We need to form the community of life

Published 1:13 am Saturday, April 30, 2016

By the Rev. Cindy Howard

A number of Christian traditions (including my own Episcopal tradition) don’t celebrate the resurrection of Christ as a single day on Easter Sunday. Instead, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ as a season that extends for fifty days from Easter Day until the Day of Pentecost. During this time, we continue to sing Easter hymns and begin each worship service with the acclamation “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

During the Easter season, we read portions of the Acts of the Apostles each Sunday during our worship. This seems completely appropriate; because this book, written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke, tells the stories of the early Christian community in the time immediately following the resurrection of Christ.

The Acts of the Apostles could well be called the scrapbook of the early church. While it doesn’t give us the entire story of those early days in every detail, it does tell the stories that the church decided should be remembered about its earliest days; so that the church in later days could remember saints long gone and the work of the Holy Spirit shaping the earliest community of the risen Christ.

I am amazed by those whose stories are told in this book, because frankly I don’t think they are the kind of people we might expect to be there.

In the Acts of the Apostles scrapbook we find a scholarly Jew who hated the early church so much he zealously persecuted it. He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen the deacon, and scripture says that he “approved of their killing (Stephen).” He dragged followers of Christ – men and women – out of their houses and threw them in prison. This man’s name was Saul; we now know him better as Paul.

We can also find an Ethiopian eunuch, someone who would have been ritually unclean according to Jewish law and tradition. But, we see a Jewish man named Philip climb up into the eunuch’s chariot, sit right next to him, and interpret the scriptures to him. And, then Philip baptized the eunuch after telling him about the risen Christ.

There is a woman named Dorcas who was called a disciple, a word reserved every other time in the Christian scriptures for men. Dorcas was devoted to good works and acts of charity, especially to widows who were among the most vulnerable people in society at that time.

There is a man there was unschooled, a fisherman by trade. And, even though he had been a follower of Jesus, he denied that he even knew him when Jesus was on trial. He was named Peter, and he was a good Jew who baptized a Gentile, Roman soldier named Cornelius and brought him into the early Christian community.

A persecutor of the early church, a ritually unclean African eunuch, a woman from a time and culture when women were no more than property, an uneducated fisherman whose faith had failed and faltered, a Gentile who was a part of the army that occupied the land of the Jews and executed Jesus on a cross.

To be honest, the people whose stories we read in the Acts of the Apostles scrapbook don’t seem like the most likely group of people on which to build a church. They certainly weren’t people who we might think could or would change the world. But, no doubt this group of saints long gone remind us that the Holy Spirit can use us all in powerful and surprising ways to form the community of new life called the church and to show the world that the love seen on Easter morning can indeed change the world.


– The Rev. Cindy Howard is the rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.