27 March 2016

The Second Sunday of Easter, 3 April 2016

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4-8
St. John 20:19-31

Background: Thomas

It is this Gospel reading that we most readily associate with Thomas, identifying or perhaps put off by his skepticism, and then startled by his confession, “my Lord and my God”. There are other quotations by Thomas that lead us to this portrait of him in the Gospel of John. The first is from a scene in John 11:16, where Jesus proposes going back to Judea, where there was an attempted stoning of Jesus. Thomas replies, “Let us go also, that we might die with him. Later in John 14:5, Jesus describes his own going to prepare a place for his followers.  Perplexed, Thomas replies, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” It appears that Thomas was one of the most honest of the disciples.

From here, the Thomas story diverges into two distinct possibilities. The first is the collection of Jesus sayings that are recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, introduced, as “these are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.” The traditions that surround this collection and the various names of the apostle are many and confused.

The second possibility is Thomas’ missionary work in India. The story is that Thomas sailed to India in 52 CE, and is to have done missionary work in the area of the Port of Muziris, Tamilakam. That there was a Jewish settlement there at the time, only adds to the interest of the story. There is an alternate tradition that Thomas was “the apostle to the Parthians. The connection to India, however, is a more firm tradition with quotations by St. Ephrem, and writings in The Acts of Thomas. The same Ephrem also writes that Thomas was killed in India, and that his remains were brought to Edessa by a merchant. There a great feast day is celebrated on 3 July, for “Thomas, who was pierced with a lance in India.”

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."

Already lines are being drawn. The Jewish authorities assume a level of authority over the disciples, and authority that they disregard. The followers of Jesus are still seen as Jews subject to the decisions of the Jerusalem hierarchs. Peter will not allow for this, and in his own stead is moving to the position of a leader of the movement. He defers to God. What follows from his apology, however, are the roots of a creed. The elements are all there – the killing, the three, the exaltation, and the witnessing along with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Something new is happening that will bring a point of decision and identification. The two groups will soon part from one another.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. Who would you summarize the Gospel?
  2. What did Peter leave out? Anything?
  3. Is Peter structuring this for decision?

Psalm 118:14-29 Confitemini Domino

14    The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
15    in the tents of the righteous:
16    "The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!"
17    I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.
18    The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
19    Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20    "This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter."
21    I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22    The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23    This is the Lord'S doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24    On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25    Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! *
Lord, send us now success.
26    Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27    God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.
28    "You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you."
29    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

We have been using the verses of this psalm over the last few holy days and Sundays. Each time we repeat certain sections, and each time we explore other areas of the psalm. Our selection today begins with the “voice of a glad song.”  The question that the psalm addresses is one that explores what we ought to do after God has acted in a demonstrable way. Here we see the true vocation of those who believe God and honor God – we are called to honor God with our praises. Thus the psalm fits well into the Easter season that our praises need to continue as we see what it is that God has done in the resurrection of Jesus. The believer’s vocation is twice repeated at the end of the psalm where we are bidden to acclaim God. Our translation is almost terse – “Give thanks to the Lord.”

Breaking open Psalm 118:
  1. What is your glad song?
  2. When do you sing it?
  3. What does it mean to you?


Psalm 150 Laudate Dominum

Praise God in his holy temple; *
praise him in the firmament of his power.
2      Praise him for his mighty acts; *
praise him for his excellent greatness.
3      Praise him with the blast of the ram's-horn; *
praise him with lyre and harp.
4      Praise him with timbrel and dance; *
praise him with strings and pipe.
5      Praise him with resounding cymbals; *
praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
6      Let everything that has breath *
praise the Lord. Hallelujah!

The Collection of Psalms is closed by six praise psalms, of which this is the final one. The kingdom of God is seen as a connection between the Temple and the heavens which overarch the earth. In this holy realm, our duty is to praise – a verb that is repeated some eleven times in the course of this brief psalm. The reason for praise is quickly and succinctly listed, “for his mighty acts,” and “for his excellent greatness.” What follows are the modalities and expressions of this praise; Ram’s horn, lyre, harp, dance, strings, cymbals, indeed breath life, the imprint of the Spirit’s gift, is foundational to the praise. I always think of Bach here – alles was Odem hat.

Breaking open Psalm 150:
  1. How do you praise God?
  2. What do you use to praise God?
  3. How do you share your praise with others?

