Acts 2:41-2, 43-47a (NRSV)
So those who welcomed [Peter’s] message were baptized….They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people….
Rev 2:1-5a, 8-10 (NRSV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write…“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first.”
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write….“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
When I recently read that the ideal community was one in which all members are respected, protected, and connected to one another, I thought I had found a devotional approach to thinking about a Christian congregation. In such a congregation, fellow members would be respected because they too are servants of Jesus Christ, even though we may disagree with them on politics or policy. They would be protected from slander, gossip, and unkindness by our values. And they would be connected to one another, cared for when sick or in trouble, prevented from loneliness by our surrounding them with love. In this congregation there would be no “they,” only “we.”
Then I read my assigned scriptures and realized how much I had missed. I missed the radical agape* love of the post-Pentecost early Christians, their joy in one another, their focus on worship and fellowship and their pre-emptive care for one another. I also missed that suffering may be a part of belonging to a Christian community. We will never know why the innocent suffer. Our Lenten study this year acknowledges our anger at God about suffering. Most of us will suffer a little more than occasional derision or ridicule for our beliefs. But in a pandemic year as we look through the Cross to the Resurrection, followers of Christ cannot deny the reality of suffering.
We should strive to be part of a community of respect, protection, and connection, filled with radical love and facing suffering with acceptance. We will not succeed in this life, but the effort brings us closer to what we were created to be.
Almighty God, who embodies community in the Trinity, help us to become part of a community infused by your radical agape love, characterized by respect, protection, and caring and prepared to suffer if that is necessary for the bringing of your Kingdom. We ask this in the name of the ultimate symbol of that Kingdom, Jesus the Christ . Amen.
* “Agape” is one of several Greek words for love. In the Bible, it refers to a pure, self-giving love that intentionally desires another’s highest good. (Well described in 1 Corinthians 13)