Acts 4:32-35 – Now those who believed were of one heart and soul, and they held all possessions in common.
Psalm 133 – How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.
1 John 1:1 – 2:2 – If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.
John 20:19-31 – Doubting Thomas. “Peace be with you.” “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have come to believe.”
The first reading is from Acts. It is a powerful testimony of the impact that the early church had on poverty, due to their generosity. Here is the reading in its entirety:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Even if we accept that Luke has a rather idyllic view of the early church, we must concede that it does, nevertheless, convey a vision of what the church was meant to be. Maybe it has been at times, in flashes of the Spirit, here and there. It is a vision worthy of holding up, of proclaiming. They were one. They shared. They witnessed. There was grace.
The objection will inevitably come is that this is communal, if not communistic, living. All we can say is, yes, they shared.
Psalm 133 famously picks up this theme of unity. How blessed it is when we live in unity. A theme that could be pursued on this day is one of unity.
1 John, Chapter One, if not written by the same John as the gospel, certainly picks up the main themes of the gospel from the outset: The beginning, light, life, darkness, eternal life, the word, joy. And we have the well known, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In fact, the last verse of the first chapter says it even more strongly: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and his word is not in us.” Chapter Two gives us the gospel to that law. We hope you don’t sin, but if you do, good news! Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. And one more thing: Not just our sins, but also the sins of the whole world.
John 20 gives us the Doubting Thomas text for Quasi Moto Sunday. For more on the history of Quasi Moto Sunday see my post from 2010.
See also my 2011 post, Visible Sign of an Invisible Hand.
Pastor Ed Marquart (Grace, Seattle) reminds us, “Doubts, questions and skepticism often lead to deeper faith and larger faith.”
Bishop Rob Hofstad once showed the Conference of Bishops two pieces of artwork, depicting two versions of Christianity. The first is at the Musée d’Orsay. It is called The Excommunication of Robert the Pious by Jean-Paul Laurens. The event took place in AD 998. The painting was completed in 1875.
Pope Gregory V excommunicated Robert for marrying his distant cousin, Berthe of Burgundy. It is not the act that is portrayed but the consequences. The look on his face tells the story. He is forlorn. In the silence following the condemnation, the candle is snuffed, on the floor, along with Robert’s scepter. He can no longer receive the sacrament. He will not receive Last Rites, and, therefore, not receive the forgiveness he will need for his journey into the afterlife. This is the collision of two different kinds of power.
Robert was no saint. He was very hard on “heretics,” advocating the forced conversion of Jews. When they would not, he exacted harsh punishments and violence.
Then Hofstad showed a second painting. This one is from 1898, by Swiss painter Eugène Burnand, called The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection. This painting is Burnand’s most well-known work. It, too, is at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Burnand has also captured facial expression in a masterful way. It is an unmistakable look: HOPE.
Notice the hands as well. Running to the tomb, John’s hands are clasped, while Peter seems to be holding his chest. Could his heart be pounding?
In the murky tension between doubt and faith lies hope. This hope yearns for what we cannot see. This hope yearns for what we cannot know. As the current carries us down the river, we cannot see around the bend, but we hope, aware that our destination is out there somewhere.
This hope is what embodies the Christian faith. Hope against hope. Hope beyond the grave. Hope that there is so much more to life than meets the eye.
So which version of Christianity is the real deal: A power struggle between church and state yielding despair, or the breath-catching pang of hope?
One who has hope lives differently.
Pope Benedict XVI