Readings–Acts 4: 32-35; Psalm 133; I John 1: 1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Let’s begin with a bit of American history. Who said, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately”? (Benjamin Franklin). And where? (Philadelphia) And when? (July 1776 at the signing of the Declaration of Independence)
Hanging together is community. The Gospels pictured Jesus as almost always in community. As a twelve-year-old, he stayed behind in Jerusalem, much to his parent’s dismay. They thought he had traveled home with neighbors, when, in fact, they went back to Jerusalem and they found him in the temple engaged with scholars. After his baptism, as he began his public ministry, he invited ordinary folk to join him in sharing the Kingdom of God. And he was always eating, with Pharisees in their homes, with Matthew, with Zacchaeus, with tax collectors, with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, and with over 5,000 on a hilltop. I wonder if his time in personal private prayer was mentioned due to its unusualness. Jesus gathered community and shared the lives of those whom he gathered. Perhaps this stands out for me today as we continue the journey through COVID that has drastically reduced our face-to-face gatherings.
In our Gospel reading from St. John, we learn of how important community gathering was for the earliest church, On that first Easter, St. John described the disciples as regathered in the upper room where they had celebrated their last supper together. They were full of fear, with the door locked. The Risen Jesus appeared, and greeted them with peace, gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the charge to forgive sins. This community he blessed was to reach out and to include those who broke the community norms, rather than excluding them and casting them out.
A few of that earliest church took that charge to heart and invited the previously absent and doubting Thomas to rejoin them the next Sunday. The text is clear that this time while they were still behind closed doors out of fear, the doors were not locked. This was a sign that the level of fear was reduced. Again, the Risen Jesus appeared, and directly addressed the concerns of Thomas – put your fingers in the nail prints, and your hand into the spear entry wound. Immediately, Thomas declared the Risen Jesus to be his Lord and his God. This is the powerful closing declaration of the Gospel according to St. John.
Doubt, just like sin, did not exclude Thomas from the community of the Risen Jesus. Rather, it gave other community members the opportunity to reach out, embrace, and share their peace. This first community made a difference in the life of Thomas, as it did in the lives of all the disciples. This invitation was crucial for Thomas, and for the entire community. It was essential and elemental for the community of goodness and good news.
The reading from I John affirms this essential element of earliest church life, sometimes called, “Mother Church”. The Church, nor her members were not, and still are not, free from sin, nor free from doubt, nor free from “missing the mark”. The forgiveness tradition was established at the very beginning of our Church, our community of faith.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes another early community that shared, “everything they owned was held in common”.
Psalm 133 points to an aspiration for every community, that we “live together in unity”.
Our collect for today builds on the same theme, that all may be “reborn into the fellowship [ the community] of Christ’s body”.
So, we at All Saints stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us in gathering in the community “to be enriched and transformed through God’s love…”. Yes, we in private say our prayers, and we gather in community, imperfect though we all are. We gather in the community for a Wednesday morning Bible study. We gather in the community to prepare and share Martha’s Table meals. We gather in the community to receive “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven”. We gather in the community for coffee, tea, and conversation following worship. We gather in the community to care for the property entrusted to us. We gather in the community as a vestry to guide this parish. And as COVID fades we will again gather in community as St. Andrew’s Guild and St. Mary’s Guild. We will visit again over meals in the parish hall, in local restaurants, and in each other’s homes. It is in a community that we share the gifts we individually have received for the benefit of all. In a community, we share the goodness and the good news the Spirit has shared with us.
This community of All Saints has made a difference in our individual lives. Others have encouraged, invited, and welcomed us. Our charge is to encourage, invite, and welcome others. Our charge is to share the goodness and the good news of this community in word and in deed with family, with friends, with neighbors, and with all, we encounter in our day-to-day lives.
We are not perfect, just as Thomas was not perfect, yet encouraged, invited, and embraced by that earliest community, he proclaimed the Risen Jesus to be his Lord and his God. May we, too, be instruments of encouraging, inviting, and embracing God’s love, so that others will proclaim with us, and with Thomas, that the Risen Jesus is our Lord and our God.