Now What? (Acts 4:32-35; Ps.133; 1 Jn.1:1-2:2; Jn. 20:19-31)
by Stanley S. Harakas
Stanley S. Harakas is a former professor of theology at Holy Cross Creek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. His most recent book is a collection of biblical reflections, Of Life and Salvation (Light & Life Publishing). This article appeared in the Christian Century, March 19-26, 1997 p. 291, copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
The terminus of the Lenten journey is Easter, and Christians celebrate it with triumphant joy. In the Eighth Ode of the Eastern Orthodox Paschal Canon, the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ is exalted: "This is the chosen holy day, the first of all Sabbaths, their queen and sovereign; the feast of feasts and festival of festivals."
The Sunday after Easter, unfortunately, is a letdown. How briefly is the exaltation of Easter retained in the hearts of church members. "See you next year!" seems to be the attitude. But the scripture readings challenge Christians to look beyond the celebration of Easter. The Christian is presented with expectations for the future, which flow out of the resurrection event. The most striking of the readings is the passage from John which describes the experience of Thomas. This resurrection account provides a basic outline for the response to the question, "Now what?"
The passage tells us that "the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord." That is the first response. Often, in today’s theological climate, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is seen as a problem. Not so for the disciples. They rejoiced. The passage from 1 John says that the message is given "that our joy may be complete."
The second response is peace. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Peace is a content-full state that allows for harmonious relationships, for communion and spiritual concord. So it is no accident that the 133rd Psalm should be appointed for this day’s reading, which affirms, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" The appointed passage from Acts tells how "the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul." Joy, peace and harmony are the fruit of the resurrection for those who believe.
The peace of the resurrection leads directly to mission: "Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."’ The resurrection creates an imperative for those who believe. They are to be agents of the forgiveness of sins which flows from Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection victory.
One of the major themes in the reading in 1 John is the confession and forgiveness of sin. Those who "walk in darkness" and do not "live according to the truth" live lives that are inconsistent. They live a lie. But "if we confess our sins, [Jesus Christ] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
So, too, the Gospel passage speaks of forgiveness of sins in the church: "He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."’ The historic church understood these words as the biblical authorization for sacramental confession. In his comment on these words, Chrysostom affirms this and adds that the apostles are thereby made the equivalents of Jesus’ governors and ambassadors, declaring that Jesus Christ is "the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
The Gospel passage comes to its central theme: faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When told of the resurrection, Thomas demands proof. "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." When the proof is supplied, the challenge of faith in the Risen Lord is laid down for us: "‘Do not be faithless, but believing."
Faced with that challenge, Thomas affirms a pre-eminent dimension of the resurrection faiths "Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!"’ Jesus affirms the primacy of belief not only for Thomas, but for all those in the future who will be challenged by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."’
The Acts passage describes the apostolic proclamation which followed upon the experience of the resurrection. "With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." And 1 John speaks also of proclamation: "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you." The resurrection faith must be proclaimed.
These passages point us to a final set of results that are to flow from the resurrection faith. The nascent church was an experiment of love. It was a fellowship of communion and sharing. Acts describes how "no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common." Further, they sought to eliminate poverty and need. "Distribution was made to each as any had need."
This was more than charity or philanthropy. Resurrection faith needs to become a way of life. The author 1 John speaks of the faith as "the word of life." The Gospel passage itself ends with the affirmation that John has written his Gospel "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name." Belief draws the believer to love and authentic life.
Here is the agenda for the post-Easter journey -- joy and peace, mission and forgiveness, faith and proclamation, love and life. Certainly enough to keep Christians busy until next Easter. And until the Second Coming.
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