Sunday, April 19, 2020

2nd Easter, 2020: Touch the divine

Lectionary: Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

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En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y sactificador. Amen.

Whenever I read that text from our first reading from Acts, where Peter is preaching, I get a knot in my stomach. I’m not sure I’ll ever preach as bravely as Peter did. I mean, he basically said to them: you killed the Messiah of God. He followed that, of course with the Good News that God raised him up and that it was impossible for death to hold Jesus in its power… but my experience as a preacher tells me folks would probably stop listening if I accused them of killing a ministry, much less the Lord!

In his epistle, Peter takes a gentler, pastoral approach, blessing God by whose mercy we are given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What a beautiful turn of phrase that is: new birth into a living hope.

What’s different about this hope is that it isn’t a memory or even a promise. This hope is a living reality. It is part of us, as alive as the cells of our bodies and the blood in our veins. The living hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus transforms our individual and communal suffering into the outcome of our faith: oneness in God.

This hope acts on us and through us into the world where redemption is in process. You see, we live in the era of the-already-but-not-yet, that is, the time after Jesus inaugurated the reconciliation of the whole world to God by his resurrection, and before it’s completion when he comes again. This already-but-not-yet time is characterized by continuing transformation - of ourselves, our communities, and in fact, of the whole creation.

We see this kind of individual and community transformation in our gospel story today which tells us of the earliest Christian community hiding out together in that upper room in fear. We can only imagine the hopelessness they must have felt having just witnessed the execution of their Messiah. Suddenly, that very Messiah, Jesus, is present among them, despite the locked doors.

The resurrected Jesus breathes his Spirit on the disciples calling to mind God breathing life into Adam in Genesis; but in that case, God breathed life into one. In this case, God in Christ breathes new life into the whole community. As we hear in Eucharistic Prayer D: “And, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.” (BCP, 375)

The sanctification of all.

Receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, infusing them with the power to forgive as he forgave. This is important because Jesus brought about salvation by the forgiveness of sin. Now he was equipping his followers to continue his work.

Jesus taught them about the responsibility that comes with receiving the power of forgiveness: what you do on earth will be done in heaven. If you forgive what separates and divides, it will be reconciled. If you don’t, it won’t.

This isn’t about ecclesial power they could wield in the world, it’s about the disciples’ responsibility to keep the new covenant of reconciliation by serving the way Jesus had done, and this is how Jesus did it: as he was dying on the cross, the embodiment of human-divine love forgave, reconciling even those who killed him into the community of divine love.

We, the present-day followers of Jesus, who have the Spirit of Christ in us, must also practice forgiveness, the radical forgiveness Jesus practiced as he died on his cross, the kind of forgiveness that advances and expands the community of divine love on earth.

Then the Gospel story takes a different turn, informing us that the disciple Thomas, poor Thomas, missed the whole thing. He missed Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on them. He missed Jesus’ teaching about what that meant; and when the others told him of their experience, it must have sounded like a collaborative fantasy or a shared hallucination. I won’t believe the things you say, Thomas insisted, unless I see it for myself.

That’s the set-up, anyway. I think Jesus intentionally picked that precise moment to appear to his disciples knowing that Thomas wouldn’t be there; and I think he did that for us who would have to come to believe without being able to see.

Like Thomas, so many of us just aren’t there at first. Our friends seem to know and experience something about God we don’t and it leaves us feeling different or alone in the midst of our community.

The Good News in this gospel story, however, is that Jesus will come again, just as he did for Thomas. Jesus will meet us at the place of our doubt and invite us to touch the divine.

We don’t know if Thomas actually touched Jesus or if he was transformed simply by seeing Jesus and hearing Jesus’ invitation to him; but Thomas’ response gives voice to a universal sigh that echoes through the generations each time someone is finally penetrated by a true experience of unity with God in Jesus: My Lord and my God!

Such powerful words.

The Season of Easter reminds us that we have been transformed as individuals and as a community through the resurrection of Jesus. We have been given the gift of living hope and we are called to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith - that through the resurrection of Jesus, our present suffering can be transformed into the outcome of our faith: oneness in God.

Just think on what that could mean for us today. The whole world is suffering a shared trauma: the coronavirus. This shared suffering has made us a global family in a way nothing ever has before. All national, religious, and class boundaries mean nothing. This virus strikes people in all countries, the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, believers and unbelievers.

The living hope we possess opens up the possibility that our present suffering can be transformed into the outcome of our faith: oneness in God. Global oneness. What a grace! What a hope!

Still, I am hearing of people beginning to wear out as the length of time in isolation continues on with no apparent end in sight. Sadness, loneliness, and depression are beginning to creep in, but that’s to be expected.

If isolation has taught us anything it’s that we need community. We need one another and God is already showing us how to be community even as we isolate.

Using the gifts of technology, we can gather together. If someone doesn’t know how, someone else can teach them. If someone doesn’t have the equipment, there are ways to get it. The church makes charitable purchases all the time. All we need is someone paying attention so the needs of the one can be known and met by the community.

The gospel assures us that whenever we fall into doubt or gloom, Jesus will come to us. It may be that he comes to us in the person of a friend who reaches out, or maybe in a quiet moment of prayer, or in a dream while we sleep.

In whatever way it happens, our living hope assures us that Jesus will meet us where we are, invite us to touch the divine, and restore us to wholeness. He will do this continually for us as individuals and in our communities until the whole world is living as one in God.


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