We are an Easter people: the Acts of the Apostles

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

Triptych of Pentecost by the Florentine artist Orcagna (Andrea di Cione)
Via Wikimedia Commons. As in most early representations, the Mother of the Lord is central.

As I turn to a book that is unique in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, I note that the lectionary uses it in a unique way. The church reads the stories of the earliest churches during the Sundays of Easter in place of a reading from the Old Testament. My title reflects that: it comes from a saying frequently attributed to St Augustine “We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia!’ is our song.”1

The Acts of the Apostles stands in a genre of its own among canonical literature, though writing legendary “Acts of …” various apostles became something of a literary pastime among the early Christians. It clearly shares a great many of the themes of Luke’s Gospel, to which it forms the sequel. If Luke’s gospel was largely the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, the Acts of the Apostles is the story of how Jesus’s word makes the journey from Jerusalem to Rome.

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Exodus: Plagues and prohibitions

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The second book of the bible launches into the story of Moses. It very quickly bridges the gap between the story as we left it at the end of Genesis, (with the favoured Israelites living in the nicest part of Egypt) and the point where the story of Moses begins (with the descendants of those Israelites all fully enslaved by the Egyptian Pharaoh).

We begin with Moses’ birth. The story of the midwives is a masterpiece of subversive humour as the slave-race outwits the master-race (a similar sly humour pervades the story of the plagues). From there the text skips through his upbringing in Pharaoh’s household, to the story of his first attempt to take action in favour of his birth nation. Attempting to defend a fellow-Israelite, he kills an Egyptian, then flees in fear for his life. In the desert he encounters God in a burning bush1 and receives the commission to lead Israel out of slavery from Egypt to a distant promised land.

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The Easter Cycle

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The Easter cycle is quite similar to the Christmas cycle I explored in the previous post. There is an extended period of preparation, Lent, which leads up to the events of Easter, and an extended period of celebration after Easter which finishes on the feast of Pentecost. The origins of Lent appear to be as a time of preparation for baptism in those places that celebrated baptisms at Easter. However, it has long since become primarily a time for attending to a more disciplined life of faith.

The recovery of a long Eastertide is relatively recent, but, unlike Epiphany, Easter is not fighting any strong cultural currents, and it has deeper roots. Moreover the tone of joy naturally suits the uplifting mood of time outside the church, at least in the northern hemisphere, as we move into spring and (sometimes) early summer, and leave the winter months behind. As an old Easter hymn says:

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