Acts 1:12-26 The Witnesses


The first concern of the disciples after the resurrection is to heal their community.  They have several reasons to feel incomplete if there are only eleven of them. They are twelve because twelve is the number of Jacob’s sons, and thus of the original tribes of Israel. They are twelve because Jesus appointed twelve, and laid the structural basis of their community. And, most importantly, they need to be twelve because Judas wounded them in his betrayal, and they need that wound to be healed. And that’s what I want to think through today – the healing of community, and what a healed community, that is a resurrected community, looks like and acts like.

I have to admit that I feel unequal to this task, since I, unlike the disciples, have never lived completely within such a community. Most Christian communities, be they churches or young adult communities or convents, remain broken. They are, metaphorically, communities of eleven disciples, not twelve. Everyone is still smarting from little betrayals, bringing the betrayals and hurts inflicted on them in the past into the communities that they find themselves in, and bringing the shame and guilt from their own betrayals of others with them as well. Yet even these broken, incomplete communities are called to be witnesses of the resurrection. And they’re able to do so because, even when broken and incomplete, they can catch glimpses of what the resurrected community is really like.

A witnessing community is both honest about its own brokenness and able to envision what it would be like to be fully healed. Such communities, like the individuals who inhabit them, are both humble and idealistic. Because the ideal is so clearly articulated, people know when they’re falling short, but because their stance to themselves and one another is rooted in humility, they approach their failings with laughter and forgiveness, rather than punishment and scorn. They’re able to adapt to the needs of others, and delight in discoveries of new ways of doing things, while also honoring the old ways. And they’re always waiting for the moment when some quieter, shyer presence steps into the center and starts to lead. They’re always waiting for, and honoring, the Matthias’ and Josephs, and ready to accept their witness when the spirit is ready to speak through them.

All of that transformation that Jesus insists on in Luke’s Gospel now begins to express itself in community. The disciples are transformed people, and the church that begins to form around them is a transformed collective, a group of people who are able to live within the Kingdom of God. Like a contemplative state, the fullness of this community won’t last forever. They’ll fall from this state of grace back into their humanness, and sometimes squabble and wander off on their own paths. But they will remember and witness to these early days. And it’s through their witness that we come to understand the possibilities of our own communities, and to rejoice in them.