What was from the beginning concerning the Word of Life, which we heard, which we saw with our own eyes, which we beheld, which we touched with our own hands, which we saw and heard, we disclose even to you, so that you might share a common bond with us.
This is how the first letter of John begins. We’re going to be spending some time with this letter the next few weeks; I plan to preach on passages from 1 John just about every Sunday from now until the end of May. So I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. Each week you can see what section we’ll read the following Sunday right here in your bulletin, so you can make those readings part of your personal devotions. Or you could just read through the whole thing at once; it’s not very long. And if you’re a woman, you can join the women’s Tuesday night group. They’ll be studying 1 John together starting this week, too.
Now, I don’t normally do this, but I’ve offered my own translation of 1 John 1:1-2:6 this morning in place of the translation from the NRSV, which I usually use here at Centre. I’ve given my translation for a number of reasons, but the most important reason is because of the beginning. The first sentence of this short letter from John or one of his companions is fairly difficult to translate, because the meaning is fairly clear but the order of the words is a little jumbled. I’ve offered something that tries to make the meaning especially clear.
So I invite you to listen to these words again: What was from the beginning concerning the Word of Life, which we heard, which we saw with our own eyes, which we beheld, which we touched with our own hands, which we saw and heard, we disclose even to you, so that you might share a common bond with us. John (let’s just call the letter-writer John to keep things simple) writes this letter for two reasons: first, to disclose even to us what he has received. Even to us: we are people who have no claim over what he has received, no right to hear it, but John is writing so that even we can receive it—a gift. Second, John writes so that we “might share a common bond” with him and his companions; “with us,” he says.
In short, we might say that John is writing about what it takes to be Easter people. That’s what we are, as Christians: Easter people. As we said last week, Jesus’ resurrection contains within it a promise of the future glory we will share with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the resurrection is first and foremost about life here, now; about the new creation bursting into the old creation; about us bearing witness to Christ’s resurrection by allowing old things to pass, by giving testimony when God brings about new life, and by stepping out boldly to offer the world the Love of God that has burst through the bonds of death. This is what makes us Easter people.
And we became Easter people because there have come before us others who have borne witness to Christ’s resurrection. Our faith does not begin with us, either as individuals or as a congregation. We are not eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are recipients of a long line of generous Easter people: people like John, who witnessed Christ’s life and who decided to share with others. That sharing, that generosity started with the first Christians, but it was passed on from generation to generation.
This is what it means to be recipients of the gift John offers. It means allowing ourselves to be challenged and even corrected by those who have come before us and those who today see things differently than we do. It means submitting to doctrines and teachings and decisions that we may not always understand or agree with, for the sake of our common bond. It means realizing that the Bible can be used to justify bad ideas as easily as it can be used to support good ideas, so just because you’ve read something in the Good Book doesn’t mean the way you understand it is right. When we do these things, the gospel becomes for us a gift, something others have handed on to us, something we could never earn or purchase, something we will in turn hand on to others.
What was from the beginning concerning the Word of Life, which we heard, which we saw with our own eyes, which we beheld, which we touched with our own hands, which we saw and heard, we disclose even to you, so that you might share a common bond with us. Did you catch that last part? “So that you might share a common bond with us.” Another way of saying this would be: so that we can be the church together. The gift, the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, make us people who share a common bond and who want to share that bond with more and more people, until our joy overflows.
The church is the people who have received this gift and share this common bond; there’s no being a Christian without them—there’s no being a Christian without the church. Again, not just Centre Church. The United Methodist Church. Still more, the whole church: Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Orthodox communities, Baptists, Pentecostals. Break the bond, and you cut yourself off from the gift. Refuse the gift, and there’s no point to sharing the bond.
What keeps this bond going? What allows us to receive this gift and pass it on to others? Is it the strength of us all working together? The sheer excitement we have? Our energy and enthusiasm? No, of course not. It is God’s love, the love that finds a home among those who keep God’s commandments. God’s love unites us with Christians across the globe and throughout the ages. We don’t earn this love by keeping the commandments any more than we earn the gift of the good news of Jesus Christ. But God’s love doesn’t mean that we stop working, that we stop confessing our sins, that we ignore our common bond. The love of God prompts us to respond faithfully, to put the gift we have received to good use, and to walk as Jesus walked.
This Easter season, commit yourselves to being Easter people. Seek out and learn about the common bond that holds all Christians together. Receive the good news of Christ’s resurrection, and share it with others. Then you also may find the overflowing joy Christ offers to his church in every age. Amen.