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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To infinity and beyond! (journeying via Jerusalem) – Luke’s journey structure

This post is in the series Rite Reading. The third of three posts on Luke.

In my first post on Luke, I noted how important Jerusalem was for the way he tells his story. The story begins in Jerusalem with Zechariah’s temple service, and ends there too with the disciples in the temple praising God. From the time of the transfiguration, Luke talks of Jesus journeying to Jerusalem, arriving there on that first Palm Sunday. And in his second volume, Luke tells the story of how the good news is carried from Jerusalem at the beginning of the story, to Rome, the heart of the empire, at the end.

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When repentance is more God’s work than ours: Luke’s strange stress on divine mercy

This post is in the series Rite Reading. The second of three posts on Luke.

The comedian Emo Philips used to have a great one-liner:

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.

St Luke has more about repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ ministry than the other gospels, and in a way his take on it is as strange as Emo’s. Luke’s Jesus is very much the friend of sinners.

Detail from an icon of St Luke in Great Lavra monastery on Mt Athos; via Wikipedia

It should be said straight away that Judaism was very much in favour of repentance, and was always happy to see sinners engage in it. It’s just that some of those who clashed with Jesus didn’t recognise people’s responses to Jesus as repentance. Repentance was laid out clearly in the law. It involved making sacrifices and reparation, and amendment of life. Partying with Jesus didn’t look much like that kind of serious acknowledgement of sin.

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A gospel rich in stories: Luke

This post is in the series Rite Reading. The first of three posts on Luke.

If (as I noted yesterday) Mark feels rushed, Luke feels well-paced. Unlike Matthew he does not collect Jesus’ teaching into long sections, but intersperses it with stories. He describes his work as an “orderly account” and implies that he knows of others which aren’t! Perhaps because he is such an accomplished story-teller himself, he makes a point of including more parables than the other gospels, including two which usually number among people’s favourites: the Good Samaritan, and the parable often referred to as the Prodigal Son.

Luke includes quite a wide range of material, and seems to be aiming for a rounded picture. Perhaps sometimes he includes a story because he thinks it’s too good to leave out. But this wealth of Jesus-tradition means that it is sometimes harder to detect his key themes than it is with Matthew and Mark. Because of this wealth of material, I’m going to break this section on Luke into three blog posts, over three days.

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Four portraits, no photo: every gospel tells a story

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The order of the biblical books is is not accidental but deliberate. The Old Testament ends with prophecy. The New Testament begins with the gospel that puts the greatest stresse on Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy. This is Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus.

The canonical order is almost certainly not the order in which the gospels were written. In a rare instance of near universal academic agreement, biblical scholars think that this sub-genre of ancient biography was invented by Mark: the first person to write a gospel.

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Jesus reads the lesson

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

Yesterday I looked at public reading in Nehemiah 8. Today we’re jumping forward to the gospels, and Jesus being invited to read the lesson. At the beginning of his account of Jesus’ ministry, Luke chooses to emphasise and elaborate the story of Jesus preaching at Nazareth. The first part of the story (before it all turns a bit sour) goes like this.

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