Year A, 5th and 6th Sundays in Easter
If one of the first experiences of Easter and Eastertide is recognizing the Risen Christ in familiar and surprising places then one of the next experiences is realizing that recognition is a call to response. Having experienced the Risen Christ, how will we respond to Christ’s presence? What will be our response to the invitation to go meet him in Galilee, back in all the old familiar places where we first encountered him? Back in our lives as well as in the awe-inspiring moment of the empty tomb? “Response” is the theme we explore for the 5th and 6th Sundays of Easter this year.
In Acts 7 we hear the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen’s response to his encounter with Jesus the Christ is utmost faithfulness and joy even unto death. His full reliance upon God whom he has met through the Christ also leads him to forgiveness of those who stone him as a blasphemer, believing they do so in God’s name. In Acts 17 Paul also stands in “hostile” territory responding to Christ by proclaiming him to the Athenians as the “unknown” God that in altars around Athens honored. Paul’s sermon in the Aereopagus proclaims that this God, in whom we live and breath and have our being,” is actually known and is none other than the living God known in Christ. Praise, commitment even in death, forgiveness and proclamation are all responses to the living Christ.
In the gospel texts for these two weeks, the writer John has Jesus “foretell” responses necessary to the presence of the Risen Christ. In John 14: 1-14 Jesus proclaims that following him is a journey, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Follow me as the way to God, trust or believe in me and your will know the ways of God, you will know God. Whoever trust in me and you will do the works of God. In verses 15-21 of chapter 14, Jesus continues the instructions of following on the way saying, “If you love me your will keep my commandments.” Commandments that come from God since I am in God and God is in me. God’s Spirit, the Advocate, will come to empower and comfort you when I am gone. In these two passages Jesus instructs his followers how to respond once he is crucified and resurrected. Love me and keep my teachings and you will know me even when I am no longer with you in the same way as I am now. Knowing me you know the Father.
The passages from 1 Peter continue to instruct the early church in responses to the Risen Christ who is among them revealing God’s ways through the Spirit and through community as well as through the stories and teachings of Jesus. The writer of this epistle uses Hebrew scripture imagery in chapter 2 verses 4 and 5 inviting the followers of the Jesus way to come to him as to a living stone, a cornerstone, upon which the living house of God can be built by believers. The imagery of a living stone, the cornerstone rejected but now essential, and the followers of Jesus as living stones building upon the cornerstone to create God’s realm is a powerful response to the presence of the Risen Christ. How are we building ourselves as living stones into newly configured houses, communities, outposts of the realm of God in our world?
In chapter 3, the writer of 1 Peter urges the community of Christ to respond with non-violent resistance when they are persecuted for their beliefs. “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15b-16).
The imagery of the psalms for these two weeks support the building of strong communities as well as individuals of faith in response to the steadfast love and redemption of God especially in the face of persecution and hardship. The two stories below tell of building houses that bring people together and that divide them. The first story, “The House in the Woods” , is a tale from Brazil. It tells of two unlikely characters who unknowingly help each other build a beautiful house. Despite their differences they decide to live together and do so peacefully for some time. Yet when differences threaten their relationship they resort to fear and community is destroyed. The story is an explanatory tale of why certain creatures do not live together in peace.
The second story, “Earth Shake! House Break!”, is a story similar to “The Three Little Pigs.” The protagonist builds a house that withstands earthquakes because of its flexibility rather than its strength and rigidity.
All his neighbors are astounded with his insight. They eventually adopt his building plan and materials for the entire community. The story could ask questions our responses to the presence of the Risen Christ by building faith communities. Are they build on the strength and rigidity of doctrine or the strength and flexibility of love? While our cornerstone, the living God in Christ, is strong enough to withstand even death, what about the community we build upon this stone? How will it withstand the winds and earthquakes of opposition and persecution while remaining gentle and reverent even in acts of non-violent resistance? Important questions for our times!
Blessings on your Eastertide story journeys,
Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Commentary and photos may be reprinted with permission only. Please find and tell the stories!