Throughout the Easter season, the Sunday slot normally occupied by a reading from the Old Testament is filled by a passage from the Acts of the Apostles, recounting the post-Resurrection experiences of the first apostles. This week's lesson is a speech widely regarded as the earliest and definitive statement of the Christian ‘kerygma’ -- the essential Gospel, or Good News of redemption in Christ. Peter makes this speech in the market place shortly after the disciples’ explosive experience on the Day of Pentecost.
The point he is most concerned to highlight is that, while Jesus stood in King David’s line, he brought the Messiahship of God to a fulfilment far surpassing even David’s greatness. Since, as most in Peter's audience would have known, Jesus had recently been crucified as a criminal, this is an astonishing claim to make, and Peter’s making it is the most powerful evidence we have of the dramatic difference that the Resurrection brought about in the psychology of the disciples. In this way, the book of Acts enables us to encounter men and women transformed by new theological insight into the ways of the God in whom they had always believed.
The Epistle may or may not have been written by Peter himself, but it conveys the same vibrant message to a fledgling church, this time in the form of a song of praise rather than a sermon. In these few beautiful sentences we witness a transition from theology to liturgy – and indeed, thanks to the 19th century English cathedral composer S S Wesley, this text has become one of the most widely sung choral anthems for Easter.
The Gospel passage for this Sunday has also stimulated great art. Several famous paintings show ‘doubting’ Thomas examining the wound in Jesus’ side. Their slightly chilling realism is a powerful reminder of how, when it is taken past a certain point, understandable scepticism can make us incapable of wonder. While Thomas insists that he must see the bodily evidence with his own eyes, Jesus insists that believing without seeing is more blessed.
Thomas, nevertheless, is granted a post-Resurrection appearance of a bodily Jesus. Such experiences proved to be a short lived gift to just a few disciples. By contrast, the enduring truth of the Resurrection, and the significance of its redeeming power, is perpetually waiting to be experienced in the Body of Christ that is given to us in the sacrament of communion, available to all who will receive it in penitence, trust and adoration Sunday by Sunday. That is why Christians have a special reason to lament the constraints that we are currently obliged to observe.
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