And Great Fear Came Upon the Whole ChurchFr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is risen!
OK, THAT got my attention! Bill was notorious for falling asleep in Mr. Thompson’s Lit class. To be fair, the class was right after lunch and all of us sometimes struggled to “stay focused” during some of Mr. Thompson’s lectures, but he really worked hard to keep things lively and to make the class both informative and fun. He was a good teacher. Well, this late and warm Spring day was just too much for my buddy and he fell asleep again. We were studying Shakespeare and I remember Mr. Thompson picking up the blackboard eraser and yelling “Cry HAVOK!” and then he threw the eraser at Bill’s sleeping head! Needless to say, all of us stayed awake for the rest of the class!
But, you know, sometimes it takes something truly startling to break the power of our routine, our “automatic pilot” lives, to wake us up! Such is the even we read about today!
Look at our lesson in Acts 5:1-11:
IN THOSE DAYS, a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.
The early Christian community was a small and tight knit “family.” And this family was based on a radical commitment to each other. In fact, the very basis for our high view of our “communion” together flows from this early and clear attitude towards the new community of the Church that was empowered by the Risen Christ at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Communion meant (and means) more than merely a religious act, but the act reflected a serious commitment to a sober and honest life. And Ananias and Sapphira thought they could trick Christ and the community by pretending to be something they weren’t – honest! The consequences were, shall we say, attention getting. They both dropped dead!
Ok, this is a pretty bizarre story to tell at the beginnings of the Church community after the Resurrection of Christ, and the inauguration of the Church empowered by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. But here it is. Notice that it is the very nature of the story and it’s amazing events that lend credibility to the history of the story itself. Why include something this shocking or stark if your point was to show how wonderful being in the Church was? No, the story is here for a powerful lesson, a lesson that cost the lives of two people who failed to appreciate the power of the relationship in the Body of Christ. They lied, not to St. Peter, but to the Holy Spirit. And the very foolishness of lying to the Holy Spirit Who is God and knows all things reveals the true spiritual poverty of these two and the fact that they actually didn’t believe in God at all, or worse, their belief in God wasn’t stronger than their desire to keep the profits for themselves!
Today, what would it take to shock you out of the lethargy of your everyday routine? Do you need that kind of “shock” to wake you up? Why not avoid the need for such a stark wake up call by regularly practicing the disciplines of the Faith designed to keep you awake and Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. As we pass through these Paschal Days of celebration, I ask your prayers. Pray for the writing of the Student Workbook for our “A Journey to Fullness” outreach tool. Pray for my trip to Nashville next week to finish shooting the close of each of the videos. And pray for our design team as they create the style sheet we need to make this as professional a product as possible. After all, we are doing this for the Lord’s Church. It ought to be our best. Go to JourneyToFullness.com and learn more. Have a great weekend!