Well, it’s been a busy week in the church world. Wednesday was the feast of Justin Martyr; Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension; and Friday was the Feast of the Uganda Martyrs. Unless you are an avid follower of the church calendar, none of that may have meaning in your world. I’m quite sure your world was busy in its own way.
These feasts, though, mark important aspects of who we, the Church, are. Justin Martyr was a philosopher who, in the second century, became a Christian. Justin, along with six of his students, was put to death for refusal to renounce his faith. On June 3, 1886, thirty-two pages of King Mwanga of Buganda were put to death. These men refused to renounce Christianity despite the threats of the king. Their deaths marked the beginning of a martyrdom of over fifty men in the King’s Court. June 3, 1886 was also the feast of the Ascension. This feast happens forty days following Easter and is the day we celebrate Jesus’ bodily rising into heaven. Jesus’ ascension brings his life full circle: his entire life returns to God. Our faith hinges on several moments: that Jesus came from God (the incarnation), rose from the tomb (resurrection), and returns to God (the ascension). The link between our celebrations of the saints and the ascension is our belief. These are extraordinary people and an extraordinary moment that compel us to an extraordinary faith.
The first letter of Peter was written to the churches in Asia Minor sometime in the 1st century. It was written to support the Church, especially in times of persecution and suffering. The letter reminds the faithful to root themselves in Christ’s ministry and live lives of integrity. They are encouraged to risk suffering and alienation because of their faith in Christ. They are to practice endurance, hope and good works as transparent witnesses to Christ. Most of all, the letter seeks to guide, inspire and embolden their faith.
During every week of this Easter season, we have heard only portions of this letter. If you study the Bible regularly, I invite you to sit down and read the whole letter. Be warned, there are some cultural markers that irritate our modern ears: slaves submitting to their masters; wives submitting to their husbands; the glory of enduring suffering. These portions irritate us because they have been (and sometimes still are) used for oppression. We must remember as we read these texts that we cannot change the culture of the text. We can, however, glean from the text important wisdom and discernment for our world. We must bring to the text a willingness to forgive the misuse of the letter and a desire to learn. When we read the whole letter at once, in this way,
we share the experience of those first churches.
The readings from chapters one, two and three over the last several weeks form a certain theme. They teach us that when we practice hope, love and endurance together we form a holy community. We have hope because we are witnesses to the resurrection: the power of life over death. We know love because we have experienced God’s love and compassion in the life of Christ. Jesus brought these two, hope and love, to our broken world and, ultimately, to the cross. They also sustain us as we endure the trials of our broken world. We do not, though, live in a vacuum or on an island. We live in relationship. As we share these gifts, hope, love and endurance, with one another, we form a holy community: a community rooted in faith that stands as a witness to God’s grace and mercy.
In many ways, I feel like today’s portion of First Peter was written for us: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you…” We all know and testify to the reality that Trinity Church has had its fair share of trials. I know that many of you have recently experienced great trials in your own lives. And over the last few weeks, I have felt Christ’s love and hope, and our endurance at work.
Today marks my sixth Sunday. It’s hard to believe. In many ways, I feel as though I have been here my whole life. And yet, I know we are at the beginning. Most of all, I’m pleased that we have the Easter season at the beginning of our life together. Easter is a time for rebirth, new life. It is a time for Christ to renew, inspire and encourage us and our holy community.
Next Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost and begin ordinary time. I love that we call the season of Pentecost ordinary time. It is the longest season of the Church year and the one that most resembles our lives. For the most part, our lives, our faith, are pretty ordinary: it’s not every day we celebrate extraordinary moments, like Easter, new calls, new babies, or graduations. Most of the time, we strive to be faithful during ordinary moments: getting to school and work, caring for our homes and family, serving at church and in the community. The season of Pentecost celebrates the everyday of our lives.
Yet our readings from First Peter oblige us to weave the Easter season into our ordinary lives. The lives of the saints compel us to witness to our faith in bold and daring ways. The truth is, few of us, if any, will face the choice between our faith and our lives. Yet, it is our faith that binds us to the church in Asia Minor and the saints. Our witness to the incarnation, resurrection and ascension binds us as a holy community. And, we remember: we can live lives of extraordinary faith in the midst of ordinary times.
Over the next few weeks, months and years, we will enter a more ordinary time together. There will continue to be extraordinary moments. And a wise person once said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. As we continue to weave our lives together, the story of our holy community will emerge. This holy community will reveal our hope, our love, our endurance. This holy community will guide us in an extraordinary faith.