postmodern preaching

Second Sunday of Easter Year B

  • Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35

In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke identifies two inter-dependent traits that gave the early church its identity: witnessing to the “the resurrection of the Lord” and spontaneous, voluntary generosity so “There was not a needy person among them.”  “Grace was upon all.”

  • Psalm 133

The psalmist celebrates the joys of living together harmoniously with two vivid images, one quite exotic (to us) and the other much more familiar.  Such an experience and result is compared to oil rubbed into a rather prodigious beard– there are definite healing qualities, there is a pleasant aroma, and the appearance is quite handsome; second, it is like dew “on parched mountains.”

  • I John1:1-2

From his opening words, the writer 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 we are in fellowship with God, we must now do “what is true,”  Fourthly, we must acknowledge and confess our inevitable failures to do what is true, trusting in the “advocate Jesus Christ” who has atoned not only for our sins but for the “sins of the whole world.”

  • John 20:19-31

By Easter evening, according to John’s resurrection narrative, the disciples have heard the detailed news of Mary Magdalene and the testimony of Peter and “the beloved disciple” that they ‘believe’.  They are huddled behind locked doors.  Jesus came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’, (which echoes Jesus’ promise at the Last Supper: “Peace is my farewell gift to you….” [14:22]).  He showed them  the wounds in his hands and in his side.  The disciples “rejoiced.”  He then commissioned them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  He “breathed on them” and continued: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  He conferred on them the authority to forgive sins.  One was absent, Thomas, who later insisted he must have his own tangible encounter with the Risen Christ.   A week later, again on the “first day of the week,” the disciples were gathered. This time Thomas was present.  Again, Jesus appeared among them, “although the doors were locked,” and addressed them with the same greeting of “peace.”  He then addressed Thomas directly, inviting him to touch, to probe the wounds.  Thomas immediately avowed: “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus addressed all future hearers of this story: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  In an aside, John’s narrative notifies the reader that there were many other incidents/”sign”, “which are not written in this book.”  But the ones that are written about are for your benefit, “so that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God….”  This “believing” may enable you to something you might otherwise have never expected or known: “life in his name.”

These readings and gospel offer insights about the very first reactions to the proclamation that Jesus had been raised by eye-witnesses and those who believed their testimony.  They tell, one to another, the story of God’s total, absolute love, particularly revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.  It does not loose any power in  re-telling, but only grows and spreads.  The constant repetition of the story created a community in which generosity happened spontaneously and became the norm.  In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus gave the nascent community the gift of “the Holy Spirit” and the privilege of becoming his representative to others.  Naturally, doubt and failure to fully engage this new status occurred, but confession and forgiveness enabled individuals and the community to repair, restore and renew; in other words, to bring back life, “life in his name.”  Participating in this kind of community provided renewal and hope to people in the daily lives of friends and neighbors, who also became part of the story of the community.  The community replicated in its actions the words of its testimony about the love of God in Christ and imitated that love in the community and beyond.  Thomas found his faith in this community.

Responding to Heidegger’s little book, On the Way to Language, Luce Irigaray wrote The Way of Love.  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.”  She continues:  “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)  What a community or an individual says, teaches, preaches, re-iterates becomes embodied (“flesh”) in that community and those believers, which is its “spirit.”    The “words” and the “actions” become interchangeable, and that manifests a “spirit.”  But differences are inevitable among people.  How a community negotiates difference helps define that community.  Irigaray continues by writing that language allows us to approach one another, but never fully grasp one another.  The unbridgeable distance forces us to acknowledge that there is always a certain mystery or “transcendence” between us.  We honor this difference be 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.”  (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 seems naive about human nature.  Yet, it invites us to “build” “places”  of the flesh and the heart where we can participate in a community of like-hearted people, also formed just like us in response to the story of God’s staggering love, particularly displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.  A community not built on similarity but dissimilarity, not on sameness but difference and a tangible embrace of those differences 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 listen to the stories of others, but then gives “flesh” to those stories in acts of generosity.  A community where everyone is keenly aware that “great grace is upon all.”

God’ story, in John’s narrative, begins “the Word became flesh.”  After the resurrection, that Word became flesh not just in one person, but potentially in any person who seeks, finds and joins with others shaped by God’s love story.  We are the very ones John had in mind when he wrote: “blessed are those who have not seen but believe.”  Thomas had to see the Risen Christ “in the flesh;” the community gathered in his name is now meant to be God’s love  in its “flesh.”

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