Second Sunday in Easter 'B'

Sunday April 19, 2009

The Good ‘Ole’ Days

At family weddings or funerals, it’s not unusual for ‘seniors’ to reminisce about the good old days, sometimes called the ‘days of the giants.’ The slightly embellished stories are sometimes tales of legendary quality but are more often simple homespun yarn that places our loved ones in the best light. They’re not exactly fables but exaggerations of the truth if truth be told. Of course, there are always challengers among the listeners some of whom remember or think they recall in documentary fashion all the details of the story the way they really unfolded. And yes, there are also those ‘doubting Thomases’ — outsiders of sorts who remain unimpressed by heroes of the past. They believe only half of what they see and none of what they can’t see!

The need to place our ancestors in the best light is not unwarranted or even unfair. Indeed, it’s unfortunate but inevitable that we wait until our loved ones have left us to send bouquets or praise them for their accomplishments.

In any event stories are an important part of our family repertoire because they keep us connected to our heritage. Depending on our age and life circumstances, they contain different lessons and applications. They motivate us to hold on to core values that have been passed from one generation to another. Insightful people also testify to positive learnings from negative experiences.

What is true of family history is also true of the faith history recorded in the Scriptures. They too are ‘family stories’ of a sort and as with family stories, they may be slightly exaggerated but they are true at the core.

The Acts of the Apostles gives us a somewhat embellished picture of the life of early Christianity. St. Luke was describing not so much the way it was but the way it was intended to be, i.e., what Christian community looks like when its members put their faith into action or to put it another way, when they “practice what they preach.”

To that extent, he is describing what we might call an intentional community — that which their new found faith in Jesus Christ demanded of them or rather, that which the risen life of Jesus could produce within them — a community living consciously and conscientiously what they believed their relationship with one another could be like. They were more than a biological family. They were a family bonded in the body and blood of Christ. They had become in effect, the body of Christ, his blood surging through their veins. To be sure, there were communities of which Luke’s description was ‘on target.’

Nevertheless, this was not a dreamy or feel-good Christianity. In many ways it was a disciplined life but one that was not dependent on human effort alone. They were a people living in grace, confident that their faith in Jesus made a difference; that he was alive within them or rather in him “they lived and moved and had their whole being.”

The Gospel of John describes the apostles gathered in fear eight days after the resurrection of Jesus. This is John’s interpretation of another aspect of the post resurrection experience of those who were closest to Jesus during his earthly life — leaders gathered in fear, disciples struggling with their belief, believers at different stages of belief—a slice of a different church.

Notice that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were these, “Peace be with you!” Do not be anxious; do not be afraid followed by the authorization to forgive. Jesus came not to instill fear but to forgive sin and to be an instrument of reconciliation for all people. The Church is charged with that mission and became the instrument of reconciliation at Pentecost. Easter and Pentecost are two aspects of one mystery, the reversal of Babel.

In essence the Scriptures this weekend encourage us but they also challenge us. They assure us that Jesus is truly risen and that his grace has been given to us in ample measure; it can’t be earned or merited. They challenge us however because there is a discipline to living this life of grace. It’s not automatic.

Young people who have made an Antioch or Search weekend; adults who have experienced a Cursillo or Cornerstone retreat may be able to relate to this description but they also know the reality of the fourth day. The spiritual high at the conclusion of a retreat fades very quickly in the face of the challenges of daily life.

Our early Christian ancestors lived their lives authentically and even joyfully, but they were disciplined; they were comfortable but not complacent. They understood that their lives were not their own possession and in fact some were even willing to die for the Lord, but more importantly, they were willing to live for the Lord as they lived for one another.

These are the qualities of a community living in grace:

1.A spirit of welcome and hospitality;
2.The absence of prejudice and stereotypical behaviors that foster fear and petty competition and that respect complementarity
3.A consciousness of the needs of others and the willingness to share resources;
4.The resolution of conflict in which justice and mercy are honored;
5.Life-giving celebrations at worship;
6.A sense of safety and security without being isolated from the world;
7.A sense of empowerment combined with the willingness to challenge both religious and political leaders to justice and the pursuit of peace.

“The community of believers was of one heart and one mind. They never claimed anything as their own. Rather everything was held in common. With power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great respect was paid to them all. And no one was needy among them, for all who owned property or houses sold them and donated the proceeds. They used to lay them at the feet of the apostles to be distributed to everyone according to the need,” [Acts 2:32-35]—a vision devoutly to be pursued by you and me as we continue to work through hard economic times.

“Almighty God, who has ordained that we should serve you in serving one another by our labors: have regard, we pray, to this nation oppressed at this time by many burdens. Grant to its citizens grace to work together with honest and faithful hearts, each caring for the good of all; that seeking first your kingdom and its righteousness, we may have added to us all things needful for our daily sustenance and the common good.” Amen. [Adapted from a prayer by Geoffrey F. Fisher, 1887 – 1972 The Complete Book of Christian Prayer, The Continuum Publishing Company, 1996, New York.

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