Signpost for Sunday 19 April 2015: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
It is somewhat unusual to find two lectionary readings, on a single Sunday, which were written by the same author. Given that Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles he actually contributed more to the New Testament than any other author. Luke is the only writer who lets us know about the spread of the Christian faith in the early days of the church.
The passage from the gospel seems to represent the same event as the first part of the last week’s reading from John, but taken from the memories of different people, and written with slightly different emphases. Luke, quite rightly, in describing the resurrection as a one-off event, picks out some specific things. First, Jesus appeared and the disciples were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Second, Jesus remonstrated, asking why they were afraid, since he was a person of flesh and bone, carrying the marks of the crucifixion. Thirdly, he ate something. These three things demonstrate that Jesus was recognisably human, recognisably the same person but not exactly the same in all respects.
This was plainly not a resuscitation: he had come through death rather than back from it.
Finally he gave them the gift of understanding, and the commission to take the message of salvation to all nations, and he emphasised that they were witnesses to what had happened.
Here there are links to the second reading from Luke’s two-volume work. In the very place where Jesus had been teaching a couple of months earlier the apostles strongly asserted that Jesus had been raised from the dead and that they were witnesses to the fact.
Luke does not seem to claim that he understands what the resurrection is, only that, whatever it is, it happened, and that it became the centre of the preaching of the early church. This, and the gift of the Spirit, changes the way that the disciples lived. Acts gives us the way the early followers of Christ began to change the world.
In the epistle John writes:
Beloved we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
He follows with ethical and, if you like, lifestyle implications of this life that is given through Christ. Here again is a statement that there is a certain incomprehension of the full consequences.
Our view of all this is, of course, coloured by what we think Luke was doing as he wrote his books, so here is a bit of personal stuff.
I am trying to work my way through a book, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, by Colin J Hemer. In it he shows that Luke has the settings right, the timing right for the settings, and the geography right for the travels. He also admits when it is not possible to know. I have to admit that there is possibly a bias in my judgement of this rather heavy book: Colin and I became friends when we were research students, at the same time but in different faculties, in the University of Manchester. I learned to have respect for his attention to detail, his respect for knowledge, and his ability to admit when he did not know. As I work through Colin’s book I find that I am gaining the same sort of respect for Luke.