Faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is much more than simply believing in an amazing fact. Each of this Sunday's readings reminds us that belief in Jesus' resurrection is to accept and participate in a relationship that can enliven every part of our lives—now and forever.
John's Gospel may speak of Jesus appearing simply to “the disciples,” unnumbered and unnamed, to help us later readers include ourselves in the picture. To enable those disciples to be sent as Jesus was sent, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit.” When we recall that this remarkable action is occurring near the end of a book that began with the words, “In the beginning,” it is not hard to see in this breathing an allusion to the creation of Adam.
Easter enables a new creation. A frightened people are empowered to live out Jesus' mission of sharing the life of God with others through their own self-giving, in imitation of Jesus. If the beatitude, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” is not clear enough for us, the author's own statement of purpose is crystal clear: “These [signs] are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (Gospel).
If we want a concrete illustration of what “life in his name” entails, we need look no further than the cameo picture that Luke provides in today's first reading from Acts. Although vowed religious communities have, through the centuries, taken this summary as a model for their community life, the context of this passage in Acts suggests that Luke intends this to be a portrait of Christian community generally.
The details are worth pondering.
They devoted themselves to the teaching [didache] of the apostles, to the communal life [koinonia], to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. We recognize here the perennial ingredients of Church life. The apostolic “teaching” would, no doubt, include the sayings of Jesus and the interpretations of his life by way of texts from the Hebrew Scriptures. The “communal life” includes the generous sharing of possessions mentioned later in this description. The “breaking of the bread” seems to be, as in the Emmaus account in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24), the celebration of the Lord's Supper. And “the prayers” likely include continued engagement in the Temple liturgy.
Awe [phobos] came upon everyone. Some translations interpret this as a description of outsiders’ response to the apostolic “wonders and signs,” but the statement can just as easily be taken as a description of the community itself. If so, it likely refers to that fear of God which the Hebrew Scriptures name as the beginning of wisdom. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit (First Reading) have revived in these pious Jews an awe for the presence and power of the Creator.
And many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. “Wonders and signs” (with its peculiar reversal of the usual order “signs and wonders”) echoes the wonders and signs mentioned in the quotation from Joel, applied to Jesus' healing actions in Peter's Pentecost speech (1Pet 2:19, 22). By using the same phrase here, Luke underscores the fact that the apostles continue the divinely empowered ministry of Jesus (soon to be illustrated by the healing of the lame man through Peter and John [Acts 3:1]).
All were together who believed and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need. This spells out part of what is meant by the earlier mention of communal life. The very phrasing suggests that such sharing of goods is a spontaneous expression of the Easter faith. When one takes the Creator personally, one uses creatures differently and more generously.
Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. This puts us in touch with the realities that the Jerusalem Christian community still saw themselves as Jews very much in contact with their Israelite tradition and community, and that their own homes served as the place for the Christian breaking of the bread. Strikingly, Luke can use the descriptive word sozomenoi—“those who were being saved”—to describe new Christians.