April 27, 2014
Second Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
During the Easter season, the Lectionary avoids the Old Testament and sticks with the Book of Acts to supply the First Reading. The idea is to concentrate on the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the New. The life of the early Church, as portrayed by Acts, reveals what a post-resurrection life can and should look like. The particular passage chosen for the Second Sunday of Easter briefly sums up the life of the early disciples from the day of Pentecost onward.
This passage, Acts 2:42-47, falls right after St. Peter’s Pentecost speech. The Holy Spirit has come upon the apostles, then Peter preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem, after which 3,000 people are baptized into the faith. After this event, our author, St. Luke, offers us a window into the life of the first Christians. The Lectionary gives us a sneak preview of the resurrection results of the first apostolic ministry, but then will go on to fill in the back story by presenting snippets of Peter’s speech over the next two Sundays.
The Essence of Community
St. Luke tells us that the first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42 RSV). These four elements, which might seem like a bare list, actually frame the essentials of the Christian life. The “apostles’ teaching” consists of the Gospel message and Christian doctrine. We can hear their lessons in the Bible and in the teaching of the Church. “The fellowship” or koinonia (in Greek) indicates the loving communion that believers have with one another. This fellowship is not mere camaraderie or some sort of club, but rather it indicates the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee” (John 17:21 RSV). This kind of heart-to-heart fellowship takes time, which is why Luke tells us that the Christians devoted themselves to it. They devoted their time to loving one another.
In addition, the first Christians frequently participated in “the breaking of the bread,” not a mere meal, but a Eucharistic celebration, the first Masses ever said. Lastly, the disciples take part in “the prayers.” Oddly, the text does not say that they simply prayed, but that they used “the prayers.” Since they were gathering together daily in the Temple, some scholars have suggested that “the prayers” refers to the psalms, songs, and prayers offered to the Lord at the Temple. In our day, we can engage in these kinds of “prayers” in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary and other kinds of prayers the Church provides. The four things to which the disciples devoted themselves, teaching, fellowship, Eucharist, and prayers, are the building blocks of the kind of life that Christians can and should live in light of Jesus’ Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
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