Heal, welcome, confront
Written by Thomas Warren
April - May 2007
May 1, 2007
Season between Easter and Pentecost is no ‘waiting' period
What do we do now? Jesus has confronted the powers and principalities in Jerusalem, absorbed the penalty of Roman death, and now overcome these powers through the glorious mystery of resurrection. The word has been given to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), but Pentecost, the "official" coming of the Holy Spirit, is still an Easter season away. Thus here we sit, with those first century disciples, at a loss for what our next move might be.
The season between Easter Sunday and Pentecost — roughly 50 days — could be misinterpreted as another time of waiting. The disciples understandably might be somewhat stunned. The great hope and energy that they found in the man from Nazareth is now, in a physical sense, gone. He has assumed his place with the countless other victims of Roman crucifixion. Lament-filled waiting might seem the only appropriate thing to do.
Our lectionary readings, however, allow for no such waiting. The Sundays between Easter's empty tomb and Pentecost's "tongues of fire" find us juggling texts from Acts and Revelation, calling the church into a delicate, yet critical mode of witness and worship: giving praise and thanksgiving to the God of the resurrected Christ while taking the gospel out into the world.
The Sunday following Easter we find the disciples quickly confronted with the consequences of authentic and committed discipleship (Acts 5:27-32). They are pulled before the high council where they are asked "Didn't we tell you never again to teach in this man's name?" Human authorities are agitated, yet Peter and the apostles respond: "We must obey God…we are witnesses." Faithfulness has a price.
The early church, tempted to bask in resurrection glory, gets a new infusion of energy with the conversion of Paul (Acts 9:1-6). Before the "light shone and voices spoke," Saul breathed fire against the "people of the Way." On the road to Damascus his world is altered. He is temporarily blinded, his life is mysteriously transformed and Paul goes on to become the great apostle of the early church.
Peter, meanwhile, is raising the dead in Joppa (Acts 9:36-43). A believer named Tabitha, who was "always doing kind things for others and helping the poor," has died. Gathered about her body are the widows whose lives she had touched. Peter, like Jesus, offers a simple command "Get up, Tabitha." Life is again brought out of death. The proof is starting to mount that Christ and his powers live on in the gathered church.
The final Sundays of Easter are devoted to inclusion and underscore that Christ's power will not belong to a select few. In Acts 11, Peter explains to Jewish believers in Jerusalem that, in Christ's church, there is no clean or unclean. In a like manner, a wealthy merchant woman named Lydia is brought into the fold (Acts 16:9-15), further opening the church's doors. The seeds of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22:5) have now been planted.
Just before the Pentecostal winds blow, the book of Acts lays before us the cost of discipleship. Paul and Silas exorcise a demon-possessed slave girl, are beaten and thrown into jail (Acts 16:16-34). They have not only witnessed to Christ's power, but they have disturbed the economic arrangements of the day. God is with them in their faithfulness and breaks the jail doors open, converting the jailer in the process.
Easter and Pentecost are highpoints in the Christian calendar. Stories of resurrection and Holy Spirit are intoxicating, but they are not lingering places. Instead, our texts implore us to witness and worship at the center of our life together. Christ bids us to spread the good news, to heal, to welcome, to confront. And the Lord of history will be with us. (Rev. 22:16).
The Rev. Thomas I. Warren is pastor of Pleasant Hill Community UCC in Tennessee. His bible study series will appear throughout the year on the spirituality page.
In what ways does Christ's victory over death give us hope for our lives here on earth today?
How do we experience — in our individual and congregational lives — the resistance of the world? How can our churches strengthen us to withstand this resistance?
How does our worship life propel us into our lives of witness?