In the previous issue, there were a number of suggestions about observing the Easter season, which always runs seven weeks, and this year concludes on Sunday, May 23. I’d like to add another suggestion.
If you have never read the Acts of the Apostles all the way through, the Easter season is the perfect time to do so. We always read excerpts from Acts on the Sundays of Easter. In addition, every year at weekday Mass we read a semi-continuous narrative from Acts.
The Acts of the Apostles, which immediately follows the Gospel of John, could also be called “The Gospel of Luke, Part Two,” because it is written by Luke the Gospel writer, and takes up where Part One left off.
Jesus has ascended into the heavenly realm. His Disciples are admonished for “looking up into the sky” when there is plenty to be done on the earth they tread. They come together once again in the Jerusalem “upper room” where the Last Supper took place.
And they receive the Holy Spirit. When earlier they had demonstrated great timidity about sharing their experience of Jesus, suddenly they are able to give witness to Jesus, who has really died, and has really risen victorious over death and sin.
Somehow, without the benefit of simultaneous translation such as one would find these days at the United Nations, people of different languages hear Peter preaching in their own languages. It seems that the confusing of languages at Babel (Genesis 11) has been undone.
Healings follow, and people who are supposed to keep order in Jerusalem attempt to do something with these believers in Jesus. The wise Gamaliel (Acts 5: 38-39) counsels: “Have nothing to do with these men and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”
The martyrdom of Stephen follows, and we are introduced to one Saul, who apparently did not stone Stephen but did watch the cloaks of those who did. Acts 9 reports on Saul’s conversion experience; his account is repeated twice before Acts ends.
The Good News of Jesus spreads through the Mediterranean world. The Disciples, now properly called “Apostles” because they are no longer learning but actually carrying out a mission, run into a difficult practical question. They are Jews, holding to various dietary and other laws. When non-Jews become Christian, are they bound to this law?
Peter (Acts 11) reports a vision at Joppa (today known as Yafo, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel) which helps him resolve this issue. And indeed, at the “council” of Jerusalem (Acts 15), the Apostles essentially proclaim that Christians are not bound to Jewish law, and that Christianity is distinct from Judaism.
Saul, who becomes known as Paul, travels widely, establishing Christian communities. He gives a fascinating speech at Athens (Acts 17) which many consider a failure but is in fact a wonderful example of seeking to bridge cultural barriers with the Good News of Jesus.
Acts ends with Paul, a Roman citizen, under arrest at Rome as he waits for some word from the emperor. Both Peter and Paul find themselves in Rome, and both are martyred there, but Acts does not record their deaths.
Discover for yourself a variety of inspiring, and sometimes amusing, events in the infancy of the People of God, who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the salvation won by Jesus.