The Acts of the Apostles, read in the Easter season, is not about what each of the twelve apostles did, but about the growth of the church. It sketches the church’s growth from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth– Rome. Once in Rome, the author of Acts believes, you’re everywhere, which is where Jesus wants his church to be.
Acts uses two eyewitnesses–the apostles Peter and Paul–to chart the church’s passage to a worldwide position.
There’s an interesting interaction between the eyewitnesses to the resurrection and “the community of believers” in Acts. Those who have seen the Risen Christ bring news of him to others who do not believe in him, but also to a community of believers, the church.
Eyewitnesses and the community of believers belong together, like vital parts of a living body.
The first chapter of Acts offers an example of their interaction. Peter proposes to the crowd of early believers (about one hundred and twenty of them, Acts says) that someone take Judas’ place among the eyewitnesses. On their part, the community propose two candidates; they pray; lots are cast and Matthias is chosen. (Acts 1,12-26)
Clearly, the community is involved in the growth of the church. They’re not passive listeners to the eyewitnesses’ message. They participate in their work, they rejoice in it, they offer their own witness and experience. Hardly a passive flock.
Another example of their interaction is the story of the release of Peter and John from the custody of the Jerusalem authorities. (Acts 4,23-31) “After their release Peter and John went back to their own people and reported what the chief priests and elders had told them. And when they heard it, they raised their voices to God with one accord” and ratified the activity of these two apostles with extensive praise.
It ‘s more than just backing them up. The apostles can’t function without “the community of believers.” Neither can sacraments.
I thought of the power of ordinary believers after reading an article by Bono, the lead singer for the band U2. in last Sunday’s New York Times. He describes his Easter experience in a simple church in the Islands. “It’s a transcendent moment for me — a rebirth I always seem to need.” He was part of an Easter celebration, in an ordinary community of believers, and it spoke to his soul.
We need to belong to a community of believers.