‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men will see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.’
(Acts 2.17-18) A reflection by Imogen Nay
We follow the story of Acts in the Easter Season and with the first Sunday after Easter we begin with Peter’s address to the crowd. It has intrigued me to find however that the verses shown above have been sidestepped in the lectionary; on Monday of Easter week and today the same readings from Acts are given: Acts 2.14a, 22-32 and on both days Acts 2.14b-21 is missed out.
It may be that these verses are read in different lectionary years; however, it seems significant that they are deliberately not included. Reading with a hermeneutic of suspicion I can’t help but wonder: is it because there is the prediction of radical inclusiveness in the Kindom (sic) of God for the post-resurrection community of believers?
I couldn’t help but wonder if the selectors felt: Is it better not to read this passage regularly as a Christian community? Is it more convenient to turn away from the resurrection witness of Mary Magdalen in John’s Gospel and move into the circle of male discipleship authorized to declare the good news? Is it better to forget the devotion of women to Jesus during his worst hours? Is it better to control the radical nature of the gift of the Spirit?
During Holy Week Bishop Victoria Matthews was the visiting preacher at Westcott House Seminary, Cambridge, UK. At the Good Friday addresses she explained the significance of the tearing of the temple curtain as Jesus breathed his last and cried out. The temple curtain marked the entrance to the Holy of Holies into which the High Priest only could enter once a year to offer sacrifices to God. A hierarchy of access to the sacred space was employed, with gentiles furthest away and then Jewish women, followed by Jewish men and the priests. The tearing of the curtain reveals how Jesus has destroyed the regular division between humankind and God and the need for a hierarchy of access to the sacred. Jesus invites all to reach the Father through him: all are equal.
In ‘the last days’ as the Spirit is poured out upon the people and we follow the story of that through Acts and into our own lives we do well to remember the radical nature of Christ’s salvation promise. Jesus humbled himself, utterly, coming into the world, washing his disciple’s feet, showing us the way of love even to the Cross and revealing the new commandment to love one another. He closes the gap between heaven and earth, having broken into the economy as love, as the divine. It is very hard to believe. The story of doubting Thomas in the lectionary today from John’s Gospel is a necessary reminder of the task of faith and of the extraordinary nature of what we believe. It is easy to doubt. It is easy to doubt what salvation means in Christ and it is easy to doubt that all are included. As humans we want to monitor, guard and control access to the divine. We want to say who is allowed and who isn’t allowed access to the sacred mysteries.
Training for the priesthood in the Church of England in which women are still barred from the Episcopate there is a definite punch to this reading. As communities of believers it seems that we still doubt the resurrection of Christ and the implication of that resurrection. We prefer to select and read with our own prejudices, and of course I am no exception. To have the honesty to read with the eyes of Christ and to act with the mind of Christ demands great faith; we all no doubt would prefer Christ to come among us and show us his wounds so we could prod and poke them and have definite proof of his resurrection. With John we can truly assent to Jesus’ saying: ‘Blessed are those that have not seen but have come to believe’ (John 20.29).
But let us rejoice in the Sunday after Easter in the promises of Christ and of the last days. We can confidently expect our ‘sons and daughters to prophesy’ and that the Spirit will be poured out upon those who have low status in society ‘both men and women’. Christ disrupts our categories of status and authority, freely bestowing all manner of gifts upon those whom society least expects to be blessed. PRAISE BE TO GOD.