This time of year always makes me think of the early followers of Jesus. Perhaps it is the combination of Easter, new life, springtime, and allergies. Trust me, it’s all connected in my head.
The readings for this season are all about those early days, how an experience of God-through-Jesus led people to faith. There are stories about how those experiences led to inclusion, exclusion, joy, and suffering. How persecution gives way to stronger faith and how conversion leads to a paradigm shift that gives the early church new leadership.
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ(which is well worth seeing). The article cited a remarkable fact: when Paul died in A.D. 67, there were 2,500 Christians. By the year 350, there were 34 million. Think about that for a second. In a time when you would be killed for professing faith in the Risen Jesus, the Good News spread, more people came to faith than left it, and the church flourished.
Then Constantine came along and institutionalized the faith into religion and things have never quite been the same. It seems we might have been better off when we had to tell the story than when we were allowed to tell the story. More on that another time.
This week, we will read about those early followers standing alone, looking at the sky, waiting for Jesus to return. They did not know when he would return, only that he had promised to return. So they stood there, staring at the sky, missing life around them.
The family continued our trek through the Marvel movies this weekend with Dr. Strange. In some ways, it was a typical superhero story: an overachieving protagonist is really a jerk at his core, arrogant and narcissistic. Then his world comes crashing down and he comes face to face with the one incontrovertible fact we all face at some point: life is not all about you. That new perspective requires a basic change in position. We no longer live for ourselves. We live for others.
The early followers figured this out. For them, it was never about gathering for Mass, making sure it only lasted an hour and then screaming at each other when one donkey cut another donkey off in the first-century parking lot. No, it was about serving others in the name of Jesus. It was telling the Jesus story. It was about the family meal where we remembered the sacrifice and sacred instruction. It was about taking care of the widows and orphans, the least among us, and caring for the basic needs in society. There was no right or left, only the Christ I see in you – and that required an action. It required selflessness. It required love.
Spoiler alert: the Jesus story still requires all those things. If only we could stop staring at the sky and get to work.