Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Ongoing Life of Jesus in His Church

From Messiah's May 2011 newsletter

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Lent is over. The solemnity of Holy Week is past. The joy of Easter shines brightly. For seven weeks, we bask in the glory of the empty tomb during another Easter season until Pentecost. Actually, our entire Christian life is shaped by the fact of the resurrection of Christ. “Every Sunday is a little Easter,” goes the old adage. In fact, for the Christian, every day – not just Sunday – is a “little Easter.” We don’t ever need to stop basking in the glory of the empty tomb. St. Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 15:14, 17, 20)

There is a unique feature in the lectionary during the Easter season. The reading from the Old Testament is replaced by a reading from the book of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. This makes much sense. Easter is the time of fulfillment. All that was promised about Christ Jesus in the Old Testament was fulfilled in the Gospels. Following upon the accounts of the Gospels are St. Luke’s accounts of the life of the early Church in the book of Acts. Here, the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus was fresh in the hearts of the apostles. “All the possibilities of that event were being explored. The Spirit that breathed on the apostles was unfolding God’s intentions for his people even as they received his gifts. Challenges were met, problems were addressed, the wonder of life in Christ was being discovered. The life and growth of the apostolic church is opened up for us [in the book of Acts] so that we may immerse ourselves in the same life and growth of the church.” (from Proclaim, Series A, Part 2, p.178) The life and growth of the Church continues today. The Risen Jesus is among us with his Word and Spirit. He gives life and grows his Church through Word and Sacrament. In that sense, we are no different from the first Christians, even though culturally, technologically, and linguistically we are centuries apart.

At the end of the book of Acts, the author sort of leaves us hanging. It ends abruptly with Paul under house arrest in Rome. The last sentence of Acts says that Paul lived in Rome for two years “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Perhaps Luke meant to write “Acts Volume 2” someday (or “Volume 3” if we include Luke’s Gospel as “Volume 1” of his opus). On the other hand, the way Luke ends the book can be significant for us. Dr. Al Barry, in his book To the Ends of the Earth, explained it this way:

True, the last sentence does not tell us what happened after Paul’s two years under house arrest, but what difference does that make? Acts is not the story of Paul as much as it is the story of Jesus continuing to proclaim His Word through His Church … It is an open-ended account so the rest of His story – all the way down to us – can fit in. (A.L. Barry, To the Ends of the Earth, CPH 1997).

As you hear the readings from the Acts of the Apostles this Easter season, listen and see yourself fitting in to the story of Jesus and his ongoing work in and through his Church.

In Christ’s service and yours,
Pastor Onken

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