The world continues #SaferAtHome with physical distancing, working at home, schooling at home, leaving home only for necessities. How long, O Lord? Thus far state and county tell us through 15th May; church will be off-campus at least through the end of May.
God of unmediated presence,
thank you again for never leaving us.
Thanks for helping us be part of the solution for preventing the spread of this dangerous virus.
Thank you for all the essential workers; please keep them safe and healthy.
Thank you again for widespread digital communication!
In Jesus' name we give you thanks,
So far in the church's year of grace we've experienced Advent – waiting for God's arrival in our midst as a baby in the Bethlehem manger. Then Christmas, the feast of God's Incarnation on earth arrived and we met the infant Jesus. The season of Epiphany showed us God is God of all creation, for all creation. During Lent we revisited Jesus' earthly ministry. During Holy Week we journeyed to the cross with Jesus. The three days of the Triduum – "tri duum" – started with Maundy Thursday, continued to Good Friday, then Easter, Jesus' resurrection from death. Other years we physically gathered and celebrated Easter Vigil, Easter Sunrise, Easter Day, or all three. The lectionary also provides readings for Easter Evening, a wonderful way to close out the day and begin the Great Fifty Days of Easter.
Easter is a week of weeks, 7x7, and fills about 1/7 of the calendar year. The fiftieth day of Easter is the Day of Pentecost, the third of the church's Trinitarian festivals when we hear about people gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the wheat harvest and God's giving the Sinai Covenant / ten words or commandments through Moses. And on Pentecost we hear about the Holy Spirit filling all the people and all the world accompanied by sensory signs of wind and fire.
Every year the Fourth Sunday (day 22) of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, with Psalm 23 as its centerpiece. Most years we hear and sing several beautiful settings of Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm. Find your favorite on YouTube!
The Acts of the Apostles
Most Sundays the first reading comes from the Old Testament, but for the Sundays of Easter, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the world-changing, life-transforming activities of the newly birthed church. Hearing from Acts every Sunday also is a bit ironic because the lectionary hasn't yet given us the Day of Pentecost account from Acts 2 that describes the Holy Spirit filling the world accompanied by signs of wind and fire.
Luke who wrote the gospel also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Luke's gospel is volume 1, Acts is volume 2; people sometimes refer to the pair as Luke-Acts. When we studied Luke's gospel in depth last year, we discovered he emphasizes the Holy Spirit, places everything in historical context, focuses on women and other marginalized populations, loves prayer, makes table fellowship prominent. Acts continues in the same direction.
We've discussed how the oral story-telling tradition took on additions, elaborations, and (especially) interpretations during the process. You know about the distinction between real and ideal? Most scholars assume Acts records some events as they really happened along with others that could occur when the Holy Spirit fills world and people. The title of one of Jürgen Moltmann's books is The Church in the Power of the Spirit. The church – that's us! – still lives, breathes, serves, and hopes in the power of the pentecostal spirit of life, the spirit of resurrection from the dead.
Acts 2:41, 42-47
41they gladly received the word Peter preached and three thousand were baptized on that day!
42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Today's first reading officially begins with verse 42 and a description of Christian community, but I added 2:41 because it tells about the baptism of 3,000 people! You can describe the book of Acts as a blueprint or roadmap for living out our baptism—how, then, shall we live baptized?
2:42 "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
Learning the words and interpretation of scripture, gathering with others, food, and prayer. Most scholars agree "breaking of bread" refers to the Lord's Supper, probably in what looks to us like a late twentieth century home church context. But without a doubt it also means routinely sharing food so no one has too much or too little, everyone has enough.
2:44 "all who believed were together and had all things in common."
Common ownership of goods and assets, selling stuff to provide for people in need may seem way "beyond" ideal. Even if we've done some anthropology field work or ministered in non-mainstream settings, most of us still tend to interpret scripture from a contemporary western viewpoint. However, in some rural communities and in many less-developed countries, fluid ownership of everything – "what's mine is yours as long as I don't need it right now and you do" – isn't uncommon.
Speaking of real / ideal, later in Acts, Luke writes about discord, persecution, disagreements, fractured relationships, things not going well. All in all, he doesn't present only an ideal, but wisely includes real situations that need resolution.
Koinonia is the Greek word often translated as fellowship. We get our multiple meaning English word common from koinonia. Routine, mundane, ordinary (also with meanings of well-arranged, commonplace, and others), jointly held...
Although we'll gather virtually at least through the month of May / Day of Pentecost, we still don't know when we'll return to campus.
Teaching – fellowship – breaking of bread – prayers – awe – all things in common
How well does today's reading describe church as you've experienced it?
• In our own West LA context?
• Other churches you've attended or where you've been involved?
• Churches you've read about?
When we can't be together physically
• How have you read or studied scripture, been taught by others online, in printed books and devotionals, by connections you instinctively make from your own memory and experience?
• Have you participated in church and/ or in other online communities?
• Shared meals in some way?
• Prayed together, either out loud at home, on the phone, or using prayers posted outline?
• Where have you experienced awe recently and a while ago? In nature? Gathered with other people at church? At a concert?
• Has anything about our current way of being church particularly blessed you? Or not?
• What do you miss most about not being in the same space on Sundays?