During this Easter season, one thing I marvel about is the first Christians. Before they were called Christians, they followed what was known as The Way (Acts 9:2).
The first reading during this time between Easter and Pentecost is generally taken from the the New Testament, mostly from the Acts of the Apostles which illustrate for us the first bloom of the Church. I feel so blessed that we have over 2,000 years of history, reflection and interpretation to help us understand just a bit of what Easter is all about: the Eucharist, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Even as a cradle-Catholic, I often feel overwhelmed pondering this. In Acts, Peter reminds the crowd of their participation in the death of Jesus (Acts 2:22-24; 3:12-26). What must have it been like to hear those words from Peter and know that you were one who watched or shouted out, “Crucify Him”? Perhaps because most of the apostles and disciples “ran away” from Jesus during the time of the crucifixion, they could minister to those who participated in calling for His death. Maybe seeing the conviction and zealousness of the apostles moved the people to accept God’s mercy. Maybe seeing what God’s mercy had brought about in the apostles helped them to be baptized and follow the way of Christ.
One of the repeating themes in Acts is the persecution the disciples suffered for preaching about Jesus as the Christ. Time and again they meet with individuals who try to stop them. The apostles’ response, though, is much different than most would expect: they delight in the suffering (Acts 5:41). How can anyone delight in being taunted, beaten and killed for Jesus? And yet, from the beginning it was so. Sadly, the persecution continues into our own time. While, we may not face death in America, how many times do Christians suffer persecution in the way of bad jokes, put-downs and being called foolish for their beliefs?
What did those first converts see in The Way? Risking life as they knew it, they found something much more beautiful that was worth the sacrifice. I may not know what convinced them to follow Jesus’ teachings, but I appreciate their convictions, sufferings and triumphs as fellow brothers and sisters in the family of Jesus Christ. Where would we be without the witness of those who knew Jesus and received his teaching directly?