Monday, March 16, 2009

Second Sunday of Easter Year B

Second Sunday of Easter Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-35; Psalm 133; First Letter of John 1:1-2:1; John 20: 19-31

Luke marks two key traits of the early church: testifying to "the resurrection of the Lord" and spontaneous, voluntary giving and redistribution of wealth so "There was not a needy person among them." "Great grace was upon all."

The psalmist celebrates the joys of living together harmoniously with one exotic (to us) image and another more familiar experience. First, it is like oil rubbed into hair and a rather prodigious beard, providing, we can imagine, healing properties, a pleasant aroma and a strikingly handsome appearance; second, like dew "on parched mountains."

From opening lines, the author of I John strikes four clear notes. First, we testify to what we have actually heard, seen and touched-- "the word of life." Secondly, our testimony puts us in "fellowship" with you, dear readers, and with "the Father and with the Son, Jesus Christ." Thirdly, because "God is light" and in fellowship with God we must now do "what is true." Fourthly, we must acknowledge and confess oor inevitable failures to do what is true to the Father, trusting in the "advocate Jesus Christ" who has atoned not only for our sins but for the "sins of the whole world."

(For comments about the gospel, see Easter II, Year A)

These readings and gospel offer insights to the ways people responded to the proclamation of the resurrection by eye-witnesses and those who believed their testimony. They tell and then tell over and over the story of God's absolute, total love, particularly revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It does not loose any power in re-telling but only grows and spreads. The constant telling of this story created a community in which generosity, fairness and forgiveness happened spontaneously and became the norm. Naturally, doubt and other failures to engage fully occurred, but confession and forgiveness enabled individuals and the community to repair, restore and renew; in other words, to bring life back to life. Participating in this kind of community provided renewal and hope to real people in the actual, known circumstances of friends and neighbors and also became part of the story of the community. The community replicated in its actions the words of its testimony about Christ, and imitated the love of God in their relating to others.

Responding to Heidegger's
On The Way To Language, Luce Irigaray wrote The Way of Love, published in 2002. In it she explores the quest for community in the context of Western habits of thinking and behaving. The "spiritual transforms matter," she writes, "without absorbing it. It becomes flesh, the flesh itself becomes word. The one and the other interpenetrate and transmute each other such that the dichotomy between them no longer exists." ( p. 11) Words, she insists, both enable us to approach one another but never fully grasp one another. This unbridgeable distance forces us to acknowledge that there is always a certain mystery or "transcendence" between us. We honor this distance by being generous and forgiving to one another. Then she proposes that we must deliberately "build" "places of" hospitality. These "places" are "Made of our flesh, of our hearts, and not only of words, [and] it demands that we accept that it takes place without our unilaterally overseeing its construction. It is in secret that it unfolds without any mastery of our seeing, by our domination through language." (p.154)

When we read the description of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles it seems alien to our Western individualism. It also seems naive about human nature. Yet it is inviting us to "build" "places" of the flesh and the heart where we can participate in a community of like-hearted people also formed in response to the story of God's staggering love, particularly displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. A community not built on similarity but dissimilarity, not on sameness but diversity and a palpable respect for that diversity as if it were a kind of holy "transcendence" between us. A community that uses words to tell God's story, our story of transformation and to listens to the stories of others but then moves beyond words to acts of generosity and fairness that become a norm for us and the community. A community where everyone is keenly aware that "great grace is upon all."

God's story begins "the Word became flesh." But after the resurrection that Word can become flesh not just in one Person, but potentially in any person who seeks, finds and joins with others shaped by God's story.