3rd April 2016
Luke, in this extract (Acts 5:12-16) has awkwardly put together allusions to tales about Peter in the early Church. He wants to impress us with the power of the resurrection and the expansion of the number of believers. They gather together in a public place sheltered from the weather, where people generally could meet as friends, for business or for learning from expert teachers; so the gathering Luke describes shows the believers as such a group but highlights the miraculous power of the leader (the power of Peter’s shadow sounds legendary to our ears); but this is often the attitude of religious people to their senior representative.
The second reading is from the last book of the Christian bible, called the Book of Revelation (1:9-19 passim) or, by some, called the Apocalypse (meaning momentous or catastrophic). It is attributed to John though its style is different from the Gospel and letters attributed to him. It is from the last decades of the first century when the Christians where suffering persecution within many parts of the Roman Empire under Diocletian. The author indicates that he is in exile on the island of Patmos as a result of this. The text is tightly written in places as we hear, “I share with you the distress, the kingdom and the endurance we have in Jesus;” referring to the difficult times they are in, but also the joy of belonging to the kingdom of God and hence being able to put up with the situation successfully with the power of Jesus in whose life they share. Then the literary genre turns visionary as he writes about the seven churches – bright lights in these dark times – to each of whom he has a message latter on. He describes an encounter with Christ, affirming the new life he now has with God and the influence of this life in the whole of creation; it is this that urges him to write this book.
The gospel passage (John 20:19-31, is the conclusion of this great gospel of John (chapter 21 reads as a later addition). Jesus comes to the weak and scared humans; He comes with renewed life, physical but also transcending the physical – the resurrected Christ. John always emphasised that Jesus is sent by God, is obedient to God’s will and empowered by God’s Spirit. Now Jesus passes to His followers this same commission; to bring deliverance to all who can accept it (in Chapter 9 Jesus met people who could not receive faith). This moment is like a new creation, with a renewed infusion of the Holy Spirit, as at the first creation. Then the gospel brings in the story of doubting Thomas – the sceptic who wants evidence (but who makes a baptismal confession “My Lord and my God” when he sees Jesus; and the masterful conclusion which speaks to us all “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed.”