“Easter people, raise your voices,
sounds of heaven in earth should ring.
Christ has brought us heaven’s choices;
heavenly music, let it ring.
Easter people, let us sing.”
– William James, Easter People, Raise Your Voices, UMH #304
“What is a ‘Easter people’?”
That was the question that a 4-year old child in my congregation asked me on the way out the door on Easter Sunday just a few days ago. We had just sung one of my favorite Easter hymns and the unfamiliar expression in the song caught his attention. Kneeling down beside him I told him that “Easter people” are people who lived their lives as if the story we just told about Jesus being raised from the dead was really true. Then I stood up, rubbed his bright red buzzed head, and told him that we’d have the next few weeks to figure out what it means together.
The work of figuring out what it means to be an “Easter people,” is precisely the task of these 50 days of Easter. This week’s texts do a wonderful job setting us up to consider the deep implications of being a people who believe that God doesn’t leave dead things dead.
Through each of the texts of this Sunday’s appointed Scripture we see concrete implications of what happens when the Resurrection takes hold of the lives of individuals and communities.
There is the movement from hiding in fear to the courageous witness, “We have seen the Lord!” by the disciples in John’s gospel. There is the gift of peace offered by the empowering breath of the Holy Spirit. There is the commissioning of the disciples with the power to forgive. In the lessons from Acts and the Epistles we see marks of unity, generosity, and fellowship. The individuals who encounter the risen Christ in the power of God’s Spirit aren’t just transformed as individuals, but they are made into a new kind of community, an “Easter people.”
These texts remind us that there are social and economic implications to being “Easter people.” If the Resurrection showcases the extravagant generosity and abundance of God then the early church’s social and economic practice of sharing all things in common and relieving the needs of the vulnerable in their midst became one mark of what it means to be an “Easter people.” Likewise, the community in the epistle lesson from 1 John is clearly wrestling with what it means to be a people who embody the forgiveness and grace of cross and resurrection.
For most of the folks that sit in the pews of churches where I preach on Sundays, that Resurrection would make such strong demands on their lives is an uncomfortable suggestion, and not really such good news after all. On the whole the Church has made good business of allowing folks to believe that their “faith” doesn’t have implications for their Monday thru Saturday lives at home, at work, at school, and in the marketplace as members of a local and global community.
A dear friend of mine keeps on her refrigerator a quote by Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun made famous by the adaptation of her life in the movie Dead Man Walking. Prejean writes, “I pay attention to what I do so I know what I believe.” Every time I see that quote I find myself wondering if the life that I live—and the life of my community of faith—“bears powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33) or not. If I am honest, there is still plenty of evidence of fear, anxiety, disunity, selfishness, and unforgiveness in my own life and that of my congregation.
We are not yet fully the “Easter people” that God’s grace is making us to be. Not yet.
But there are signs that Easter’s courage, peace, unity, generosity, and forgiveness have begun to infect our lives, witnessing to a reality greater than ourselves: the five year old who emptied his entire piggy bank to the church after walking our local CROP walk this spring, a Church Council voting to leave the doors of the sanctuary in our urban church unlocked during worship for the first time in decades, a board of Trustees swallowing their fears and offering space to an urban youth summer program to be housed in unused Sunday School classrooms this summer, a young NPR-listening female pastor finding an unexpectedly blessed and beautiful friendship with her 65-year old Fox News watching Finance chair.
Like the disciples during those the first days following the Resurrection, our congregations are not often much to look at. In the midst of a world where evil, sin, and death roar louder than the quiet sounds of peace, of sharing and of forgiveness,” Easter people” may often go unnoticed. But, friends, it is Easter now and the powers of death have lost their sting. May we be so blessed as to be able to find and name “the abundance of grace at work” among the Easter people of this world on this day and every day (Acts 4:33).