In the grave they laid the love by hatred slain,
thinking that Jesus would not wake again,
laid in the earth like grain sleeps unseen;
Love is come again like wheat rising green.
(John Crum, Chalice Hymnal 230 vs. 2)
Easter Sunday has come and gone, but as this hymn reminds us, “Love is come again like wheat rising green.” Because we are Easter people, we celebrate the resurrection not only when we gather on Sunday but in every moment of our lives. That’s because the one laid in the grave is alive and present with us. Therefore, let us sing: “Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!”
The Book of Acts tells the story of how the Holy Spirit empowered the church to proclaim the good news that Christ the Lord is risen. According to Luke this community centered around Jesus’ resurrection was “one in heart and soul.” To be “one in heart and soul,” as one commentator notes, “reflects an intensity of mutual devotion and shared existence that was part of ancient Hellenistic philosophical discourse about the virtues of friendship” [Matt Skinner, Working Preacher]. In other words, they experienced what Aristotle called complete friendship. To experience complete friendship as opposed to a utilitarian form of friendship means wishing “good things for each other insofar as they are good, and they are good in themselves.” [Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Kindle Edition loc. 3154]. The kind of friendship that Luke and Aristotle had in mind is reflected in a commitment to pursue what is good for the other. This is what it means when Luke says that those who believed were of “one heart and soul.”
Now Luke goes on to define what being “one in heart and soul” involved. But before we get there it’s important to take note of the foundation for this form of community. It was rooted in their testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be spending time in the Book of Acts, where we’ll see some of the ways in which this Spirit-empowered community proclaimed the good news of the resurrection. But, first, we’re told what the community looked like. Since Central Woodward is heading into a season of discernment about what it means to be a community, perhaps this word from Luke will be especially poignant!
Luke tells us that this community practiced the community of goods. No one in the community claimed private ownership of their property. Instead, they held everything in common and no one in the community was in need. If that sounds a bit like communism, you’re not hearing things. As José Miranda, who is an economist and a biblical scholar, suggests: “no one has come up with a better definition of communism than Luke in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35.” [Communism in the Bible, pp. 1-2].
There are those who say that communism and Christianity are incompatible. That may be true of some modern political ideologies, but as we see in Acts 4, these early Christians embraced a lifestyle in which everyone shared their goods so that the entire community might be blessed.
Luke tells two stories that illustrate what happened to this community. The first story features Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus whom the Apostles called Barnabas because he was a person of encouragement. He sold a field and gave the proceeds to the Apostles to use for the good of the community (Acts 4:36-37). You might also know this name because Barnabas was Paul’s partner on Paul’s first missionary journey. Of course, there is that other negative example of Ananias and Sapphira, who attempted to deceive the community and God. That didn’t go well. Nevertheless, that is a conversation for another day! (Acts 5:1-11)
As we consider this word from Luke, I want to go to the fourth century, where St. Basil of Caesarea commented on this very passage in his words of guidance to his community. He wrote: “Let us zealously imitate the early Christian community, where everything was held in common—life, soul, concord, a common table, indivisible kinship—while unfeigned love constituted many bodies as one and joined many souls into a single harmonious whole” [On Social Justice, p. 58 (Kindle)].
What I hear from Luke, José Miranda, and Basil of Caesarea is that when we truly embrace the message of the resurrection, we’ll embody it in the way we care for each other. While Luke didn’t have a particular economic system in mind, at least not a modern economic system, he does shine a light on troubling economic and cultural trends present in the United States today. What does it mean to be “one in heart and soul” when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the folks in the middle get squeezed? What does God require of us as resurrection people?
We might want to answer the question theologically through the way we understand salvation. Salvation in Scripture is more than a pathway to heaven. Consider this word from the Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez:
Salvation is not something otherworldly, in regard to which the present life is merely a test. Salvation—the communion of men among themselves—is something which embraces all human reality, transforms it, and leads it to its fullness in Christ: “Thus the center of God’s salvific design is Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection transforms the universe and makes it possible for man to reach fulfillment as a human being. This fulfillment embraces every aspect of humanity: body and spirit, individual and society, person and cosmos, time and eternity. Christ, the image of the Father and the perfect God-Man takes on all the dimensions of human experience.” [Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, pp. 151-152].
This word from the Book of Acts invites us to consider what it means to live in the afterglow of the resurrection. It invites us to look beyond our own rights and desires to consider the needs of our neighbors. After all, Jesus gave us a good definition of what it means to be “one in heart and soul,” when he drew a word from Leviticus 19 that calls on us to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.” If we embrace this calling then the world will know we are Christians through the love we show one another.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
April 11, 2021
Helping, Sharing, Caring, Harmony, Peace, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56975 [retrieved April 10, 2021]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/karen_roe/36068574913/ – Karen Roe.