Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
We continue with a reading from Acts rather than an Old Testament reading during the season of Easter. This week we are in Acts 2:42-47. A little context for this passage is helpful. Who are “they”? The people we are reading about are the three thousand or so people who were converted as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit earlier in Acts 2. This is a large number of people. How does it compare with the population of the city? That’s very hard to answer. Estimates for the overall population of Jerusalem in the middle of the first century range anywhere from 10,000 to a little over a million. Josephus puts it about 600,000 after the death of over a million in the seige of Jerusalem prior to 70. It’s anybody’s guess how significant these 3000 Christians are in the overall population. We simply don’t know.
What we do know is that any time a few thousand people start doing something in a city it is going to be noticed, at least by others in the vicinity. News will spread fairly rapidly. That’s what we see here.
The Christians aren’t being very counter-cultural. They are gthering for teaching, for time together, they are praying together. This is not unusual, especially when compared with devout Jews of their time. What is unusual is the reference to “breaking bread.” While in many cultures and times, that is a euphemism for “eating a meal” in the New Testament, after the resurrection, it always seems to refer to the celebration of communion. This is also the pattern in the earliest of the Church Fathers. The celebration of communion does set the Christians aside from their community. However, notice it is private in nature. They are aware of who the communicants are and what people are not communicants. For several centuries, when the Church would gather on the first day of the week for communion, after the service of the Word, those who were not communicants would be dismissed and then the body would continue with communion.
Another counter-cultural aspect of the early Christian life appears in verses 43-45. The apostles were doing miracles. We aren’t told what kind of miracles here. Other examples in Acts would suggest healings and casting out demons. Whatever the apostles were doing, it was gathering attention. The Christians were sharing their things freely. If someone was in need, that need would be met. In Jewish custom, this would have gone through the priesthood and the temple. But here we see the Christians setting up their own, independent benevolences.
The early Christians were full of joy and gladness. We would do well to recapture that joy. It endeared the Church to the community. The people who trust that Jesus has cared for all their sin and guilt and will deliver them to eternal life should have every reason to be in good spirits. In our day and age, this in itself is counter-cultural. Can we find this sort of life? Yes, it can still be done, by God’s grace.
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