As the bulletin title reveals, this is the seventh Sunday of Easter. Next Sunday is Pentecost. Although the timing of Easter is variable, the length of Eastertide is fifty days, the Great Fifty Days. Advent, Lent, and Easter all have a certain number of Sundays to them. The season after the Epiphany and after Pentecost (the green seasons) are variable to accommodate the annual calendar. I don’t know about you, but it feels like a long time since Easter. I got my first Covid shot on Good Friday, which has allowed us to reopen our doors to in-person church services for those who feel able to do so. And my pre-vaccine time was like a universe away.
But every Eastertide, I personally find the Seventh Sunday of Easter to be kind of an in between time, almost a liminal space. (Although let’s just state that the liturgical calendar is weird in that although we wait for the coming of the Spirit, because the calendar follows the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the process is always already complete, in other words, we already have the Spirit. We are always celebrating all the things, even as time marches on through individual calendar events.) Still, we wait. Ascension Day was Thursday, the risen one was not fully ascended and now is, and we have a promised Holy Spirit, for which we wait.
Our reading from Acts shows a young burgeoning community composed of followers of Jesus, attempting to reconstitute the twelve disciples after having lost Judas. (We don’t read this account of losing Judas in the portion of scripture in the lectionary today, the tale of which is kind of graphic. Maybe the framers of the lectionary didn’t want us to focus on that, understandably.) Although we don’t know exactly what significance numbers in scripture had at the time, there is a clear mirroring of the twelve tribes of Israel with the twelve disciples. It feels very important for them to reconstitute the number–to make the number complete. Instead, let’s examine and understand how the replacement disciple was chosen. Peter is clearly now the leader; but notice that he doesn’t just APPOINT a replacement disciple. Instead, lots (or dice) are cast. We tend to think of this as a random sort of way of choosing, but the biblical tradition instead holds that casting lots was a way for God to choose.
The letter of 1 John has much to say about the gift of life that we have been given if we assent to Jesus, as the Christ, the Messiah. The Gospel likewise speaks of a people who have been sanctified… In some sense, these two claims are similar. We are sanctified because Jesus makes the bridge for us, the gift of life given, in other words, believing in Jesus gives life. How you want to view atonement, being right with God, made possible through Jesus, is how you make sense of this.
I would put forth that a community believing that God acts through casting lots is not too different than modern day people saying that God allows something to happen because “everything happens for a reason.” I’m not going to throw water on someone else’s theology, but I will say that is not my own theology. To my read, God doesn’t cause earthquakes, tsunamis, cancer, AIDS, Covid or anything else like this. God accompanies us through our travails of this life. Maybe God acts through lots. I would note that neither Matthias nor Joseph called Barsabbas are mentioned even again in scripture. Maybe it really didn’t matter who the twelfth disciple was. God is there whether God acts through lots or not, or whether we think everything happens for a reason or not.
My hope is that as we muddle through this in-between time, may we know that we are sanctified, holy, because Jesus makes us right with God, by assenting to Jesus who shows us the way to follow God. And it is the same way as in Psalm 1; if you follow the Torah, the way of God., you are happy, you are blessed. Although early Christians were called People of the Way, they didn’t make that term up. Derek- דֶּרֶךְ the path, the way in Hebrew, is a common theme in the Old Testament—it is following the way of God. It is interesting that the first two psalms of the psalter are kind of their own road map for all the other psalms. There is no introduction like the other psalms have, but these are songs holding the cornerstone belief that following God, the way of God, is what gives life, like a tree planted by the water, all other ways are not life-giving.
Why do we drag our feet on this journey towards life? Why do we think something big is required of us? We seem to think that we are required to do everything ourselves, without help. As if we are required to work out our salvation. But it’s easier than you think. The invitation to transformation is already there, actually you are already transformed, made holy by the waters of your baptism.
The other day, it struck me what this way of God, this way of Jesus, and people of the Way is like, it’s like those old ropes we used to use on children’s fieldtrips. There are merely loops on the rope that we hold on to, accompanied in our meanderings by a lifeline, so we won’t wonder off and get lost. We are oddly a collection of people held together loosely, by nothing in common other than our baptism, or assenting to Christ, to hold on to Christ, the rope, that holds us together in our community of Christian people. By this we can make our way through the world, connected to God, and connected to each other, muddling through this in between time—in the world, but not of the world. God is with us, if we are appointed, or if we came in through a casting of lots; if we stumbled into the family of God not sure what we were looking for, or if we are here because it is our family tradition. God sees us as beloved, invites us to transformation, and promises through the great and the small and the certain and the clear, in the end, to sanctify the world.