The Second Sunday of Easter, 11 April 2010

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
Saint John 20:19-31

We enter into a “week of Sundays” as the Easter feast continues.  Of special note in the lectionary is the first reading (normally from the Hebrew Scriptures) from the Acts of the Apostles.  In these readings we get a view of the ministry of Peter and then of Paul to the gentiles.  In these observations, we see the church emerge from the Easter faith.  Also of interest are the readings from Revelation, in which we see the Church reacting to the Roman world in which it finds itself.  It is important to remember that prophecy is not “future telling”, but rather God’s word for the here and now.  The author of Revelation has a lot to say about how to act in the realities of Roman domination and oppression – Good lessons for being an Easter Christian in this day and age.

Acts 5:27-32

When the temple police had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."

When we last left Peter in the Easter Sunday Gospel reading, he had entered the tomb, observed the burial linens lying about him, and then left.  There were no words from Peter, the words came from Mary Magdalene, who saw the risen Christ, and then once again went to the disciples to tell them the good news.  Now Peter cannot keep silent.  Here in front of those who had condemned Jesus and sentenced him to death, Peter and the disciples have to make a witness.  When asked by lesser persons in this same venue, Peter had denied his relationship with Jesus.  What will he do now?  Peter becomes the preacher.  (It is interesting that Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, has Peter and then Paul repeat many of the acts of Jesus).  Peter now becomes the preacher, the spokesman, and most importantly the witness of the resurrection. 

Breaking open Acts
1.  Who are the witnesses to the resurrection that Peter mentions?
2.  How is the Holy Spirit a witness?
3.  Have you ever been called upon to stand up for what you believe?
4.  How did you respond?

Psalm 150 Laudate dominum

Praise God in his holy temple; *
praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts; *
praise him for his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the blast of the ram's-horn; *
praise him with lyre and harp.

Praise him with timbrel and dance; *
praise him with strings and pipe.

Praise him with resounding cymbals; *
praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.

Let everything that has breath *
praise the LORD.

The last psalms in the Book of Psalms begin and end with the word “Hallelujah!” (that is, “Praise God!”).  In this particular psalm, the verb hallel is used 10 times, often in conjunction with the collection of instruments that must be representative of those used in the temple worship at the time this psalm was first composed.  We have wind instruments, strings, and percussion – all use to praise God.  In the last verse we have clues that this psalm must have been written in the exilic period, when the universalism of Jeremiah and the Isaiahs was beginning to enter into the liturgical and religious discourse of the time.  “Let all that has breath praise Yah,” perfectly summarizes this theology of inclusion.  The logical argument of the psalm is that the God of all the cosmos (“praise him in the vault of his power”) is also the God of all creation – that is nations, peoples, creatures, etc.  Bach closes his motet “Singet dem Herrn” (Sing to the Lord) with the final words of this psalm, “alles was Odem hat, lobet dem Herrn” (all that has breath, praise the Lord!)  A stunning Easter response.

Breaking open Psalm 150
1.     What are the “mighty acts of God” for you?
2.     Have you ever danced for God?  Have you ever gone to St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco?
3.     In your mind, who is excluded in the last verse of the psalm?

Revelation 1:4-8

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

In Revelation, St. John the Divine gives voice to the visions that he has of the “new heaven and the new earth”, the creation of the Lamb (the risen Christ).  Each of the readings during the Sundays of Easter will give voice to a new vision and understanding about the Easter Christ.  In this reading we realize that the book was intended for seven (the number here is important, not arbitrary, seven equaling the number of “perfection” and “completeness”.) churches in Asia Minor.  Her, the visionary relates the meaning and all that flows from the Easter story.  He sees Jesus as the first fruit of those raised from the dead, and sees the people as priests serving God.  Finally, there is the promise of a return, for Christ is the “Alpha and Omega”  (the “A” and the “Z”) of everything.  If, on Palm Sunday, we noted and celebrated that Christ “emptied himself”, then this Sunday celebrates the “fullness” of Christ.

Breaking open Revelation:
1.  Who are the “seven spirits” that are before the throne?
2.  How do you function as a priest in the “kingdom” that the divine mentions?
3.  Who all will see the second coming of Jesus?

Saint John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

In the Gospels, Mark ends his Gospel (and his Easter story) with “they were afraid”.  The others (Matthew, then Luke, then John) add ever more elaborate stories of Christ’s appearance to the disciples and others.  In this story, we have a visitation of Jesus to the disciples, their relaying that story to Thomas, and his initial doubts about the appearance and his final confession about Jesus.    In a way, this story represents the psychological reaction to the story of Jesus’ resurrection:  Disbelief, Questioning, Desire of Proof, and finally Confession.  It would be wrong to place on Thomas the onus of being the “doubter” for all have participated in his reaction.  Remember what Peter did (or actually did not do) at the tomb.  Doubting itself should not be cast in a negative light, for doubt causes us to question and to dig deeper.  John’s stories all explore the individual’s reaction to the radical message of a Risen Christ.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.  How do you deal with doubt?
2.  What kinds of proofs do you demand of Christianity?
3.  Are there things that you believe in “that you have not seen”?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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