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.

Here we have the salutation that invites us into the vision of Saint John the divine. And it is more than we who are invited by also the seven churches of Asia as well. Here John characterizes the Jesus whom they are to meet again in the visions of the Divine: Jesus as witness, the firstborn, and the ruler. All of these attributes will soon obtain for us as well, but in very different ways. What is being set up here is a counter-cultural understanding of Jesus’ ministry, and of what will follow from it in the life of the Roman world that surrounds the believers. In that context we are to be a people (kingdom) and priests that are to mediate this new world. It is a world of expectation and anticipation. The scope of Jesus’ suasion is contained in the phrase “I am the alpha and the omega” and the timelessness of his message and presence, “who is and who was and who is to come.”

Breaking open Revelation::
  1. How is the divine describing a new culture?
  2. What are the expectations of this passage?
  3. What does it mean to you that Jesus is “the Alpha and the Omega?”

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.

There are two pericopes here, The Appearance to the Disciples and the Gift of the Holy Spirit (19-23), and then the Appearance to Thomas and a Summary (24-31). John sees the gift of the Spirit as an immediate consequence of the resurrection, rather than as a later even as does Luke. Thus the elements of cross, tomb, resurrection, ascension, and the Spirit are inextricably tied together for the reader. There are elements of creation here as Jesus blesses the disciples with peace, and then “breathes on them.” What will follow will be heavy duties that involve the gifts of reconciliation and forgiveness in the world. The difficulty of this enterprise is quickly made evident in the second pericope where Thomas is not satisfied with the gifts but desires more convincing evidence. The physicality hinted at in the first pericope, “he showed them his hands and side,” soon becomes the literal touchstone for Thomas. Here the Spirit’s intervention is seen in Thomas’ confession, “my Lord and my God.” But not all witnessing will be that easy, at least in Jesus’ estimation. He recognizes that there will be similar demands on those who wished to believe. Blessed are those who do not need that, but the ministry is anointed to encounter a thousand Thomases.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What are your doubts?
  2. How do you deal with them?
  3. What do you firmly believe?

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 © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

18 March 2016

The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day, 27 March 2016

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
I Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43
St. Luke 24:1-12 or St. John 20:1-18

Background: Acts of the Apostles

This account of the ministry of Paul that moves out of Palestine into Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy, is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, and is believed to be by the same author. The date of its composition is thought to be around 85 CE, although others date it well into the next decade, and some see editing still being done in the second century. . In this account, we see how the ministry of Jesus becomes a movement that is not tied solely to Judaism, but becomes a force in the Gentile (Roman) world. Some see in the work an apology (an argument for) intended for the Jews who did not find the Jesus movement convincing. Thus Paul will make his initial attempts of mission work in the synagogues or the Diaspora. Others, outside of that purview will soon enter in as well, and in Acts we meet a stunning collection of individuals, especially women, who bring to life a new meaning of belief in God and in service to God. The work is based on classical models, narratives by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Josephus, both of whom begin their works with the birth of the founding character. What are the author’s sources for Luke-Acts? We can only guess, although the following resources seem to have been available to the author: the Septuagint, the Gospel of Mark, and the sayings Gospel “Q”. Other sources may have been eyewitness accounts and some of the Pauline and other Christian materials, namely I Peter, Hebrews, and I Clement. There are two versions of the text, the so-called Western text (6th Century) and the Alexandrian (4th Century). Scholars prefer the shorter Alexandrian text.

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

In this sermon that Peter preaches to Cornelius and his household, we begin to hear the Easter mystagogy and to recognize the elements of a creed. What also is clear is an on-going introduction to Luke’s agendum regarding the mission to the Gentiles, and the movement of the good news from Palestine to other parts of the Roman Empire. It is a Holy Spirit thing, evidenced in the words, “Peter began to speak” technical words that indicate the influence and blessing of the Holy Spirit. The initiation of the mission is God-directed, “God shows no partiality.” Luke indicates the flow of this inspiration from Judea, Galilee, and then to all the people. The core of belief is what Peter expresses here – an early form of the kerygma, or the apostolic proclamation. Peter, like John the Evangelist, talks about Jesus as the embodiment of God’s word and intention. Jesus, like those who will follow him as a result of the apostolic missions, will be anointed with the Holy Spirit. With that power at hand, Jesus goes about doing good, a goodness that was witnessed by the people. The final witness about God’s intentions and Jesus is Jesus’ being raised by God on the third day. This is the promise promoted by the prophets, and the realization of God’s forgiveness of all through Jesus’ name.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. How would you tell someone about the life of Jesus?
  2. What is the most important part?
  3. What led you to believe?


