And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The community that emerged in Jerusalem after Peter’s preaching on Pentecost was remarkable for its shared life. The impact of their newfound faith in the risen Christ was immediate, life-changing and noticed by all. But one of the most striking features of their success, if we can call it that, is that it was built around the simplest building blocks: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Listening to the Scriptures and to inspired teaching, liturgical life (the prayers) fellowship with each other in the full breadth of what that can mean, crowned by communion in the Body and Blood of Christ (the “breaking of bread” was a technical term for the Eucharist.) All of this remains the foundation for thriving church life today.
It is often said that the picture here of the early Christian commune is an exaggerated, idealized, romanticized image that never really existed. But maybe this image is dismissed because it’s such a frighteningly demanding example, especially in our individualistic society. Lest we think that such rich communal life was always viewed as out of reach, it is worth recalling that St Basil in the fourth century took the Acts community as his practical model for monastic life. He was critical of solitary monasticism (“whose feet will you wash?”) and set down instructions for community living aimed at cultivating the life in Christ demonstrated in the first Jerusalem church.