5/3 Readings: An Ancient Church of Joy and Suffering

4 Easter

Acts 2:42-47
Ps. 23
I Pet. 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

In the first days of the church, a pattern was established that is largely observed to this day in liturgical churches such as our own Episcopal Church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breading of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

We continue the “apostles’ teaching” in the historic creeds and in all that the church has taught, confessed, and believed. The Nicene Creed and The Apostles’ Creed together are a summary of a vast and inexhaustible resource.

We continue the “fellowship” through active participation in the Church, each member being necessary to the others, and all united to the head, Jesus Christ.

We continue “the breaking of the bread” in a weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, a memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection which conveys his real and active presence.

We continue “the prayers,” the special privilege of the body of Christ, which prays together for the whole state of Christ’s Church and the world.

We do all this, ideally, with glad and generous hearts, and we have goodwill among the people, our members, and the wider community. We no longer “have all things in common,” as the first Christians did, but this common sharing of resources has never vanished completely from the church, as monks and nuns uphold this pattern. It also cannot be utterly ignored by the average church member, who is called to show, according to one’s ability, mercy and generosity toward those in need. Thus, our church has existed from the beginning. It has developed over the centuries, to be sure, but in fidelity to an ancient and biblical pattern.

The life of the Church is the life of Jesus Christ. It is joy and happiness and generosity and peace, all rooted in the risen Lord, the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers.

It is also a life of trial and suffering.

In Christ, we have “green pastures” and “still waters,” “right pathways” and “protection,” “comfort” and “a table of rich food,” “anointing” and “goodness,” “mercy,” and a “dwelling with God.” We have all this, but we have it while we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death”; we have it “in the presence of enemies,” both outside us and within us (Ps. 23). We are alive in Christ with a bone-deep joy, and yet we await our full redemption in fear and trembling and all the anguish we cannot avoid. Victory, however, is assured as we have “a shepherd and guardian of our souls” (I Pet. 2:25)

As sheep, we enter the sheepfold [the Church] through the door, and the door is Christ (John 10:7, 8). Christ is also the Good Shepherd who knows us each by name and who leads us out into the world where wolves are waiting. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, however, and so saves them. Gregory the Great offers this beautiful interpretation, “The sheep enter into faith, and go out from faith to vision, and from belief to contemplation, and find pasture in eternal refreshment” (Homily 14). Ultimately, the sheep are secure, saved in Christ, the “shepherd and guardian of our souls.” He watches over our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and forever.

We must endure to the end, but “with glad and generous hearts,” we go on in the power of the risen Lord.

Look It Up: The Collect – “where he leads.”

Think About It: Deep joys often lead to deep sorrow.


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