Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD — firstname.lastname@example.org
In any Easter Season Christians receive the gift of relearning the basics of forming community. The textbook for these lessons is the Book of Acts. In this Easter Season when we have been prevented from celebrating physically in community maybe it’s these basics that we need.
Those first followers of the Risen Christ are just the same as we Christians of the 21srt century in that we, too, find it necessary to become community. And we, like them, take on the 4 basic elements of Christian community. They are:
- Receive instruction,
- Demonstrate love of neighbor
First, it is up to us to learn, to know God and Jesus Christ. Acts tells us the Apostles, including Mary of Magdala, instructed the people. Ours is a lifetime of coming to know God, of growing wider and deeper in incorporating divine guidance into the muscle memory of our baptismal commitment.
Second, we must pray. To have a sense, a feel for God and the Spirit who moves within me and among us is likewise a lifelong journey. Even in times, such as these, when prayer is an exercise in aloneness, anxiety and, yes, abandonment this reliance on God is the feel of the divine within. This prayer experience, in a time of pandemic, forms community – just because the times and the lessons are so basic.
.Third, we worship. We give praise to the One who is the source of our being and who reveals to us that life, my life, once begun never ends. The Gospel of the Emmaus disciples reminds us of the basic fact that in breaking bread together we are Christ together. These two disciples, we are told, recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. I choose to believe that these two non-Apostles, only one of whom is named, must have been part of that Passover meal the Thursday before they found themselves on Sunday, heading out of town. How else would they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread if they had not just seen him do it three days before? We worship; we break bread and in doing so we praise God present in and among us.
Fourth, we care; we demonstrate the love of Christ who loves us first. How basic does it get that one gives away what one receives? Even moreso does the love take root and give life when it is the product of community. This, too, becomes especially clear in the time of covid – whether by making masks and PPE or by calling and connecting with others particularly to overcome isolation and distance.
These four basic acts – know God in life, sense God in prayer, praise God in worship, and love God in the neighbor – these form community. This simplicity is not only for one-to-one action. It is also part of the structure that brings and holds community together.
Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, once famously wrote, “There is no such thing as society.” When you read the fuller context in which she made this declaration, it is clear that she favored (not surprisingly) a view that it’s individuals doing good for other individuals that she saw as the best way to do good in this world. But even the Iron Lady couldn’t get rid of the National Health Service. Yes, even conservatives have “pie-in-the-sky” notions.
It reminds me of the call in this country during the Reagan years (Thatcher’s good friend who, some pointedly observed, was joined at her hip) to have all the churches do all the social services. In that way it would be a matter of religious mission to address individual’s needs. The harsh reality of that silliness was in order to do that every congregation in the country would have to increase its annual budget by a factor of 6. That’s right, a jump in one year (and staying at that level every year thereafter) of 6 times the budget. And when you consider that the size of the average congregation is 65 members, then you do the math. That 10% tithe becomes 60%.
The point is community/society is way more than personal choice. Structure is called for – structure that acknowledges the give and take, the balancing to come to a best decision that is part and parcel of our human condition.
Frankly speaking, we are at a place in community forming that says our faith – based on the 4 basics – is way more than me and Jesus. It’s not enough to proclaim Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. And way more than believing I have an absolute right to my personal freedom. A person doesn’t have the right to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater (remember those?). Just as that person does not have the right to “do as I please” in a time of pandemic.
Yes, it is Easter Season. We are a community formed by the basics – Know God, Sense God, Worship God, and Love God in the neighbor. We reach back 2000 years to join in community with all who believe in the Risen One. The One who “did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. … He was known to be human and in his human state he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8
A Prayer (JR)
Renew us, All Holy One, through faith in Resurrection. We live our lives believing in this Way of Life. Now, in this time of isolation and distance, of virus and death, we seek this comfort — that You are with us. As we gather in prayer strengthen our confidence, deepen our love and connections, and give comfort to the suffering and dying.
This is Easter for us this year. May our collective human effort and your grace restore us to health, peace, and happiness. We pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.