Acts 2:14a, 22-32
I Peter 1:3-9
St. John 20:19-31
|El Greco - Saint Luke|
The first reading through all of Eastertide is from the Book of Acts. I thought a bit of background might be helpful. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, and as such describes two great missions: 1. The Mission in Palestine, and 2. The Greater Mission to all the Earth. The author, surmised to be Luke of Antioch, was a some-time companion of Paul, and as such he pictures the Pauline mission (or at least a part of it) from the viewpoint of a companion, but also that of an “outsider”, not a part of the Pauline entourage. His devices are effective. First he positions Peter in a series of acts that recall the ministry of Jesus. Having established Peter as primus he then affords Paul the same opportunity. The stage then is Paul’s. The other device is a series of discourses both by Peter and Paul that announce the early Christian kerygma (preaching). In this manner, Luke serves neither as historian, nor as apologist, but rather as an observer and reporter. He also documents the quickly changing worldview of the nascent church as it deals with what were formerly “outsiders” and “gentiles”. Especially helpful in this regard is Ivoni Richter Reimer’s Women in the Acts of the Apostles, in which the role of women, and Luke’s reporting are looked at from a feminist perspective.
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know-- this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
`I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'
"Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
`He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.'
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses."
|Fra Angelico - Peter Preaching|
This is the first of several missionary discourses in the book of Acts, this one called the Pentecost Discourse. We should not read this as reportage on the part of Luke, offering us the words of Peter, but rather the words of Luke, put into the mouth of Peter, and offering a glimpse of the ancient tradition, and an ample illustration of the early Christian kerygma or proclamation. Luke will have Peter quote many sources from the Hebrew Scriptures, among them Joel, and here Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 132:11 and later Psalm 110. There are several parallels, for it is God who both seats David as king, and raises Jesus. The formula of Luke’s writing encompasses a resurrection statement followed by a witness, “and of that all of us are witnesses.” In such a way Luke binds the old prophecies to the present faith of the church.
Breaking open Acts:
- Describe the audience to which Peter is preaching
- Why is it important for Peter to attach Jesus to the tradition of David?
- What are the essential points of the apostle’s kerygma or proclamation?
Psalm 16 Conserva me, Domine
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
I have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord,
my good above all other."
All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.
But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.
Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
O LORD, YOU are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.
My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.
I have set the LORD always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
|Fra Angelico - The Conversion of Saint Augustine|
This is a very unusual and unique psalm. In the text it is called a michtam, an unknown phrase, although the Septuagint labels it as a psalm inscribed on stone. What the psalm does speak about is a conversion, although the BCP translation does not make that apparent to the reader. Robert Alter translates verses 3 and 4 as:
“As to holy ones in the land and the mighty who were my desire.
let their desires abound – another did they betroth.
I will not pour their libations of blood,
I will not bear their names on my lips”
The phrase “holy ones” most likely refers to other gods, probably gods of the neighboring Canaanites. “Another did they betroth”, may indicate some kind of covenant with another god. From verse 5 on, the intention is clear. The psalmist is casting his lot with the Lord, and his relationship with YHWH is described as a “pleasant land.” The remainder of the psalm associates the emotions of conversion with various seats of self-awareness in the body. “My heart teaches me night after night” actually uses the word for “kidney” (conscience). The following verses speak of other seats: the heart, “my pulse beats with joy” may have actually used the word for “liver.” The psalm preaches the joy of God’s presence, and the rightness of living under God’s care.
Breaking open Psalm 16:
1. Have you been a Christian all of your life?
2. When did you convert, or when did you publicly confess your faith?
3. What did it feel like to confess your faith in God?
I Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
|El Greco - Saint Peter|
Modern commentators advance several arguments against the Petrine authorship of this letter. Their arguments tend toward the excellence of the Greek (Peter did not speak Greek), the Pauline phraseology, and the quotations from the Septuagint. However, I Peter 5:12 comments on the “help of Silvanus,” a companion of Paul. Perhaps it is he who phrased the book as he took dictation from Peter. The main focus of the letter is Baptism, and here the author argues that Baptism is not just initiation, but regeneration as well. From this vantage point, the author sets out a pattern of Christian behavior that flows from Baptism’s granting of new life. In this reading, the author also wrestles with the fact that his readers have not witnessed either the resurrection or Jesus. Their primary experience is faith, and from that faith flows salvation and life itself.
and celebrate the Eucharist’s institution.
Breaking open I Peter:
- How important is it to you for a witness to be an eye witness
- Who was a witness to the resurrection for you?
- What aspect does suffering share with your faith?
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.
|Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas|
The usual attention in this Gospel is shown toward the Thomas story, but there is much that precedes it, and much to be learned from it. What is clear is that in John, the Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost events are all the product of one day, Easter Day. It is the mysteries that are important here, not the chronology. The glorified (and by implication) ascended Christ instructs the disciples on mission, and anoints them with the Spirit (“he breathed on them”). Life in the Spirit involves the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness that is demonstrated to others as well.
The “Thomas Story” then follows this important event, but one week later. It would seem that when this Gospel had been written, Sunday had become the day of worship for Christians. In several other respects, this story incorporates the realities of a later time. It wrestles with the experience of many who did not witness the resurrection, but who relied on the witness of others. John wants to demonstrate that believing can come from this witness, that anyone could through the apostolic proclamation come to believe that Jesus was Lord and God. Unlike Mary Magdalene, who was forbidden by Jesus from being touched by her, Jesus bids Thomas to touch, to experience, and to drink deeply of the experience. In this way John wraps up his telling of the Gospel (the following chapter is most likely a later appendix). Thomas becomes the model for all those who would experience Jesus at a distance, and who would yet come to believe.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What is the importance of the ministry that Jesus imparts to the disciples in the first part of this reading?
- How does the Spirit work with such a ministry?
- How are you like Thomas? How are you not alike?
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.