The Book of Acts is aptly named — it focuses on what Christianity in action looks like. In the passage we read this week, we learn that a healthy Christian community has three characteristics: 1) it comes together with one heart and soul; 2) it gives testimony to the risen Christ; and, 3) shares its wealth with those most in need. Let’s look at each of these characteristics in turn.
First, notice that the community comes together with one heart and soul, but not necessarily with one mind. Our communities are made up of diverse individuals, each with their own ideas and priorities. It takes no time at all, living in Christian community, to realize that these different ideas and priorities can lead to conflict. After all, we know that even the early Christian community had its share of conflict, with the followers of Peter and Paul coming up with different ideas about the best way to follow Christ. But, despite the conflict and disagreements, we are called to a deeper unity within our communities. We are called to a unity of heart and soul, of shared connection with the One whose love transforms a motley, disparate crew into one Body.
It’s that deeper unity we must foster in our communities, whether it be our families, our workplaces or our congregations. We should not expect to all think alike – such conformity would ultimately impoverish us – but in our disagreements, we must always remember that we are united to the same Christ who makes one in heart and soul.
Second, the Christian community gives testimony to the risen Christ. We, as communities, must be images of Christ’s love for the world, echoes of God’s presence when humanity feels forgotten, and templates of a bigger vision of life’s power over death. But that ability to give testimony is predicated on our first encountering the risen Christ for ourselves. That’s why the post-resurrection stories of the various disciples’ encounters with the risen Christ are so important. They remind us of our primal need to encounter the risen Christ in our lives. This week’s Gospel story of Thomas’ encounter is a prime example. St. Thomas always gets a bad rap for being the doubting disciple. But, in his doubts, his instincts are correct. He knows that if he does not encounter the risen Christ for himself, he will not be able to bear credible witness to the resurrection. He needs to touch Jesus’ hands and side before he can rejoice in the resurrection and share his joy with the world.
We, too, need to touch Jesus’ hands and side before we can go out with our Easter message. We need to encounter a God with skin on before we can be that tangible sign of God’s presence for others. So how does this happen for us post-resurrection Christians? In my view, it’s about allowing ourselves to get in the way of the risen Christ. It’s connecting with our sacramental tradition and opening ourselves up to the Divine presence in the eucharist. It’s recognizing God’s Spirit infused in all of creation.
It’s consciously choosing silence and contemplation, even if that means turning off the many devices that leave us fragmented and distracted. In my experience, I encounter the risen Christ in the tabernacle and at the table, in the confessional and the coffee shop, in the holy oil and the garden plot. But each of those spaces demand that I show up. As a Christian, I need to put myself in the way of the risen Christ so I can run into him head on!
Finally, the Christian community shares its wealth with those most in need. Here, the underlying reality relates to the previous point. We share, not only because we are nice and caring people but because, more fundamentally, we are rooted in an encounter with the Source of all life. The difference between an activist and a disciple is not in our external actions but our hidden motives. We give, we share, we work for justice because we have been given life in Christ. And, when we give, share and work for justice, we recognize Christ in those to whom we give. As Matthew reminds us, whatever we do to the least of God’s people, that we do unto Christ. Love comes full circle. We encounter Christ, we give, and in our giving, encounter Christ again. In this, we all, no matter what our circumstances, are invited to both give and receive, always united to the One who triumphed over death once and for all.
This Easter season calls us to put our faith in action, to learn how to write our own Book of Acts. What would others learn if they read our personal Book of Acts? Would they recognize us as part of communities that are one in heart and soul? Would they see in us someone who actively lives an encounter with the risen Lord? And, finally, would they know that we are Christians by our love and our willingness to share our lives with those in need? May this Easter season give each of us the opportunity to write a new chapter in our very own Book of Acts!
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.