly, couldn’t the framers of the lectionary cycle give us at least one Sunday to just enjoy the Risen Jesus, to soak up Easter a bit more, before we get punched in the gut with this image of sharing all things in common and not having any private possessions?

The disciples themselves didn’t bask in any post-resurrection glow if we pay close attention.  There they are, in today’s text, gathered in the room, wondering what comes next.  Most of them have experienced that unexplained event, that impossibility, that resurrection.  Jesus has appeared to them!

Others still only have second-hand information, Thomas included.  Who knows where he was when Jesus came the first time, but now he’s in the room too.  Thomas stakes his claim: I won’t believe until I actually see Jesus myself.

So when Jesus comes back the second time, he invites Thomas to actually touch him, to feel him—to experience the truth of the resurrected life.

There’s no time to just bask in the glow when lives have been reoriented in this way—when resurrection has occurred.  Life is lived in a new way, with a new orientation point.  And the point of it all is made clear in this ending verse to St. John’s Gospel:  that these stories—which we hear are actually not all that happened—were written down “so that through believing you may have life in his name.”

That we may have life.  That we may have life through Jesus himself.

See, that is what the early church was doing by the time the Book of Acts was written.  They were living, and not just living passively.  Their lives had been reoriented by this resurrection reality.  Normal ways of behavior had changed.  They recognized the expectations of the culture around them, but there was no way they could just go with the flow because, to stretch the metaphor just a bit, the trajectory of the river of their lives had been permanently altered.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection had so reframed their existence that even their economic foundations had been shifted.  Their values were grounded in something other than society’s norms of greed, grasping, ego, and competitiveness.  That is how radical the reorientation of the resurrection was in their lives.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. (Acts 4:32).

Now, here’s the interpretive pivot:

How have our lives been changed?  How has the trajectory of our river been altered by our own experience of Jesus’ resurrected existence?  How have we been transformed?

We hear it in the collect for today:

…Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

You see, we aren’t given time just to bask in the glow of Jesus’ resurrection.  We don’t have time to just sit back and rest on our laurels—or, as the case were, his laurels.

We don’t just enjoy the brightness of the Easter joy, because we have Easter lives to live.  We have the Easter message to carry forth.  We have a story to tell, hope to bring, comfort to share in the world.  We have work to do!

But here…at this point…we find ourselves at a crucial juncture.  It is at this point that we face what might possibly be our greatest temptation:  just to enjoy the promise of the resurrection without feeling the imperative to actually embody it and share it in the world that so desperately needs it.  To grasp it for ourselves, to hoard it, like a toy that we don’t want to share, a treasure we want to bury in the field rather than share and watch grow.

I believe this might possibly be the root sin of this Westernized Christianity that we encounter around us today: to hoard the promises of God in our private lives—to overly fixate on our own individual salvation—rather than actually live and practice our faith the way Jesus himself imagined—within the community which he breathed his own life into as his Body.

 This is our call.

This is what we are about.

This is our shared vocation, as the Body of Christ.

And make no mistake: living this life of Christ, growing into the fullness of Christ, as our Baptismal liturgy imagines, this is going to cost us.

And what it costs us is, the illusions of our lives that we have come to believe were our greatest treasures but were, in reality, plastic trinkets whose gold paint scrapes off at the slightest touch.

Come, Holy Spirit.  Give us the courage to trust—just enough—to release our grasp on the illusory trinkets of our lives, and in that moment of release, to understand more fully that we have been held by You.

That is the greatest treasure imaginable.

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