Many people are used to the idea of Lenten practices—giving up coffee or chocolate, perhaps, or doing some kind of regular spiritual discipline during the weeks before Easter. The worship planners at All Nations Church took that concept and applied it to Easter. What would Easter practices look like? Why do we do what we do every Sunday? Why do we go through the same motions? These practices are for Easter, but since every Sunday is a little Easter, they are encouragement for all Christians, in every season.
Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal preacher, wrote in The Preaching Life about what it was like, as a little girl, to learn ballet. She remembered all the time she had to spend practicing. She said what she would have liked to do was spend an hour admiring herself in front of the mirror. But what her teacher insisted she do was come away from the mirror and learn the basic positions essential to ballet. Under the teacher’s guidance, she learned to bend her feet this way and that way, she strained hard, sometimes so hard she worried her knees would pop from their sockets. She arched her back, held her head up, made perfect “O”s with her arms. She stretched and sweated over positions until her bones ached and her muscles “yelled out loud.” Then one day she got to put all this practicing together. She bent and rose and swept through the air like someone to whom gravity no longer applied. She got to dance.
Remembering this was a way that helped Taylor in her faith. As in ballet, she says, so it is with our faith: we have to learn the basic positions. Have to learn their names. Each requires our full attention and our best efforts—each requires us to practice. Each teaches us a way to move, so that when God invites us to put them all together, we may jump with joy to join the dance.
Almost two thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit came upon and into God’s people in a way he never had before, and they began to dance. To this day we call that event Pentecost. About 3,000 people came to join the dance that celebrates Jesus Christ risen from the dead, Lord of this world. Promptly these 3,000 were baptized. After that story, which takes up most of Acts 2, Luke says: If you’re going to dance, you’re going to have to practice. Faith is not just something you have; it’s something you do. These are the habits newly baptized Christians should practice. These are the habits all Christians need to practice. These are “Easter practices.”
Practice Being Together
First, practice “meet[ing] together” (Acts 2:46)—practice “the fellowship” when you worship together (v. 42), and also practice fellowship in each other’s homes (v. 46). “Together” is a key word in this passage. Be together.
Second, practice learning. Those first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (v. 42). Learning isn’t just an activity you do to achieve something, it is an activity itself you should do well. In other words, learning isn’t just a means, it’s an end. My mother was insightful when she told my brother and me that no matter what we wanted to do for a career—even if it didn’t require a degree—we must get a good education. She knew that you should practice learning, because when you do that well you don’t just fill your head, you shape your life.
So practice learning from the apostles—that is, learning their message, which is that God made Jesus, who was crucified (whom we crucified), both Lord and Christ (v. 36). Meaning, Jesus is Lord of everything we do all week long. “Learning Jesus,” as Luke Timothy Johnson says in The Living Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), is a way to have our daily lives oriented toward God.
Practice Eating Together
Third, this passage reminds us to practice eating—”break bread” (v. 42), “eat together” (v. 46). Joseph Juknialis, a Catholic priest and storyteller, said that his mother’s motto was, “The least we can do is eat together.” As in any home, there were ups and down, times when family members got along and times when they chose frozen silences. Sometimes they fought and sometimes they loved. But always his mother insisted, “The least we can do is eat together.” Never would anyone be sent to his or her room without supper. In his home, everyone always had to come to the table for meals, no matter how obnoxious they had been. The least they could do was eat together.
“Eating together and loving together,” Juknialis writes, “can be a chicken-or-the-egg sort of thing. Which comes first? Do we eat together because we have loved one another and cared about one another and been there for one another? Or do we love one another because we have eaten together?”
Many churches plan Easter breakfasts, sometimes as a feast after a Vigil service. Many more churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Easter Sunday, and perhaps all the Sundays in the Easter season, with an entirely different spirit of joy than during the somber tone of Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. It’s good to eat together around the table of the Lord during Eastertide as well as during Lent and Holy Week.
Practice eating together this Easter as a way to practice being Christian—to love one another, to recognize the love of Jesus among us, and to receive the love of Jesus, our host at the communion table.
Fourth, practice praying (v. 42). One of our newly baptized members, a new Christian, recently came to me and asked a brilliant question: “I know I should pray, I want to pray, but what should I actually pray? What should I actually say?” Jesus was once asked that by his disciples (Luke 11:1), and so Bruce and I took that prayer as our model, put it in simpler words, and now Bruce can practice prayer. That new prayer has spread to the new members’ class and even to our elders when they meet. By practicing the prayer Jesus taught, the elders now don’t just pray “give us a good meeting” (whatever “good” means); instead they pray “forgive us our sins” and name some; “take care of these people and situations” and name some; tell God “you are great” and name some of God’s great ways. And as we practice prayer we find we are dancing the faith.
As well, practice giving as there is need (v. 45). Those believers 1,975 years ago managed to give as there was need by having everything “in common” and “selling their possessions and goods” (v. 44). Is this telling us what we should do? If it is, we’re a long way from it. Or is this just saying how they did it? I’m not sure. What we can take from this is the principle of radical economic sharing. To see that these early believers really knew that Jesus—who’s Lord of everything, remember—owned both them and their property. What they were practicing was valuing people over possessions. Do some of our offerings already approximate this—giving to a benevolence fund, for example? Or serving those in need?