27th March 2016
The Acts of the Apostles is the second volume of Luke’s writings; his intention is to write a view of the development of Christianity from the Ascension (where he ended his Gospel) to its spread into Rome and its territory; and he wanted to write it as an encouragement to his readers about the successful growth of believers in Jesus under the guidance of the Spirit. In chapter 10 he tells how Peter’s view expanded to see Jesus’ work as applying also to the Gentiles. Cornelius, a non-Jew, had asked Peter to visit him, and when he arrived Luke tells us (Acts 10:34-37 passim) “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God…’;” but the section in italics is omitted from the reading we have today; namely the point that Jesus’ work of salvation is for all people; This is not just what Luke is saying to his readers but is also an important message for Christians today as we look at the many good people (who do what is right) in our secular world. The message attributed to Peter certainly reads as though it is not simply Luke’s summary of the written gospels, but a traditional statement handed down in the church; and interestingly, at the end of the speech, we have the conclusion “that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The first 4 verses from chapter 3 of Colossians is the conclusion of a section in which Paul is trying to correct those who thought that there were many rules about what they can eat and what they should do, passed to them by higher beings than themselves; they have lost sight of the liberation that Christ brings. The conclusion which is the reading for today, is an attempt to bring them back to the reality that Christ is for them, that they live a life not restricted by any earthly rules and regulations; this is symbolised in their baptism – going down into the water and rising from it in Christ; the passage concludes with a reference to the final coming of Christ which seemed imminent to early Christians but which we have not just pushed into the distant future but out of mind.
John chapter 20 opens with a very brief account of the discovery of the empty tomb; there are more and different details about this in the other gospels. Here, Mary Magdalene alone, makes this discovery; she concludes that the body has been stolen, but after this account in John, she is in the same place where she meets Jesus in an account unique to John’s gospel. It seems that in this gospel the empty tomb is not taken as evidence of the resurrection, although it says they believed, this belief doesn’t yet launch them into a confident new life announcing the resurrection. Just as Peter and John, the reading tells us, did not really understand about the resurrection, for us too it a mystery of our faith. We need, however, to consider its implications for how we live out our lives.