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Breath of the Spirit: Why So Dramatic?

This Sunday’s Scriptures offer examples of bearing witness to Jesus in dramatic moments. In real life, it is not always easy to discern when courage requires us to speak up or to remain silent. Today’s reflection suggests that we will discern the call of courage when we stay connected to the dignity of each member of our human family.

April 14, 2024: Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19

Psalm 4: 2, 4, 7-9

1 John 2:1-5a

Luke 24:35-48

Why So Dramatic?

A reflection by John Falcone

What struck me most in this Sunday’s readings is the mixture of drama and justification. This mixture is familiar to LGBTQIA+ people and allies, especially when we are involved in religious situations. The experience of coming out; the experience of convincing ourselves, our loved ones, and our adversaries that what we feel and know is good, healthy, and real; the experience of confronting public and private opposition; all of these can bring up big feelings and generate dramatic situations, where questions of truth and justice are sharply at stake. For many of us, it can feel quite urgent to justify our position or to prove our case. Sometimes, that’s just a knee-jerk reaction to old traumas and persistent oppressions; but sometimes our compelling testimony is exactly what those who oppose us really need to hear and digest.

When should we run with the drama? And when should we put it aside? Today’s Scriptures lay out some stakes and scenarios, but they don't offer easy answers.

This Sunday’s first and final readings (Acts and Luke), focus on drama. 

The first reading recounts a post-Pentecost sermon. In the leadup to our passage, Peter and John are walking into the Temple, when an individual who cannot walk sees them and asks them for money. Peter and John look straight at the person. Then Peter calls out, “Look at us!” The person stares at them intently, expecting to get a few coins. But instead, Peter says: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I tell you to walk!” Suddenly, the person gets up and follows them into the Temple, praying, jumping, and shouting for joy. (Acts 3:2-8)

Drama!

Peter takes this opportunity to preach the mini sermon which comprises our first reading from Acts. He explains how recent shocking events – Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – were all predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures. He even uses some pretty confrontational rhetoric: “You disowned the Holy and Just One and asked instead for the release of a murderer! You put to death the Author of Life, whom God has now raised from the dead!” Peter’s goal is to prove that the promised Messiah needed to suffer; to convince the audience that Jesus’ power can save them; to convert them from their “wicked” ways of life.

In our Gospel reading, Luke recounts another scene, the immediate aftermath of the road to Emmaus. The two disciples who met Jesus on the road have just finished retelling their remarkable encounter. Suddenly, Jesus appears to all the disciples, and demonstrates to them that the resurrection stories are true. “‘Look at my hands and my feet. Touch me and see! A ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do. Do you have anything here to eat?’ After being given a piece of cooked fish, Jesus ate in their presence.” (Luke 24:39-43)

Drama!

This time, it is Jesus who offers a mini sermon: “opening their minds” so that they can understand the Christ-references in Hebrew Scripture, and explaining how the disciples must spread good news to the world. Jesus’ goal is to prove that the resurrection really happened; to convince the disciples that the Messiah had to suffer; to strengthen their capacity as witnesses before the many skeptical people they are going to face.

Both these readings model some powerful forms of Christian witness in a skeptical world: confrontation; laying out cogent arguments; presenting our own lives and bodies as living proof of God’s love.

Our second reading takes a different approach. It’s an excerpt from one of three short letters that have come down to us, written by leaders of the faith community that originally created the Gospel of John. The community has started arguing bitterly over its theological differences.  (In their case, the arguments were over questions about the true nature of God and of Christ; in our case, the arguments are just as heated – sexuality, liturgy, the politics of left and right.)

Drama!

But the author of John’s First Letter brings things back down to earth: “My beloved little children … We can be sure that we know God, only by keeping the commandments.” And when we fail (inevitably) to keep the commandments, we can turn confidently to Jesus, who sets us right with God and each other.

Living faithfully as a follower of Jesus – especially as an LGBTQIA+ believer or ally – invites us to conflict and confrontation, often with those closest to us, those whom we love. As contests over race, gender, religion and politics get ever more bitter; as our ecosystems and economies experience ever more stress; I suspect that God will invite us – more and more – to speak out dramatically (drama comes from the Greek word, δράμα, meaning “to act". And I also suspect that God will invite us to make concrete, humble gestures which lower the temperature and bring folks together.

Let’s stay connected to God and to each other. Let’s continue to worship together. Let’s pray for each other and for those who wish us ill. In this way, we will be able to find the strength and the wisdom, to distinguish which type of witness each moment demands.

John P. Falcone is a practical theologian, religious educator, and a practitioner of Theatre of the Oppressed (PhD Boston College). He has been a Dignity member for more than 20 years with close links to Dignity NY, where he met his husband Matias Wibowo in 2005. He is currently Theologian-in-Residence at St. Matthew’s Bethnal Green (Church of England) in London’s East End.