The seven weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost constitute the Easter season. While less well known than Advent or Lent, the Easter season is important because we live in the light of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter and are challenged repeatedly to reflect on the difference that the Easter event makes in our lives.
In place of the Old Testament readings, the Lectionary during the Easter season features a series of texts from the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s passage from Chapter 4 paints a beautiful and idealized picture of Christian community life at Jerusalem in the days after Easter. It says that these early Christians were of one heart and one mind, that they held all their possessions in common and that no one among them was in need.
This model of Christian community has been the object of imitation for centuries on the part of religious orders and new religious movements. It has also been the object of scholarly debates as to whether it constitutes an example of primitive communism or is simply a case of love patriarchalism. Often overlooked is the statement in the center of the passage: With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It was in response to the resurrection that these early Christians were of one heart and one mind, shared their goods and saw to it that none of them was in need. What made the difference in their community life was the resurrection of Jesus.
During the Easter season this year the second readings are taken from the First Letter of John. While these passages on the surface may sound abstract and placid, they reflect a severe crisis in the Johannine Christian community. Some members were apparently so emphasizing Jesus’ identity as the revealer (the man from heaven) that they were playing down his coming in the flesh and the significance of his saving death. This theological controversy was splitting the Johannine community around A.D. 100, and 1 John represents a response to that crisis.
The Johannine controversy over the identity of Jesus also involved the identity of Christians. Today’s text from 1 John 5 makes some important statements about the difference that Jesus’ death and resurrection can make in perceiving who we have become and who we are through our faith in Jesus as the Christ.
Those who believe in the incarnation and the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus are children of God and therefore are able to share in this relationship of intimacy with God as their Father. They can do so not as mere creatures or servants of God but rather as children of God through Christ our brother. As children of God, believers can love God and thus keep his commandments by loving one another. In this way they can share in Christ’s overcoming or conquering of the world in his death and resurrection. In the Johannine lexicon the world often refers to the forces or powers in opposition to God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection God has conquered the world, and as believers we can now share in that conquest. This means that we are not under the power of sin and death and not compelled to sin. In short, we are free to believe and to love, and so to act accordingly. In the light of Easter we have become children of God, people of love and free to keep God’s commandments.
Most of the Sunday Gospel readings for this Easter season are from John’s Gospel, a work composed very much in the light of the Easter event. Today’s selection describes the appearance of the risen Jesus to his disciples first on Easter afternoon and then on the Sunday after Easter. In his farewell discourse in John 1317, Jesus on the eve of his death had promised to give his followers the gifts of peace, joy and the Holy Spirit. On Easter afternoon the risen Jesus greets the same group (minus Judas) with a word of peace, causes them to rejoice and gives them the Holy Spirit. Moreover, he sends them out to share these gifts with others. Then on the Sunday after Easter he elicits from the doubting Thomas the highest confession of faith made by anyone in John’s Gospel, My Lord and my God, thus coming full circle back to the affirmation in the very first verse of John’s Gospel: the Word was God.
The Scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Easter illustrate the difference that Easter can and should make in Christian community life, in Christian self-understanding and in Christian faith and mission. The challenge of the Easter season is to grow in resurrection faith and to recognize more clearly what our Easter faith entails for our identity as Christians and our place in and our mission to the world.