Second Sunday of Easter

Do you believe in the Resurrection?
If so, why?

Those are our Gospel’s questions for Thomas, and those are the questions for us, as we conclude our celebration of Easter Day – that’s right – the past eight days are considered by the church to be one day, the liturgical equivalent of a summer night in the arctic, where the sun never sets.

But I’m not going to spend lots of time talking about Thomas this evening. Rather, I want to look rather closely at something interesting – interesting to me, at least – about the scriptures the church links together for us on this Second Sunday of Easter, and particularly at this reading from the Acts of the Apostles. But keep my questions – do you believe in the Resurrection? Why? – firmly in mind.

Let me refresh you, in case your mind was wandering off earlier. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common. […] And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

The teaching of the apostles, the breaking of the bread, the prayers – those are relatively clear. “The communal life” – the Greek word that translates for us is the word “koinonia”, “communion”, the sharing of a common life of prayer, of service, of, as we see, material goods. It’s a typical way in the Scriptures and in theology of describing the difference that the Risen Christ makes in our lives together – we who were not a people, become a people; we who were as far apart as Jews and Greeks, as slaves and free persons, as women and men, as Yankees fans and Red Sox fans, are reconciled into one family. We are only Christians by being Christians together – the old Latin tag was “unus Christianus, nullus Christianus” – “a single Christian is not a Christian.”

And so, both for us and for these earliest Christians, the church is the proof of the resurrection, and that’s why we’re talking about it at the end of this Easter week. The church is the indication that the resurrection of Christ, God’s confirmation of Christ’s righteousness and the foretaste of what we can look forward to on the last day, is not a myth, not a pretty story, not a happy ending tacked on to the usual story of another Jewish rabbi killed by the Romans. It’s the existence of this community, devoted to the teaching of the apostles, to communion of minds and bodies, to the breaking of the bread, to the prayers, that confirms Mary Magadalene’s proclamation, “I have seen the Lord.”

Now, what you may be thinking, or perhaps, in my humble opinion, should be thinking is, that all sounds well and good, but hey, I live in Boston. After the events in the Roman Catholic church that have been revealed in the past seven years, how can the church help me to believe in the resurrection? Believing the truth of the resurrection – that’s easy-peasy, compared to believing in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Even here in this Paulist Center Community, we’ve had a rough couple of years, and we’ve had rough patches before, and we’ll have rough patches in the future. If you haven’t had the experience of having your faith shaken by the church that attempts to proclaim it, then, as the bumper sticker says, you haven’t been paying attention. It’s difficult to hear this story from Acts about the early Christian community and not think of it as a fantasy, as a story, or at least as a little bit naïve.

So why in the world would the church link this reading about the early church with the story of Thomas’ coming to faith? Because, I think, not despite the church’s failures, our failures, to be Christ-like, but in and through the church’s failures, our failures, to be Christ-like, we find our truest source for faith in Christ’s resurrection and hope for our own resurrections.

As some of you know, my partner and I live in an undergraduate dorm with about 400 students. Upon hearing how regularly I try to get to church, one of them once remarked to me, with wide-eyes, “You must be really holy.” I told him that calling someone who’s in church a lot holy is like calling someone who’s in the hospital a lot healthy. One of the indications we get that the church’s job is to carry on Christ’s ministry is in the passage of Acts immediately following this one, when Peter heals a man born disabled outside of the Temple. That’s right – Peter. You know, the not-so-bright fisherman with a tendency to exaggerate and/or deny Christ repeatedly. That is, the foundation of the church. We have met the healers, and they are us, the walking wounded, in an emergency room of a community where every doctor is hooked up to his or her own IV bag.

The description of the church as an ideal community in today’s reading from Acts isn’t, upon closer inspection, naïve; just a few chapters later, some of the first conflicts of the early church raise their heads. But in this community here, and in Christian churches across time and space, we find moments of communion, we find the prayers and the breaking of the bread, we find the teaching of the apostles, we find the resurrection of the Lord and the presence of his Spirit, breaking out in unforeseen, gracious ways. That is the difference between a pollyannish naiveté that pretends everything is perfect, and a Christian hope that knows that everything is not perfect – Christian hope holds together the crosses of our feeble, stumbly, dysfunctional community and the moments of grace, the moments of glory, moments made possible by the truth of Christ’s resurrection, that shine out in our world like supernovas. Like Thomas, the surest way for us to know, to believe in the resurrection, is by putting our hands in each other’s wounds, wounds caused by others and wounds we have caused ourselves in all variety of ways, and trying, however clumsily, to give each other comfort, to help each other walk again.

The craziest people I’ve met in my life have been in the church of God – some of you are here this evening. Some of the people who have most annoyed me and most hurt me have been in the church of God. Some of those I have most annoyed, that I have most hurt, have been here as well. But the surest experiences I’ve had that have convinced me of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and of his presence to the world through his Spirit, have been in this same church, not simply through words but through the reality of a new way of being human together that rings out, regularly if not constantly, in this body of Christ. In the stubborn persistence of this people who were once no people; who are now part of me, sometimes despite my preferences and theirs; who are, together, holding each other up as we pray to our father and walking together toward a communion that is real yet incomplete, I hear the reign of God echoing backwards into human history and I find my hope in God’s justice confirmed.

As we continue in this liturgy to devote ourselves to the teaching of the apostles and to koinonia, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers, look around you as we share the sacrament that we fittingly call “communion,” look around at the people who love you and the people who bug you.

Do you believe in the resurrection? Why?

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