The Second Sunday of Easter, 12 April 2015

Uploaded from United Airlines Flight 1101, 6 April 2015, San Francisco to Boston

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
I John 1:1-2:2
St. John 20:19-31

Background: Mystagogy
Ancient mystery religions had the capacity to initiate neophytes into the cultus by using the offices of a mystagogue. Early Christianity adopted these techniques as well by using catechists to take the newly baptized though the Easter “mysteries” and to discover in a deeper way the teachings of the Church. Lent has come down to us as a preparatory period that anticipates the baptisms at the Great Vigil of Easter, but what has been forgotten or neglected by many of the churches is that period of mystagogy that extends from Easter to Pentecost. The job of initiation is not completed with the Baptisms of Easter Eve, but only begun. In fact, the limit this ministry to the initiate seems to be short sided and lacking. Even those who have been through many a Triduum and Eastertide still need to be reminded of the tenants of an Easter faith. How will our preaching, reading, and devoting during this Eastertide immerse others and us into the Paschal Mystery? Think about it.

Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

This is a lesson that seems to be largely ignored by our society and culture. The Christianity that we hear preached on the television is on of prosperity and having, and very little about the ministry of sharing and giving up. The reading follows two things – the reality of Christ being raised, and all of us in connection with him being raised up as well, and the notion of the poor and hungry being raised up and cared for with a sense of hospitality and sharing as well. The difference here is that Like speaks here of the Eucharistic and Paschal community that forms the church through the power of the Spirit. In our parishes we will likely see a collection of individuals concerned about their individual welfare. Part of the mystagogy that ought to happen during this season is an introduction to the Easter Community, formed by the risen Christ, and taught by the power of his example. Easter is a risky business – as the woman at the tomb in Mark thoroughly understood. What shall we risk as an Easter people?

Breaking open Acts:
  1. In what ways do you think the apostolic church was radical?
  2. How does your parish practice a sense of hospitality and sharing?
  3. What might you risk to model such practices in your life?

Psalm 133 Ecce, quam bonum!

Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.

For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.

Just after beginning my stint at Saint Mark’s in Santa Clara, California, one of the Eucharistic Minister advised about the communion at St. Mark’s. “It’s all about abondanza,” she said. The tiny scraps of Eucharistic bread were not enough to enwrap this Eucharistic reality. This psalm has a similar nature - it is about abundance, and it seems to be in contrast to the directionality of the first reading, where not only Jesus is raised up but all the faithful, and (fulfilling Luke’s vision of the Gospel) the poor and needy as well. In the psalm, however, the direction is the opposite, the oil that flows down from the hair onto the beard, and then down unto the collar.  It does not stop there for the psalmist, who goes onto picture Mt. Hermon’s dew that comes down upon a parched and thirsty land. Those of us who live in California will find this a most compelling image. During this Eastertide in anticipation of the remembrance of the Spirit’s descent upon the apostles, we must realize that we live fully in the age of that same Spirit whose pouring out of graces engenders and enables a community of faith. It is there that the fruitfulness of God’s mission abides.

Breaking open Psalm 133:
  1. When do you feel community in your life?
  2. What does the imagery in this psalm evoke in you?
  3. Oil and dew, how are they related?

1 John 1:1-2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us-- we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Like the Gospel of John, this First Letter of John has a prologue. In the Gospel, Jesus is presented as the logos – the Word. Here in this epistle (whose author and recipient are unknown to us) there is an emphasis on the word as well. In this case, however, it is not Jesus, the Logos, but rather the word, which is spoken by the apostles and delivered to those who would know the Risen One. It seems clear that this comes out of a School of John, but is a reaction to the issues and discussion contemporary with the time it was written.

From the word we go to a comparison of light and darkness. The light does not represent what God is or how God appears, but rather what it is that God does. Those deeds are the forgiveness that comes through Jesus, and the fellowship that we have with God and with neighbor. The author is concerned about our failure – the easy ability to fall into sin. This is not a final condition, however, for Jesus is our advocate, speaking well of us to the Father. The Good News here is not just our forgiveness, but also that of the whole world. That is what God does.

Breaking open I John:
  1. Why does the author of I John stress the importance of the Word as the Gospel proclaimed?
  2. How do you see your belief as light or darkness?
  3. What is the darkness of your life?
  4. How Christ a light in your life?
St. 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.

This reading immediately follows last Sunday’s alternate Gospel, Jesus Appearance to Mary Magdalene. Now we are on to the other apostles, for it is clear from last Sunday’s Gospel, that Mary is counted in that number as well. There are two pericopes here, one )20:19-23) that sets the scene and describes and appearance to the disciples and the gift of the Spirit, and the second (20:24-31) where Jesus appears to Thomas, along with a summary of the Gospel.

In the Gospel of John, the gift of the Spirit is not a Pentecost, some 50 days later, but on Easter Evening. All of the elements are tied together in John from cross to the sending of the Spirit. The description of the scene is graphic – the fear of the Jews, the scarred hands and feet, and their emotions upon recognizing him. They are not met with an invitation to not be afraid, but rather with a greeting of “Peace”. What follows is mission, “so I send you,” accompanied by the breath of the Spirit that he pours upon them, along with the mission of forgiveness.

Thomas is not present at this event, and when it is reported to him, he finds it difficult to take in,
“Unless I see the mark…” . When Jesus does appear Thomas satiates his desire to see the evidence. He wants to touch and experience what others have taken by sight or faith. Thomas soon joins the number of believers with his exclamation, “my Lord, and my God.” Though directed at Thomas, Jesus rejoinder is actually directed at any reader, “how blessed are those.” John wants us to understand that there are many more signs (for which we need to search and experience) and that these are given so that we might believe. It’s invitation makes us want to reread the Gospel, searching for more.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How is Thomas’ doubt healthy?
  2. What power does Jesus bestow on the disciples?
  3. Is your confession of Jesus the same or different from Thomas’

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller


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