Year B, 2nd Sunday of Easter
In the earliest centuries of the Christian church it was the practice to require that new converts return to church for daily instruction in the mysteries of faith during the week after Easter. They had been through rigorous catechesis during Lent. Then they were initiated into faith through the waters of baptism at the Easter Vigil culminating in their first Eucharist and passing the peace with the community at the sunrise Easter service. The week after Easter was the time to process and learn more about the sacramental dying and rising to new life they had experienced in all their senses, as well as in their hearts and minds, in water, holy oil, bread, wine and the kiss of peace.
Now we are living in Eastertide after our own experiences of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Does anything seem or feel different? Are we thinking new thoughts? Has anything changed? What were our sensory experiences of the mysteries of faith in the 21st century church?
Our scriptures this week bring us sense imagery that takes us deeper into the mysteries of our faith as they come to us in community. In Acts we hear of people selling their houses and lands to pool their resources so there can be enough for all in the new community of Jesus followers. “Houses and lands” conjures up for me pictures of packing and moving, gathering worldly goods into boxes and baskets, sorting what to keep and what can be sold. The scripture brings images of people eating together, talking and laughing, praying and singing. Some experiencing meals they have never had before.
Psalm 133 compares the sweetness of good community to rich, fragrant oil running over the face soothing it from duty dryness. Or it is like thick dew settling on a high mountain desert landscape awakening the plants and animals after drought. There is renewal and salvation. The passage from I John is a testimony to new life for followers of Jesus in the defeat of sin. The writer speaks not just of knowing intellectually about this new life, but says the community can testify to hearing, seeing and touching with their hands “what was from the beginning” and yet has happened in the very real person of Jesus the Christ, in the atoning sacrifice known in his blood (another visceral image). Now there is light where there was darkness. And this community will confess, speak out loud, this experience so that all may be in fellowship with them as they are in fellowship with God’s light.
Finally the gospel text from John tells of doors shut and locked in fear. People are hiding. We can see the locked doors, perhaps shuttered windows, in our minds’ eyes and feel the stress and tension of the disciples. Then despite the locks Jesus appears saying, “Peace be with you.” Can you imagine his voice startling them in the silence, ringing out over the covert whispers of the disciples’ fearful conversations? The very sound would feel explosive much less the meaning of the words. The whispers erupt into the questions and exclamations of rejoicing. Then he breathes on them the healing, empowering breath of God’s forgiving spirit…is it warm, cool, subtle, strong, fragrant, electrifying or comforting? What an extraordinary sense image! “He breathed on them…’Receive the Holy Spirit’s power of forgiveness.’”
With the entrance of the character of Thomas and his very vocal doubts we are given visual imagery of Jesus’ crucifixion wounds. There are his wounded hands scarred from the nails. There is spear’s wound in his side. How do you see these? How do you experience them as Thomas reaches out to touch Jesus? We are the ones Jesus spoke of who have not literally seen and yet have come to believe. Because we have heard and experienced the story.
Stories resonate in every level of our being – physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. To tell them from every level of our being we have to step back and remember that we first experience the imagery, then the emotion. And without these experiences the theological and exegetical meanings we strive to communicate do not carry the multi-layered richness to reach through our intellect into our hearts and souls. Let us remember that we always write and tell our stories of God’s stories so that with the community if I John ”our joy may be complete” in sharing it with others.
Consider the stories this week and the stories that might be behind the experience of the psalmist and the writer of I John. How would those in that first community in Acts have heard and experienced the story of the disciple, Thomas, who needed to see to believe? Despite the enthusiasm and commitment that seems evident in this first community there may have been some who also had doubts along with their commitment. It is part of human nature to experience some trepidation even, and perhaps especially, when we have just deeply committed ourselves to a new and risky course of action.
Using your imagination, what may have been some signs of the resurrected Christ’s presence – as John’s gospel speaks of – that might have strengthened the community of believers who were selling houses and lands to live together as followers of Christ? We know that John ‘s gospel and the story of Thomas was written later in the first century than the Book of Acts and is addressed to an entirely different community of believers. So this is not an exegetical exercise in blending the two traditions. This is an effort to put yourself into that community of Acts and to tell “your ”story as a member of that very fervent first century community. Your first century storyteller may not know the story of “Doubting Thomas” in just the way that John tells it. However you may know the experience of doubt and receiving a sign of faith as one of those believers in Acts. What gives you the courage to sell your house or lands to share so that all in your new beloved community will have enough?
If you are interested in hearing a saint’s tale of Thomas, who legend has it went to India to share the Gospel, listen to Bob Wilhelm’s story at his Sacred Storytelling website, http://www.sacredstorytelling.org/parables-today/cycle-a-2011/second-sunday-of-easter.html . Bob will share with you a short version of the story, a longer version and reflections on the tale.
Blessings on your story journey this Eastertide,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015 and beyond. Text and photos to be reprinted with permission only.