The word of the day is “words.” What is the main thing? Often what is most important gets lost in the swirl of events that are less significant. Today in our reading of Acts 5:12-20, we find that “many signs and wonders” are taking place as the believers meet in the temple (Acts 5:12). Yet, what was the point? Luke, the writer of Acts, records that the angel instructed the apostles about the main thing when he released them from prison. The angel said, “Go, stand in the temple, and speak to the people all the words of this life” (OSB 5:20). The important thing was not the spectacular miracles taking place and not even the healings of the sick and demon-possessed. It was the proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection that brings life.
The Signs Were To Empower Preaching
Solomon’s Porch in the Temple was the scene of a great deal of commotion. Imagine the multitudes bringing their sick on beds and cots, trying desperately to get close enough so that even Peter’s shadow would fall on their loved ones. It was a scene like that of the crowds that Jesus attracted, a throng so large and packed together that a paralytic had be lowered to him through the roof (Mark 2:4).
Luke records that “all were healed” (OSB 5:16). However, these signs were not the purpose of the healing of the multitudes that came from the cities and towns surrounding Jerusalem (OSB 5:16). The miracles were to empower the apostles in their preaching (OSB fn. 5:19-21).
Speaking the Word with Boldness
Indeed, after the religious authorities had ordered the apostle not to teach the Name of Jesus, the believers gathered for prayer. Yes, they prayed that signs and wonders would be done in the name of Jesus” (OSB Acts 4:29-30). But the core of their prayer was that they might speak the Word “with all boldness” (OSB 4:29). Immediately the Spirit answered that prayer and they received renewed courage to proclaim the Gospel. Again, The Orthodox Study Bible comments note that the signs and wonders (vs. 30) are requested [in prayer] not as ends in themselves but performed in order to give boldness to the preachers and to confirm the word they speak (vs. 29) (OSB fn. Act 4:24-30).
The central and all-important mission of the Church is the sharing of the New Life of Christ through its worship, its preaching and teaching, and its ministries. When many stopped following Jesus, He asked the remaining disciples whether they too wanted to leave Him. Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?” (John 6:68). What is more important than our union with Christ who shares with us the everlasting life of the Holy Trinity? The Church may minister to the sick, give aid to the poor, seek justice for the oppressed, console the grieving, and support the cause of goodness and peace. But the essential source of its life is Christ Himself.
Fr. John Jillions, Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America, commented on the journals of Fr. Alexander Schmemann: “What does emerge from Schmemann’s journals is a single test to judge all church life: faithfulness to Christ. Is this or that dimension of church activity—its parishes, dioceses, monasteries, seminaries, jurisdictions, patriarchates, missions, boards, departments, commissions, and institutions—making Christ known, as He is encountered in the catholic fullness of the Orthodox faith? If not, it has lost its prophetic voice and is bound by the shell of tradition” (my emphasis) (Jillions 2018).
Everything Else Is Not an End in Itself
What is the main point among all the offices, activities, programs, and ministries of the Church and its parishes? Are these ends in themselves or undertakings that both nurture and express our faith in the Lord, who is the Word of eternal life?
This question is worth our reflection in this Paschal season when our worship reflects so clearly and brightly the Gospel of Christ, Crucified and Risen from the dead.
Jillions, John. 2018. “Thicket of Idols”: Alexander Schmemann’s Critique of Orthodoxy Orthodox Christian Laity.