In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:27-41 passim), Luke tries to present to us his ideal vision of the church. He writes from a time when the number and placement of Christians has grown and spread into the wider world; a time when it has become distinguished from its roots in the Jewish religion and, through the initiative of Paul opened up to the Gentiles. But he writes from this later standpoint about the beginnings of it all in the early days in such a way as to express and address his contemporary issues. So it seems awkward to us in our different situation and after centuries of developing thinking about the impact of Christ on everything. We now want to distance ourselves from any hint that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ; for we see the way humanity both in the centuries before and after Christ has fallen short of all that it should be and appears to thwart the creative intent of God. Notice that a section of what Luke wrote is left out of the lectionary reading; in it Gamaliel advises the Sanhedrin “leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God”.
The second reading is from the Book of Revelation (5:11-14) (or as we wrote last week the Apocalypse). We saw in last week’s reading that the writer can produce a visionary description in a style of writing that is as unfamiliar to us as the cartoons and computer games of our days would be to him and his original recipients. Here he tries to picture the glory of heaven where Christ is now present after the success of His earthly life and, especially, death – the completion of His life’s work. From our standpoint it is a vision of the future that we expect to experience, but it is a setting which we already key into at times – we become a remote part of this heavenly scene symbolically when we celebrate together in communion with the saints, but also when we live out the life of Christ by applying His attitude of loving care and forgiveness in the ordinary meetings with people we have from day to day. It is in these that we are amongst all the creatures and the thousands that worship in this scene of heavenly praise. However, the people that lived nearer than us to the time of Jesus had no difficulty with his humanity, but him being divine was all the more difficult to comprehend; so in this scene, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit, but rather an emphasis on Jesus being praised and worshipped as God.
The third reading is from chapter 21 of this fourth gospel (John 21:1-19). Chapter 20 ended “ All this has been written so that you may believe … and believing may have life;” that ends the original work, but then a final chapter was added. It has an account of Jesus meeting the disciples after a night’s unsuccessful fishing – have they not yet settled down to the task of founding a new community of the followers of Jesus? Yet they do have a large catch and the net isn’t broken, which may symbolize the growing community (and no one really knows the symbolism of the 153 fish). The chapter also has the purpose of confirming the leadership position of Peter; he was the one that in the passion account denied having anything to do with Jesus – three times! Now, in a touching tale, the risen Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” and Peter is able to counter his denials, saying at last, “Lord, you know everything, you know I love you!” In our present time, we notice the role of leadership in the church is meant to be one of feeding the followers.