New Normal: Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
Audio Recording of just the sermon: http://cdn.boidem.org/2021/sermons/StT20210411-SC.mp3
Readings: Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
Unprecedented. Historic. New normal. These are phrases we’ve lived with the past year in our daily conversations and news cycles as we’ve lived with the COVID19 pandemic. The presence of a simple, one-celled virus has upended our world and forced us to rethink how we live our daily lives, learn, and work. Epidemiologists and public health officials have spent the past year trying to understand this event so we can know how to live in this new world.
Unprecedented. Historic. New normal. These are also phrases describing the past 2,000 years as we’ve grappled with what happened on that first Easter. Our Scripture readings give us examples of the first Christians trying to understand the event so we can know how to live in this new world.
In our second lesson, St. John tells us about this historic, unprecedented event that he was there for. He states that the divine life, the love shared from before the dawn of time in God Himself between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has broken into our world in the person of Jesus. Jesus fully revealed that love in the shocking events of Holy Week we just celebrated a week ago. Through His death and resurrection, He has broken the power of evil, sin, and death. This power is at play whenever we assert our will over others and over God’s will; whenever we pursue our comfort over the good of our neighbor; whenever we exploit other people and God’s creation for our profit, pleasure, and gain. Sin is the direct cause of every fracture in our world; our separation between friends and family; injustice throughout our society; hatred and violence in our world; the fractures we experience in our psyches when we recognize the stark gap between who we are and who we ought to be.
It can be easy to spot it in politicians and large corporations, but harder to recognize in ourselves. That is why most weeks our Eucharist services call us to confess every unkind word we have said; every thought we had that violated the dignity and worth of fellow human beings; every time we left undone an opportunity to care for another; every time we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. These are all fractures in our world. We just came off the season of Lent where we did a deep dive reflection through prayer and fasting on the ways we have surrendered to the power of sin. The unprecedented nature of Christ’s death and resurrection is that he has broken the power that runs rampant in every historic era, every nation, and every heart.
The unprecedented death and resurrection of Jesus has not only broken this power but has gone a step further to heal the fractures in our world and reconcile us to God and one another. Christ’s death and resurrection have created a new normal, called “fellowship.” In our baptism, God united us to His very life of self-giving love and we share it with one another.
St. John defines this unprecedented event for us, but what does it mean for us to live in this new normal? The entire New Testament is an attempt to figure that out, situation by situation how to live, and a series of snapshots of people trying to practice it. Our first lesson this morning is one such snapshot. We see a community of Christians in Jerusalem, mere weeks after the first Easter. They live together in harmony, sharing everything they have together without equivocation. They cared for every need in their midst so that not one single person went hungry, homeless, or untreated. Now, we can idealize this story into a perfect, happy utopia, free of any of the self-serving posturing and political dealings we are used to. That would not be the case. The next chapter of Acts tells a story of two self-serving Christians who try to gain prominence as self-giving members of this community while also keeping profits for themselves. Also, most of the figures in our reading are Jewish Christians who, throughout the following chapters and other parts of the New Testament will be confronted by God for the way they cling to their Jewish nationalism to bar everyone else from life with God. Learning to live in this new normal will take time, correction, and failure as the church moves in fits and starts. The church fails time and time again and we should not become too proud of the job we’ve done. The church has a history of “keeping women in their place”, of supporting chattel slavery, and segregation. We still have a long way to go in living out this vision.
But even if the church falls short, we still see the presence of the new normal whenever we live out the example of these first Christians. We see it today as we follow certain public health guidelines to protect the health of our fellow congregants. We see it in Kitchen of Hope, as the church provides food for those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We see it in the church’s hospitality to families with no place else to stay. We see it in every act of love for our neighbors.
The church does not achieve any of this through her own hard work and efforts. The presence of Christ in her midst and the unprecedented event of His death and resurrection achieve it for us. Christ reconciles us to each other. Christ brings together people from different backgrounds, different genders and ethnicities, into one family. Christ defeated the selfishness that leads us to hold on to what we have so we instead open our hands in generosity and hospitality. As our Psalm says, where “brethren live together in unity,” “there the Lord has ordained blessing.” These are pieces of evidence of Christ’s blessing in the world.
And that brings me to our Gospel reading. Our patron saint, St. Thomas, famous for his doubt, could demand evidence, the evidence of touching Jesus with his own hands, just as St. John could touch Him. Jesus obliged St. Thomas because Jesus was still on earth. For those of us who cannot expect such evidence, Jesus pronounces a blessing: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” The people around us cannot see Jesus in the same way today as Thomas saw Him then. The blessing of God is in the place where people live out the unity they share through his death and resurrection. Today, the watching world can and should see the presence of Christ in the love of the Church. Christ is present in the world in a different way, providing evidence to those who still aren’t sure about Him through the Church living out the new normal of Easter.
Living out the new normal is challenging but simple. It involves regularly recognizing the ways we give in to the power of sin and confessing it in repentance, turning away from it. And it involves, in every opportunity that arises, showing love, generosity, and hospitality to our neighbors. Christ has broken the power of sin, evil, and death and this is our new normal. Amen.