Society celebrates Easter over a four-day holiday period, then packs it away, to be rolled out again next year. In the church, Easter is not a short-term holiday opportunity. It is a full-on season, taking place over seven full weeks. The season of Easter begins on Easter Sunday, and concludes with the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost, of course, means 50th, and it is actually a Jewish festival in origin; the festival of Pentecost was the Feast of Weeks (the spring harvest festival of Shavuot), taking place after seven weeks of weeks (7 x 7 = 49 days).
Forty nine days to celebrate and remember Easter! One way that the church has devised to continue the celebrations of Easter Sunday throughout those seven weeks, has been to lay aside the First Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, and provide readings from the book of Acts for that period.
Why? Because, in traditional Christian understanding, the church was brought into being on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fell upon the followers of Jesus “gathered in one place” (Acts 2:1) Presumably they were in the Temple court for the festive celebrations, along with the crowd of “about three thousand persons” mentioned later in the narrative (2:41). They were certainly in the Temple at 3:1–4:3, and again at 5:20–26, and quite regularly according to 5:42.
From that event at Pentecost, the church grew and spread; and this is what the book of Acts recounts. So, in anticipation of that pivotal Pentecostal moment, the First Reading on each Sunday in Easter offers one of the important moments in the growth and spread of the church in its early years.
Each year, the lectionary offers selected incidents from the earliest days of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:43–8:3); in the early dispersion of disciples (8:4–12:25); and in the missionary travels undertaken by Paul and his companions (13:1–21:26).
This year, Year C, we have just such a selection. We have already heard (on Easter Sunday) the scene at the early morning at the tomb of Jesus (John 20) and the journey on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). From next Sunday, we launch into a series of scenes from Acts: an incident involving Peter and John (ch. 5), the early section of the life-changing call of Paul (ch. 9), a striking account of the resurrection of Tabitha (also ch. 9), the report of Peter’s revolutionary vision to the church in Jerusalem (ch. 11), and two stories from the time that Paul spent in Philippi (ch. 16), before hearing again the story of Pentecost (ch. 2). It is a rich fare!
So stay tuned for blogs each week during the Season of Easter, on the passages from Acts that lie ahead!
I’ve posted blogs for readings from Acts in other years: