Thursday, April 15, 2010

Become the Evidence

Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Easter:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The scripture appointed includes Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31.

Three sweet essential messages speak to me, this Easter, and they’re all heard in today’s collect.

First, in the mystery of Easter God has established a new covenant of reconciliation, a new way to build peace on earth.

Second, in the mystery of our baptism we have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body. Our first birth is into a family, our second birth into a worldwide fellowship.

Third, our relationship to both these mysteries requires us to act on what we believe, to show in our lives what we claim by our faith.

It’s impressive, how six short lines of prayer can pack such a punch, collect light like a prism and cast such a rainbow of good news.

First, the new covenant of reconciliation. The old covenant is an agreement between God and Israel, God calling Israel to obey laws of purity and justice, God promising to Israel steadfast love, Israel accepting the responsibilities that go along with the privilege of being chosen to serve as a light to the nations. This covenant still defines the Jewish people.

The new covenant of reconciliation announces news that God is using the Easter mystery to reach out beyond the first covenant. Beyond Israel to the Greek world, and to extend that offer the young Church’s leaders (most of them Jewish) learned to speak of Jesus as Alpha and Omega, advertising in Greek his first and last importance.

But the first Christians had to learn peacemaking the hard way, from the inside out. This would be harder than learning a few Greek words. They would teach that in God’s eyes, there is no important difference between Jews and Greeks, or between men and women, or between slaves and free.

But demonstrating that peaceful spirit, helping all people see themselves as one proved hard. In our lesson from the Book of Acts today, we hear the Jewish high priests cry out to Jesus’s apostles, “You keep blaming us for your master’s death!”

“Darned right!” answer Peter and his fellow disciples. “You had him killed by hanging him on a cross!”

That’s a snapshot of how Christians and Jews got along—or didn’t get along—in New Testament times, and it has affected (you might say infected) relations between the two religious communities ever since. None of us wants that to continue, and all of us have a responsibility to read and tell the Bible’s stories in ways that advertise good news of God’s way of making peace through Jesus Christ—not by blame, but by such a love that frees in us a deep honesty to recognize the unity we have in God.

We who carry his name, who have the sign of his cross on our foreheads and the presence of his Spirit in our hearts from baptism, find in Jesus Christ the love that frees us for, and binds us to, deep honesty. In the mystery of our baptism we have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body. Our first birth is into a family, our second birth into a worldwide fellowship.

And the long 2000-year history of that universal Church is really the collected stories of the literally billions of us who have found a relationship with Jesus Christ as personal and real as his first apostles had with him. For the new covenant of reconciliation reaches out beyond death, indeed through death, which became for Jesus not the obstacle but the very pathway by which we know him.

It is an astonishing claim, but what is offered in Jesus Christ is no less than friendship with him, knowing him and being known by him, his presence real to you and your presence in this world made all the more real in him. It is he who is offered to Chloe in baptism, next Sunday. It is he who is offered to each of us at the communion rail. And he who is with us when we pray. And when we don’t. He is with us always, to the close of time and beyond: that is his promise in the new covenant.

The relationship that you or I have to both the Easter mystery and the baptismal mystery requires us to act on what we believe, to show in our lives what we claim by our faith.

That is dramatized for us in Thomas’s story. He’s a very modern man, logical, practical, and feeling alone. He isn’t with his brothers and sisters, that Easter night. He needs peace and reconciliation, and he’s struggling with the whole fellowship thing.

So he works out of the logical, practical, isolating side of himself and demands meaningful evidence. He must touch the wounds of Jesus; only then will he believe.

Thomas knows how to do reasoning. Like so many of us, he has to learn how to do the mystical. Remember, what we’re given in Christianity is Easter mystery, baptismal mystery. It’s how Jesus will be known.

And when he is, when Thomas returns to fellowship and in that community meets Jesus all over again, Jesus uses that mystical moment to honor reason. Go ahead, he says, examine your evidence.

And then Jesus drives it all home. “Do not doubt, but believe.” Jesus calls Thomas to action. Take all that effort and energy by which you’ve been doubting and redirect it. To believe is itself an action of the will: it is to welcome the reconciling love that Jesus brings to the friendship, and then to build peace with that love. To believe is itself an action of the will, receiving the gift of relationship with God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, freeing us for, and binding us to, honesty.

To believe is the act of the will by which we become evidence of the risen Jesus.

Think of that! But don’t think too long… Become.