In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke is trying to give us a picture of what the earliest Christians were like and how they lived. This description is quite challenging to us and was to his immediate readers in the 80s AD. But the church does develop; for we notice that in this description of the decade after Jesus’ death they are still very close to the Jewish religion, gathering in the Temple together; but also the groups would gather in someone’s home for meals, which as sacred rites were then called ‘the breaking of bread.’ These house churches are referred to in the earlier writings of Paul, whose letters make this quite clear. Incidentally, in parts of China there are gatherings of Christians which are called House Churches because they are meetings of Christians who prefer not to have recognised Church buildings which then need to be registered with the Government. But also as part of our Scriptures, the passage offers us inspiration and challenges us to consider how we live today and how we can apply to our situation and circumstances the central message from Jesus of love of God and of everyone.
The First letter of Peter reads in part as though it is an address to newly baptised Christians; and it was at Easter time that this would be presented, as in many Churches today Baptisms still happen at this time of our Christian calendar. It is part of a letter used as an encyclical, that is, one addressed to a number of different groups of Christians throughout the Roman world – this is clear from the opening verse of the letter: “To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” Like many Jewish prayers the Christians here also praise God with the phrase of our reading: “Blessed be God…” It reminds the readers of their Baptism, which is a new birth – the beginning of a new way of living. It gives us a new life that will culminate in heaven and at the end of time when Jesus is revealed in glory, but is already a new way for us to live. The writer reminds us that our new life will not be free from difficulties, and in the early Church particularly, this might have been persecution for not paying homage to the Roman gods. Yet, despite the difficulties it is something to greatly rejoice over – as for the original recipients so also for us receiving these words right now!
The Gospel of John has throughout been written with storylines and records of speeches, but beneath them all and across the arrangement of them, there is a deep meaning; the gospel is addressed to a community of believers in the second half of the first century. We heard the first intimations of the resurrection in last week’s reading from John; where there was a gradual dawning towards the notion that Jesus was risen; but it is only an embryonic notion. Our reading today begins with a crowd of his followers hidden away in a room in Jerusalem, afraid of their fellow countrymen; their belief needs a lot of development yet. Is this what is being said to the original recipients of this gospel, who were perhaps in a difficult relationship with other members of their families, with their circle of friends and with the authorities? But Jesus’ opening words present a whole new beginning; a similar effect came from the first words of Pope Francis from the St Peter’s balcony addressing the huge crowd gathered to greet this new pope – he said “Good evening… pray for me and I will be with you again soon.” Jesus lives, but his presence to us is not restricted by time or place, as the walls and closed doors indicate in the reading. Jesus hands over the Spirit and the command to live as he did, and does.
See Jeffs Jottings – See and Act