Biblical Words 
The witnesses to the resurrection find new life in the community
(koinonia) of the forgiven.
Easter, our First Reading is the testimony of the Apostles, replacing,
for this season, the voices of the Law and the Prophets.
We hear witnessing to the resurrection. “With great power the apostles gave their
testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (verse 33,
Our reading also gives a picture of the common life – the koinonia – that sprang up for those who came to rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus. Their confession made them one harmonious body.
“The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (verse 32).
As more resources
were needed to sustain the common life, some of them would sell their lands and
houses in order to provide for those in need.
The apostles received the proceeds from such sales and administered
them. The result was a remarkable
one: “There was not a needy person among
them”! (All of this in verses 34-35.)
In the long
run this totally communal life was not to continue, and Acts itself soon
recognizes serious problems relating to it (Ananias and Sapphira in 5:1-11,
plus distribution problems beginning the story in chapter 6). But the message is that when the full power of life under the resurrected Lord broke in
it overcame all kinds of human weaknesses and selfishness. It made clear that to really live in the
power of the Holy Spirit is to live together "with not a needy person
selection is an ecstatic celebration of the same kind of communal harmony and
verse, given a slightly more literal rendering, may be translated,
goodness! And what delight!
Relatives dwelling in a single camp!
The reference may be to clans camping near the holy city at a festival
time. Groups who have been known to feud
with each other, are camped together!
then pulls up two very Palestinian images to elaborate this idealistic
of anointing, which makes the hair beautiful.
It is like the
precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron…
The poet evokes the anointing of a high priest. The anointing comes in the middle of
marvelous ceremonies, rituals, and auspices of new blessings to flow over the
land with the inauguration of the new sacred leader.
second image, the blessing of moisture over an essentially dry land is
It is like
the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of
contemplates a perfect, harmonious community life as the richest blessing that
can come from God to all the lands and peoples.
reading also is about community/communion (koinonia), the common life of
believers in Jesus’ resurrection and its consequent forgiveness of sins.
paragraph of I John (verses 1-4) is a mini-prologue, echoing phrases and ideas
from the prologue (1:1-18) of the Gospel According to John. Jesus is the word of life and also the eternal
life that is with the Father, and his followers declare this to others, “that
you also may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and truly our
fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
paragraph (verses 5-10) speaks of some conditions that apply to this common
life united with God. This common life
cannot be shared by those who “are walking in darkness,” for the new life
derives from God’s own light (verse 5).
It cannot be shared by those who say they have no sin. This common life includes confessing of sins so that we may be
cleansed “of all unrighteousness” (verse 9).
In addition to sharing in eternal life, this koinonia clearly involves
forgiveness of sins, and that not only as a once-for-all event at baptism, but
as an ongoing basis of community life.
paragraph (2:1-2) expands on the forgiveness of sins by describing Jesus’
function as heavenly advocate (parákletos).
advocate “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” a complex notion of Jesus’
saving work. But the emphasis at this
point is on the universality of this saving work. The sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins is
“not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Here, as in other Easter passages, the
resurrection breaks all previous boundaries of covenant relations and elect
groups; the eternal life and its blessings of common life are for all who
believe and open themselves to it.
reading continues the Johannine perspective on the resurrection. (Another version of this risen-Jesus episode
is found in Luke 24:36-43.)
about the appearance of Jesus to the disciples as they are gathered
furtively in a locked room. This
gathering is on the first day of the week, Sunday. The Christian observance of Sunday as the
Lord’s day instead of the Sabbath is already in process (a process completed
before the end of the first century CE, see Revelation
emphasizes the solid, physical aspect of Jesus’ resurrected body. This emphasis on Jesus’ tangible body seems
to increase as the traditions of the resurrection appearances develop. In the early empty-tomb tradition, Jesus is
not present at all (Mark 16:1-8). Then
he can be seen but not touched (John
appearance to the disciples (verses 19-23) is about the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins.
commissions the disciples for their work ahead.
He “breathes” the Holy Spirit into them and solemnly pronounces,
“Receive the Holy Spirit” (verse 22).
The climax of this action, however, concerns the forgiveness of sins,
again. “If you [who have received the
Holy Spirit] forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the
sins of any, they are retained” (verse 23).
This is an
awesome authorization! It is an early
chapter in a long history of the Christian Church’s rituals of absolution. (An
equivalent authorization is given in the Gospel According to Matthew at
includes the episode of doubting Thomas.
Once the emphasis upon the physicality of the risen Jesus began, this
Thomas episode was probably inevitable.
What does it
take to convince some people? “Unless I
see” with my own eyes, etc., I will not believe. That the demand for physical seeing and
touching has already missed the nature of religious faith has long been
recognized. The seeing can always be
further questioned, further explained.
That is not what having faith is about, not the kind of faith that
creates new life and koinonia.
the blessings of a new common life that transcends old boundaries and
breaks forth in new wonders of mutuality, is the real gift of the resurrected
That is a
life that might bring it about that there is not a needy person among us!