Third Sunday Of Easter
Again this weekend, the Church presents as its first reading for liturgy in Eastertime a passage from the Acts of the Apostles.
The mere construction of Acts is a lesson. Actually, it is a continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Its underlying lesson is that the salvation achieved by the Lord Jesus did not end with the Ascension. Neither did the presence of Jesus in the world end with the Ascension. The risen Lord, ascended into heaven before the very eyes of the Apostles, absent the dead Judas, lives and acts through the Christian community, a community of visible structure and with specific functions.
This reading reports a conflict between the Sanhedrin, led by the high priest, and the Apostles. The Sanhedrin was the official ruling council of Judaism at the time of Jesus. Its agenda was primarily religious, but its authority touched virtually every aspect of life. Again, and important to note, Peter is the spokesman for all the Apostles. He was their leader.
Ordered to cease preaching about Jesus, the Apostles boldly reaffirmed their intention to not stop. No earthly power could deter them in fulfilling their commission from the Lord. Again speaking for the group, Peter offered a capsulized story of the life and mission of Christ.
The Book of Revelation is the source of the second reading. Probably no other book of the New Testament, and few in the Old Testament, perennially leaves readers in wonder as does Revelation.
Revelation is not the more ancient, nor literarily precise, term for the book. The older and better term is Apocalypse; however, most English-speaking biblical scholars have adopted the better-known name of Revelation.
Revelation is clear. Again and again, it refers to Jesus as the sinless lamb of God, which is the title used by John the Baptist for the Lord. It insists that Christians stand with one foot on earth and the other in heaven, for they stand in and with Christ, the Son of God and also the son of Mary, a woman.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It is a Resurrection narrative, wondrous and consoling. Jesus, risen from death, appears to the Apostles as they are fishing on the Sea of Galilee without luck. At dawn, recalling the time of the Resurrection, Jesus comes into their midst. He tells them exactly where to cast their nets. They obey, and a huge catch comes. The Beloved Disciple recognizes Jesus, but Peter is central to the story. He rushes to Jesus.
Then, at a meal, Jesus asks Peter if Peter really loves Him. It is a question put to Peter three times, with three affirmative responses. In ancient Jewish symbolism, three represented what was complete, final and absolute. After each answer, Jesus commissions to Peter to love the Good Shepherd’s flock. His commission is exact, final and unqualified. It sent Peter to continue the Lord’s work.
It would be difficult indeed to find three other readings from the New Testament that individually are as beautiful and expressive in teaching the marvelous lesson of how salvation unfolds.
Setting the stage is the reading from Revelation. Disciples live with one foot on earth, but the other in heaven. Nowhere else is this reality better seen than in the Eucharist.
The combination of Acts with Luke’s Gospel reminds us that the salvation accomplished by Christ still lives. So it was with the early Christians around the Apostles. It is with us still, and with the Apostle’s successors, in the Church. The trial before the Sanhedrin recalls Peter’s fervor beside the sea, when Peter saw Jesus risen from the dead and professed his love for Jesus.
After the betrayal, healed by Christ’s divine forgiveness, Peter was worthy of his calling. We can follow him. We, too, can be healed. No matter our past, we can be saved.
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