SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
7 April 2013
We begin today a series of eight readings from the earliest history of the church, the Acts of the Apostles. Not history in the modern sense, it is more like the story of the advancements of the Holy Spirit. From as early as the second century, the authorship has been attributed to Luke, the evangelist. Although no certain proof has been found, the vast majority of Biblical scholars have agreed. No doubt Luke had intended his gospel and history of the church to appear together, two volumes of one work, but some ancient editor separated them. Although the Church relegates Acts to a position inferior to the gospels, some of its scenes are of primary importance to our religion, especially the assumption of Christ, and the Pentecost. There is much speculation, but no definitive explanation of why late in Acts some passages switch from a third-person narrative to a first-person, the so-called “we passages” (16:1-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; 27:1 – 28:16).
We begin today with a series of readings from Revelation, a work written to encourage Christians to remain faithful under persecution and, as often was the case, torture.
Today scholars treat apocalyptical narratives as a literary genre. Revelation is the most fully developed, but others appear in Daniel, Joel, Amos, Zechariah, and the apocryphal books of Baruch and II Esdras. These poetic fictions envision the past as a series of eons or ages, beginning with a golden age and then getting worse and worse until the present time, an age so evil that God will bring to an end. Numerology and astrology give clues to the approach of the end. Fantastic beasts and elaborately figured angels play a part. As the world nears its end, there are earthquakes, crumbling mountains, blotted-out sun, and other “woes,” often shaped as allegories of historical disasters (the beast of ten horns and seven heads, for instance, represents Rome: 13:1). The woes are followed by a battle of the forces of good and evil in which Satan is defeated (in Revelation, the battle of Armageddon, 16:16, 19:17-21). Finally, there is a parousia, in which the “son of man” appears to judge the living and the risen dead. The damned are sent to Sheol, and the good are translated to a new life in a new aeon, a Kingdom of God.