Second Sunday of Easter
Easter makes me a little crazy; I’m hoping you didn’t notice. It is a thing that comes upon me in the days and hours leading up to Easter, and it happens every year. I don’t really notice my mental state until Easter is over, but like I said, it’s the same thing every year. Once Easter worship is done, I realize that such a weight has been lifted, that it finally makes me realize that there was a weight there in the first place. I’m hard to get ahold of on the Monday after because I know I won’t be good for anything anyway.
It’s not just me; a lot of pastors go through the same thing. I’m actually kind of proud of myself for how quickly I can recover from it: I know some pastors who have to leave town for a couple of weeks because they need more time to recover. And you can understand why Easter might mess with pastors, right? Because Easter is important. The proclamation of our Risen Savior is a big deal and it’s not just pastors who feel the weight of it. Sure, it’s the same proclamation we make every other day of the year, but on Easter Sunday more people come to church to hear it. It puts a lot of pressure on a person. It makes a pastor a little preoccupied about making everything go smoothly; I get a little obsessive about the sermon; about saying the right thing; about not saying the wrong thing. I go a little crazy, and I need a little rest by the time it’s all over.
Of course, it isn’t until the clear-headedness of post-Easter that I realize how silly all of that actually is. The pressure I put on myself is just that: something I’ve made up for myself. The people who come to church every week are not going to hear anything they didn’t already know on Easter Sunday. The people who only come to church on Easter, are not going to be convinced to come back the next week because they’ve heard a well-crafted sermon. All of that pressure is just in my head.
And besides—and here’s the big reason why I don’t go on vacation right after Easter: for the follower of Jesus, Easter is not even our most important day. I know that sounds shocking when you say it out loud, but hear me out: Easter is not our most important day, every day after Easter is our most important day. Every day we are faced with the surprising reality that Jesus the Messiah has been raised up from the grave is our most important day. Every new day we get to learn the implications of that truth is our most important day. Every day that we can proclaim the truth of our Risen Savior is our most important day.
I was reminded this week that I need to not let Easter get to me like it does; I need to not remember that the Easter Sermon shouldn’t make me as crazy as it does. I need to remember that, by definition, this sermon is vastly more important.
As we think about who we are as Easter people—as people who live in the reality of the Risen Jesus—we’re going to consider how the early church got their heads around this truth. For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the Book of Acts (especially the early chapters) to see how they processed through this profoundly different way of looking at life.
The revelation that Jesus has conquered death for us is life changing; in that it ought to change your life. In light of the Empty Tomb, we ought to be different and our lives ought to look differently than those who don’t know this truth. Unfortunately, the followers of Jesus don’t always seem very different, do they? One of the major criticisms people level at the church is that we are hypocrites; a criticism that, of course, is absolutely true. Obviously, we’re not only hypocrites, but our actions don’t always match what we say. Our behaviors don’t always proclaim what it is we say we believe. If nothing else, our lives don’t always reflect the profound truth that Jesus has conquered death for us. We are hypocrites because we are not often even measurably different than the world around us. Why would a person feel the need to go to church, when the people in it are (at best) exactly like the people outside of it?
Now at this point, having already read this brief Scripture lesson, you may be getting nervous; and perhaps you should be. My logic so far is pretty easy to track: we’re looking at the early church to see how they responded to the good news of the Risen Jesus. I then pointed out the obvious: that the followers of Jesus don’t always seem substantially different than those who don’t follow him. And here we have a Scripture lesson where they seemed astonishingly different than most people. You can see where we’re going with this, right? So today we’re going to pool all of our resources. We’re going to open a new bank account, we’re going to put all our money in it, and everybody gets to be a signer for the checkbook.
Obviously, we’re not doing that. What this morning’s Scripture lesson leaves out of the story is that it didn’t work. Between the rest of what Luke tells us in Acts and from what other early church writers have said about things like this, this idea failed almost immediately; and for all the reasons you would expect. Those with a lot of money didn’t like giving it away. There were divisions over who got to be in charge of it. And eventually people started taking advantage of each other. We’re not going to form a commune, so you can relax. That is not the point I’m making today. In fact, I’m not sure that’s the point Luke is making in telling us this story.
Sing along if you know it: “Boy, the way Glenn Miller played. Songs that made the Hit Parade. Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days!” I was just a kid when All in the Family was on, but I remember the power of it. It made deeply serious social issues funny to talk about. People could laugh along as Archie and Edith struggled to cope with the turbulent ‘60s and ‘70s. Their pining for bygone days—days when things were clearer, simpler, and easier to understand—reflected a feeling that a lot of people had; and maybe a lot of people still do. As the opening song reflected, when the world gets troubling and confusing, it’s nice to look back to better days.
But nostalgia can be tricky. Looking at the church that’s described in our reading today as the “good-old-days” can be every bit as misleading as wistfully looking back at the way our church used to be: “Remember when the church was full on Sunday mornings; when Sunday school was crammed with adults and kids; remember when everyone you knew just went to church?” Of course, we also selectively forget the imperfections and strife; we forget that the cultural issues that our world is dealing with today we also there too, just hiding; we forget that our past is never as rosy as we remember it.
At first, our Scripture reading today sounds like nothing more than a "Those were the days" kind of nostalgia. Luke tells us, "The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions…. There was not a needy person among them." Not only does this not sound like our church, that doesn’t sound like anybody’s church. And I’m not just talking about commune part of it. That’s the part we get distracted by: the part where we get nervous that our pastor is about to suggest socialism. No, the really striking part is the, “of one heart and soul” part. That seems too rosy a picture. That makes me start to question Luke’s memory. “One heart and soul,” really Luke? Even knowing that their unity was short-lived, it’s still hard to believe. What outlandish thing is he going to tell us next; maybe that Jesus rose from the dead? Oh, wait. What if this story is more than just rosy nostalgia? What if this remarkable unity actually described the church, if only for a while? Well then, we’d have to take it seriously, wouldn’t we? We might just have to rethink what the resurrection of Jesus really means to us.
Not only does Luke describe their outlandish behavior, Luke tells us what led them to it. In verse 33, Luke makes it clear that it is because of the resurrection of Jesus: "With great power,” Luke says, “the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." The resurrection is the ultimate display of God’s power. A power that is greater than all other powers: powers like sin, and death, and even eternity are transformed by the power of the resurrection. And apparently, it even has the power to transform us.This brief story from Acts—an interlude, really—calls us to ask a rather weighty question of ourselves: does the resurrection of Jesus still have that power? Can it still transform us? I believe it can. That’s why I’m back here on the Sunday after Easter. I suspect it’s why you’re here too. Our challenge, as we look for that transforming power, is not to look back. Our challenge is not to reminisce about the better days as we remember them, but to look for the days God has in store for us. Our challenge is to remain obedient to our Risen Savior (probably not in starting a commune), but in whatever surprising ways he calls us to go. And as Easter people, sent to tell that story to the world, may that power be evident in us; may the world around us see our Savior’s transforming resurrection power at work in us.