Acts 2: 42-47; Psalm 117:2-4,13a,14,22-24, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
From Easter to Pentecost we celebrate the presence of the risen Christ in the early Church. In our Sunday liturgy during this time, the first reading is always from the Acts of the Apostles where we see the Spirit at work, and the second from 1 Peter, as it was thought that this Letter was connected to teaching about Baptism. Although today scholars are doubtful about this, 1 Peter does call on Christians to recognise their dignity as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart”.
The book of Acts forms a bridge between the gospels and the epistles, providing the only narrative we have of the steps by which the Christian message moved from the rural world of Jesus and Palestinian Judaism to the largely urban world of Paul – and later to the Greek cities of the Roman empire. Our reading today from Acts demonstrates distinctive “marks” of the early Church that should continue to define the Church through the centuries, down to our own day: it is a community (“ekklesia”), called forth by the Spirit, whose characteristics are communion/fellowship (“koinonia” ), devotion to “the teaching of the apostles” (“didache” ), to ”the breaking of bread, and to the prayers”. As we reflect on the nature of the Church today, this reading helps us understand what it should be: a communion of friends, gathered in fidelity to the apostolic teaching and the breaking of bread and care for those in need. As a local community of believers, we are called to be creative as we find ways of making this a concrete reality.
The author of 1 Peter is intent on encouraging the community of believers to stand firm, “even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials”. They must look beyond present sufferings and difficulties, “so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold”. Likewise, the psalmist in Psalm 117 who has also been in grave difficulties, expresses his joy at having been delivered from his enemies by God: “The Lord is at my side; I do not fear.” Entering the temple gates and now standing within the courts of the splendid building, he compares himself in his former abject state to a stone at first considered unfit by the builders but then made the chief cornerstone of a grand edifice. It is understandable how this psalm came to be regarded as messianic by the early Christians and is quoted often in the New Testament.
There are three particular motifs in Jesus’ appearance to Thomas in our Gospel reading from John: the greeting of peace, which is the risen Christ’s gift, casting out fear; the presence of the Holy Spirit, shown in the power to forgive sin; and the need for a faith that grows even without the tangible presence of Christ. We should draw great courage from Christ’s final beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” There are several echoes in this passage to John’s Last Supper Discourse. Christ’s gift of peace here is the fulfilment of his promise at the Last Supper: “’Peace’ is my farewell to you. My ‘peace’ is my gift to you, and I do not give it to you as the world gives it.” This peace is related to his promise that he would return to them, for in the Holy Spirit they have the enduring presence of Jesus. Likewise, their joy is the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise at the Last Supper: “You are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will rejoice with a joy that no one can take from you”. In Jewish thought, peace and joy are marks of the period at the end of time when God will bring about harmony in human life and in the world. Based on this gift of peace, Jesus gives the missionary command to the apostles: “As the Father has sent me, so do I send you” - the paradigm of their mission is to be Jesus’ relation to his Father, recalling his words at the Last Supper, “As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world.” A high calling indeed, but one rooted in and sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s enduring gift to us.
Sr Margaret Shepherd nds