For the season of Easter in Year A, the Elves have us studying First Peter, John, and Acts for six weeks. After the death of Jesus, the first question to be asked was, what happened to his followers? Once the idea of Jesus’s resurrection began to be known, the question became how did the new story fit into Jewish community and religious life? Within a few years, what became known as the Way of Jesus proclaimed by Jesus’s original followers began to develop its own communities, some still within the Jewish tradition, and others among gentiles and pagans.
21st Century scholarship is beginning to come to a consensus that Acts was created in the early 2nd century – perhaps as late as 150 C.E. Because whoever wrote Acts also wrote Luke, the impact of that timing on the interpretation of the content of Luke’s gospel is also being considered and debated by the Jesus Seminar scholars as they work to reconstruct the earliest Christian communities, from Galilee to Rome. Regardless of the timing, however, the point is that Acts is not history remembered. Like the gospels and the various letters included in the New Testament, Acts was created in response to a need for standardizing an emerging Christianity that was moving farther and farther away from Jewish religion and from Jesus’s original message.
Given that history and purpose, is there any point in pursuing the Bible study laid out for us between now and Pentecost other than to underscore traditional Christian belief and dogma? The time has come once again to revisit the Four Questions of the Apocalypse, which are the underlying questions of this Commentary, and provide a framework for reclaiming Jesus’s message for a post-modern, post-Christian, 21st Century:
1) What is the nature of God? Violent or non-violent?
2) What is the nature of Jesus’ message? Inclusive or exclusive?
3) What is faith? Literal belief, or commitment to the great work of justice-compassion?
4) What is deliverance? Salvation from hell, or liberation from injustice?
While keeping those questions in mind, the next six Sundays may be seen as an unfolding commitment to the work begun by Jesus for a developing Christianity, whether in the 1st or the 21st Century. The journey begins with Doubt, and progresses to a dawning Recognition, formation of Community, committed Faith, continuing Revelation, and Salvation.