I learned something interesting this week about Easter egg hunts. The way they go in certain European countries, at least in the Netherlands, is very different from how I have always experienced them. What is the same is that the eggs are scattered and hidden in an outdoor area. But, instead of every child for themselves, Easter eggs are gathered as they are found into one large basket in a central location. Then after all have been found, the eggs are divided equally among the children.
It had never occurred to me to do Easter egg hunts any differently than I learned to as a child. Even though I’ve had some pretty bad experiences, namely one city-wide hunt in a place I will not name, where the kids were carefully divided by age beforehand, but then someone forgot to actually stagger the start times or explain anything at all about how this would go and just started it; all my toddler age child got were a few stepped on mini Snickers. The big kids got most of the candy of course.
But what a difference that must make for the egg hunts in other places, to put them together and then divide fairly. I can just imagine the kids laughing together over finding a well-hidden egg instead of squabbling. I can imagine older kids helping the younger kids instead of grabbing up as much as they could and leaving younger siblings behind. They don’t need to be selfish because they know everyone will get some in the end.
In Acts we hear of not just one day’s fun but an entire community’s life being built in much the same way. This is the community described in the time after the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, maybe a couple months after Jesus had resurrected. They are living as believers in Christ Jesus, and this is the form their life took: everyone gave what they had to the leaders and then it was distributed among them, according to their need.
They have been transformed by the power of the resurrection of Jesus and it strongly impacted their very way of life. The way Jesus taught to share with others and trust in God took a very concrete form in that early community of believers.
My attention was drawn to verse 33- an abundance of grace was at work among them all. The word we translate as grace is derived from a word that has to do with pouring to overflow. So an abundance of overflow spirit was at work. In action. So often we think about grace as something we receive from God. And we do, I think all grace comes from God. But not to just sit in us. There in that community, the grace was doing something. It took effect. It was in their hearts and their attitudes and it affected their sense of possession- as in they no longer had a sense of possession. My translation here says, they no longer said “this is mine”- about anything, but held everything in common. I don’t think I can quite fathom what that would be like, to be honest with you. So much of how we live life in North America in the 21st century is about getting and having and keeping.
And often these are the things that divide us against each other. How much I should have versus someone somewhere else, my neighbor next door or someone across the country; And yes among siblings this is often a struggle.
Some questions come up for me: What would it mean for us to let grace work among us, abundantly? To get at that, maybe we can try to remember similar circumstances: When was a time God provided for you, through someone else? When was a time God provided for someone else, through you? If you are so led you may put in some comments to share about those questions.
Because this is the reorientation that Easter gives us- it is all grace, it is all from God. In order to have an openness where we no longer say, that’s yours, this is mine, but all is for everyone according to their need- first we have to be fully convinced that everything is a gift. I think that is a first step to letting the grace of God abundantly work among us.
The poem of psalm 133 brings a beautiful image of families living in unity, how good and pleasant it is! It is like poured out oil when Aaron was anointed as a priest, oil that kept being poured as it spilled over his head, down his beard, onto his robe. Here is a word picture to point us back to grace, the overflowing poured out nature of it. When families can live together in unity, there we see grace at work again.
You know as well as I that this kind of unity is really far from the reality we are living in our society. Division seems to be the order of the day. Friendships and even family relationships are broken over differing political views or even really, different understandings of reality. Forget sharing everything, we can’t even listen to one another anymore.
The opposite of grace is at work- scarcity and me-first attitudes. I think the extreme disparities in wealth and the inability to agree on anything go hand in hand. It’s a big, American-style disorganized Easter egg hunt and if we deny the other person’s opinion we can discount them all together and get more for ourselves. And it is none of it what God envisions for us. It’s the opposite of what Christ came to earth to do and show.
I love also this story from John 20. This is a passage with so much to talk about. But for today, I am noticing how Thomas was included in the group even though he had different opinions than the other disicples. How Thomas felt safe enough with his brothers, with whom he was definitely disagreeing- to say what he needed. You say you have seen the Lord, I want to see the Lord! I want to touch him! He says. In his community he can express his needs. The disciples make room for him with his different viewpoint so he is there when Jesus come among them again.
Jesus of course honors Thomas’ request. Jesus once again pours himself out, he responds with grace. Here, see my hands, put your hands in my side. Thomas has expressed what he needed and Jesus responded. Then Thomas is transformed.
I think that is something we could learn from, too, beloved- how often we hold in what we are truly needing, afraid to say it out loud to God or our faith family. And not having our needs met makes us grow colder towards one another, or even resentful. Which makes the true unity and true fellowship that much harder. It takes a conversion experience to reverse that course, like Thomas had.
As the community of believers began living under the direction of the Holy Spirit that had been poured on upon them after Jesus’ resurrection, they reformed their lives as if they were all one big family. Everyone took care of everyone, not only through relationships and spending time together, but financially as well.
At the end of the passage from John it talks about having life in Jesus’ name. God had shown that all Jesus taught in his life was truly from God in the resurrection. So the way Jesus would take bread, break it and share it, meant that others were meant to live life that way. That was a big part of life in his name for that first community of believers. While it’s hard for me to fathom this being carried out completely, I can imagine, like I was saying, those communal easter egg hunts; how much more fun and light it is to be able to trust that the same will be provided for all.
That would be one first step to take. And We may not be able to leap to the perfection of pure giving and sharing described in Acts chapter four. But there are many who take steps toward living that way, even in very competitive America. There are churches that purchase others’ medical debt or student loans so they can have that load lifted. There are churches giving out loans for small businesses to get started. It is not always comfortable to talk about finances, but we are challenged in Acts to have our accounts reflect the kingdom of God that Jesus announced and enacted.
This is not something we accomplish on our own, but by the grace of God, which they were experiencing in abundance (Acts 4:33.) Because of the great deed God performed by raising Jesus from the dead, those first followers were truly impacted and let this salvation and this grace grow through all of their mutual sharing.
God’s grace has been poured on us in Jesus, this we know. The power of God for life was revealed powerfully through Jesus’ resurrection. And that resurrection is meant to make us live a different sort of life. We are trying in our church to let God’s grace make a real difference in our lives. Through the small groups, the grace groups we are sharing with one another how we see God’s grace at work and how even we are able to live it out.
Thanks be to God for resurrection, thanks be to God for community, thanks be to God for grace which can still work among us, Amen.