Over the past several months we have followed along the course of Jesus’ public ministry, from its beginning, marked by the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, through the accounts of his preaching and healing, to the events of his passion, death, and resurrection remembered during Holy Week and the Easter Triduum.
Now we begin a re-reading of the history of the earliest days of the Church which follow upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We trace the record of the Church from its founding in Jerusalem, seeing how it advanced through trial and triumph. The aim of our journey through the scriptures in the Easter season is to draw strength and inspiration from the past so we can imitate the radiant faith and hope of those first Christians in our own day.
The Church does this by turning to the Acts of the Apostles, where we hear an account of how the earliest believers lived entirely focused on their faith in the risen Lord.
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.
We see that communal life and evangelization were both at the heart of the first Christian “parish,” with members caring for each other in a deeply committed manner while always seeking to share the Good News with anyone who would listen. In other words, the first Christians knew that their faith necessarily shaped each aspect their lives—it was not simply a matter of private devotion. The same point is clear in the second reading today, from the First Letter of John, where we read: “In this way we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and obey his commandments” (1 John 5:2).
With this connection between piety and practice in mind, we may ask how we can do the same, integrating our beliefs ever more faithfully with our daily actions. Given how divided our society is at present—a division that even seeps into families and church communities—such integration is not easy to achieve. To this end, realizing what a challenging task we have before us as disciples of Jesus, we take confidence in today’s Gospel reading from John, where we are assured of the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us imitate our forbears and their zeal for Christ:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-22).
Whatever strength or desire we lack in going about our Christian lives, the grace of the Spirit makes up within us. Rejoicing, then, in our baptism which roots us in the death and life of Christ, let us persevere in this Easter season so that we might follow in the footsteps of our early Christian sisters and brothers and enjoy the fullness of the Lord’s resurrection.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Image: Raphael, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes.