For April 15, 2012: 2 Easter, Year B

The Reading            Acts 4:32-35

On Maundy Thursday Jesus gave a new commandment: that we should love one another. The reading from Acts today shows us a community living radically in love, and Psalm 133 picks up the theme: where true love is, blessings abound.

The Epistle            1 John 1:1-2:2

We begin reading from the letters of the apostle John, written by the end of the first century AD and most probably by the author of the gospel of John. The first letter responds to a split in the community by calling for fellowship that, like the fellowship in Acts, flows from and embodies God’s love.

Further thoughts

The readings appointed for the second Sunday in Easter use imagery that is concrete and earthly (and sometimes earthy) to drive home some crucial points.

The first of the readings chronologically is Psalm 133, with its vivid imagery comparing godly unity to an extravagant anointing. Bear in mind that, in the ancient world, olive oil was not merely something to cook with: it soothed chapped skin and fueled the only artificial lights there were, and having enough of it to perform all those functions and anoint in such quantity was a sign of abundant blessing.

The reading from Acts tells a similar story of the very early church: so full of love that nobody went hungry or had to worry about shelter. Those who had property or goods gave them freely; those who had time gave it freely; those who had need of money or goods or someone else’s time were able to receive freely. No one felt taken advantage of and no one felt condescended to. It was, in short, a classic honeymoon period, and the signs of love are tangible and unmistakable—and in a world that thirsts for love, incredibly attractive.

Honeymoon periods don’t tend to last. The first letter of John is written to a community that shows signs of falling out of love: some members refuse to seek fellowship, and some are teaching that Jesus came into the world solely as a spirit. Both groups are laboring under misunderstandings.

John corrects both misunderstandings, beginning with the second, by pointing to real, concrete, earthly evidence. He writes of “what we have looked at and touched with our hands”: that is, the real physical body in which Jesus really did die and really was resurrected is as much Jesus as is his spirit. As to fellowship, John tells us, it is visible proof that we really are walking in the light of Christ, because we’re neither snubbing others nor hiding from them. What’s more, walking in the light of Christ is a sign of being in fellowship: we learn to love as Christ does from the people in our lives who give us grace when we feel unlovable, who give us work when we feel unuseful, and who give us grief when we act insufferable.

And it is to fellowship that, like Thomas, we should come even—or especially—with our questions and our honest doubts.  Where Jesus comes, he always says, “Peace be with you.” That peace is not intended to squelch our doubts but to create space in which doubt and fear and difficult messages can be expressed safely. And that peace flows, like the oil over Aaron’s beard, from the love we learn to give.

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