Have you noticed anything different about the first reading since the the start of the Easter season?
The usual Sunday pattern is Old Testament, psalm, New Testament, Gospel. At least, that’s how I grew up thinking of it.
Some years ago I came across some more formal descriptions of the liturgy that described the readings as taken from the Prophets, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels.
Which places a very interesting construction on the fact that during the season of Easter, our first readings are taken from the Acts of the Apostles!
Now, “Prophets” here doesn’t mean the same thing as nevi’im, the prophets of the Jewish Bible’s Law, Prophets, and Writings. Christianity traditionally interprets most of the Shared Scriptures, including the historical books, as “prophecy” that was fulfilled with the coming of Christ — that’s one of the reasons that the books of the Old Testament are in a different order than the books of the Tanakh.
We normally look at the Acts of the Apostles as something akin to a historical book (although as a theological document it is not the same genre as modern history). It’s the sequel to the gospel of Luke, and tells us about the early church community. This liturgical placement, though, suggests that we should in this season of Easter interpret it with an eye towards an inaugurated eschatology. We are living in the already and the not yet, and the stories of the ideal and intense living-out of the gospel that we hear in Acts should remind us of our calling as church to be the reign of God in the world. That is, we should listen to these stories not while looking backwards, with nostalgia, to the time of the infant church, but instead while looking forwards, with hope and faith, to the fulfillment of the church in the age to come.
The psalm reminds us: our strength and our courage is the LORD, and we too are called to be the stone that the builders rejected, that has/will become the cornerstone. Give thanks to the LORD, whose mercy endures forever!
I look forward to this gospel reading every year, ever since it dawned on me that, unlike most commentators who pejoratively call him “Doubting Thomas,” Jesus actually did not condemn or look down on Thomas for his lack of faith. We tend to hear Jesus’ saying “Blessed are those who have not seen but yet believe” as if it’s followed by a snarky postscript: Unlike you, Thomas! But look at what Jesus did: he offered his hands and his side. He said, Is this what you need, in order to believe? Then come: let me give you what you need. Jesus met Thomas where he was.
The sermon I heard this weekend reminded us that, back in chapter 10 of John’s gospel, when Jesus was inexplicably determined to go back to Jerusalem despite the danger, it was Thomas who had said to the others, “Well, let’s go die with him, then.” In chapter 14, Thomas misses the metaphorical point Jesus is making and objects, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going — how can we know the way?” Thomas is a very matter of fact kind of guy: he doesn’t necessarily understand the complex theology but he’s devoted to Jesus. And let’s face it, after what just happened on Friday in the full view of the whole city, would you have believed your buddies when you met up with them Sunday night and they told you they had seen Jesus? He probably sensibly concluded that they were out of their heads with grief.
This is why I consider Thomas to be the patron saint of skeptics and of scientists: he wasn’t willing to take their word for it, because he wasn’t willing to be fooled.
St. Thomas, pray for us!