At times, this past year has felt like one very long Lent. It began with giving up in-person church three weeks into Lent 2020 and has gone on far longer than forty days. Instead, it's been more than twelve months of virtual worship, canceled choirs, online children's ministry, and pastoral care done at a distance via Zoom. The pandemic's toll on the wider world has been even greater, with shuttered businesses, closed schools, lost jobs, and lost lives beyond imagining.
Yes, Lent 2020 seemed to go on forever. But Lent 2021 held out hope for new life, as the new vaccines became available and vaccination programs sprang up across the country. Each week more people in the congregation I serve shared their stories of getting vaccinated and the relief and joy that brought. "It's been like a new lease on life," one person said. "I can go see my grandchildren, hug a friend, go out to dinner."
"My kids can go back to school!" a parent exclaimed, "and I can get out of my bedroom and back to work in a real office."
"I can stop being afraid," an older woman said. "I can get my life back."
Over the six weeks leading to last Sunday, I heard more stories about the joy and blessing of new life than any other Lent I can remember. Perhaps you did, too. It was a great way to prepare for Easter.
And I trust we'll continue to hear such stories throughout this Easter season as more people have access to the vaccines. How can we not share such good news of new life?
The first Christians certainly did. Today's passage from the Acts of the Apostles affirms that every time the early church met, "the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" with great power. Sometimes that testimony would have been like Peter's declaration to the Pentecost crowd that the crucified Jesus was both "Lord and Messiah." But at other times, he may well have shared his own personal experience of God's gift of new life. How Christ's resurrection had transformed him from a slow-tongued fisherman into a Pentecostal preacher. Perhaps Peter was also honest about his three-fold denial of Jesus that terrible night in Jerusalem and how, days later after breakfast at the Sea of Galilee, the Risen Christ had given him a second chance to show his love, another chance at new life.
The other apostles certainly had their own stories of new life to share. Cleopas and another disciple may have talked about their encounter with a stranger on the road to Emmaus, and how their hearts burned within them when he broke the bread. Perhaps Thomas told how he proclaimed "My Lord and my God" when he put his hand into the flesh and blood wounds of the flesh and blood Risen Christ.
We know from Luke, Matthew, and John that Mary Magdalene told at least some people how she found the tomb empty. Perhaps she also shared how she mistook the Risen Christ for the gardener. Maybe she and the other women also told that the men initially dismissed their story as an "idle tale" - but the women kept telling it until they were believed. Perhaps Mary testified how the proclaiming of God's new life also gave her new life, a new identity as a preacher, the "apostle to the apostles."
Both the women and the disciples had many stories they could tell of the new life they experienced from their encounters with the Risen Christ. But in today's lesson from the 4th chapter of Acts for this 2nd Sunday of Easter, we don't hear the new community of new Christians sharing similar stories. Yes, they gathered to hear the testimony of the apostles, but worship wasn't centered around their own personal encounters with the resurrected Christ.
At least according to Acts, the new community wasn't focused on seeing the Risen Christ. Instead, they were committed to being the Risen Christ, doing what he had done. They gave up their possessions, just as he had given up his life for others. They made sure no one was in need, just as he had made sure 5,000 hungry people had been fed, sick people healed, troubled people comforted and loved. Those who had property cared for those in need, making good on Jesus' promise that the poor would know good news.
The first Christian community, at least in the Acts vision, didn't talk about the Risen Christ. They didn't just proclaim God's resurrection power. They became that power by offering new life to others.
I can't think of a time when this world has needed that resurrection power more than now. Nor can I think of a time when this world has more needed the church - my church, your church, all churches - to be the Risen Body of the Risen Christ. We are called, especially this Easter season, not just to proclaim the resurrection, but to be the resurrection, to give of ourselves and our possessions so that no one is in need. So that all have new life.
Because you know as well as I do that there are a whole lot of people still in desperate need. We have seen how the pandemic has exposed the fault lines of economic disparity, of poverty, of racism. We cannot turn away from the horrific toll the pandemic has taken on Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and poor Americans of any race or color.
And if we call ourselves Christian, if we sing "Hallelujah" in thanks for the new life offered us in the Risen Christ, then we also cannot turn away from the call to offer that new life to others, not merely through our words, but through our lives. The first Christians did not just talk or share stories about the Risen Christ. They became the Risen Christ in this world. They proclaimed Christ's resurrection through their care for others, until all were fed and clothed and sheltered and none were in need.
When no one was in need, when the basic necessities of life were met - for the first Christians, that was how they knew they were living into God's new life. That was their plumbline for being an Easter people, for being the Risen Body of the Risen Christ.
May it be the same for us. As Christians, churches, and congregations this Easter season, may we recommit to being an Easter people, the Risen Body of the Risen Christ, so that across this land and around this world, none of our sisters and brothers are in need.
That's the Resurrection power we need to proclaim, and that's the Resurrection power we need to live. So that all have new life.
Thanks be to God. Amen.