Isaiah 65:17-25

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord--
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Again, we have indications of God’s intentions for humankind. It is too bad that the initial verse of this pericope has been elided from the lectionary selection. Verse 16b gives us a context for what follows, “Because the former troubles are forgotten and have vanished from my eyes.” On the basis of our own expectation and God’s forgiveness we can begin to see the new thing that God promises in the initial verse of our reading. Again, like John the Evangelist, the creating word results in something entirely new. The temptation is to see this as apocalyptic, destruction and then renewal; but Isaiah wants us to see the renewal of creation. The result is immediate – rejoicing. Further results are seen in messianic signs and realities. Jerusalem rejoices and the wolf and the lamb eat together. Now is Jerusalem “my holy mountain” where things are renewed and known in a different way.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. Do you see resurrection in creation? How?
  2. Where do you see resurrection in your own life?
  3. How does Easter make you happy?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Confitemini Domino

     Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2      Let Israel now proclaim, *
"His mercy endures for ever."
14    The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
15    There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
16    "The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!"
17    I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.
18    The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
19    Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20    "This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter."
21    I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22    The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23    This is the Lord's doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24    On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

We visit this psalm again during this holy week. Again we acclaim the Lord and give thanks. Unlike its use on Palm Sunday, the reference that informs our reading of this psalm is the Easter victory, “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed.” It is no longer Egypt, but death itself that is conquered. We hear that in the 18th verse, “The Lord has punished me sorely, but he did not hand me over to death.” From that realization come a sense of entrance into something new, and an overwhelming feeling of thanksgiving and praise. Even things that have been rejected are renewed and used in places of honor.

Breaking open Psalm 118;
  1. What are your feelings about death?
  2. How has your faith changed or informed those feelings?
  3. How does this psalm fit into the Easter themes?

I Corinthians 15:19-26

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Reginald Fuller, in his book on the Resurrection Narratives, recognizes this pericope as the first of such narratives. Following sections on the body, and then the body as Christ (in the Body of Christ), Paul begins a section that examines the resurrected body. So he gives an account of those who were witnesses to the resurrection. In our pericope, however, he begins to make theology about what it means to live after the resurrection of Jesus. Of primary importance are having the hope and the faith that comes with Christ. It calls us beyond this life into a future with God. Jesus is the example, having been raised and serving as the first fruits of those who have died. Paul looks into the future and sees a causality that flows from God’s intervention into our lives and God’s destruction of death.

Breaking open I Corinthains
  1. What is the Easter hope?
  2. How has that hope changed you?
  3. What is your future like in Christ?

Acts 10:34-43
(See Above)

St. John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

This is the first of John’s resurrection appearance – that of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. Those that follow are to the Disciples, Thomas, and Seven Disciples in Galilee. The position of the Magdalene pericope gives us a clue as to her importance in the scheme of things. The women play important roles in all of the Gospels, but here we have a face-to-face encounter, the recognition of the voice, and Jesus’ stated intentions as to what would happen following his being raised. This is the fulfillment of what was promised, and may be indicated by the position of the angels at either end of the tomb, a reflection of the cherubim guarding the “mercy seat” of the Ark of the Covenant. All of that is passed – and Mary is witness to that. The significance of being a witness is that it carries a sense of duty as well. “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” This is the Easter duty. It is not enough to merely observe, one has to tell.

Breaking open the Gospel (John):
  1. What does Mary not see?
  2. How does Mary recognize?
  3. How do you know or recognize Jesus?


St. Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Here, as well, it is women who understand and who tell the story. There is terror, but it is followed by the command to “remember.” They do remember his words, and with that go to tell the eleven, “and all the rest.” Mary Magdalene along with others (see the alternate Gospel for this day) shares the honors of seeing and telling. They are the first before Peter enters the scene so that he too can both see and then be amazed (Luke’s code word for believing.) Now the question is, what shall we do?

Breaking open the Gospel (Luke):
  1. Why is it important in Luke to have women encounter the tomb?
  2. What is the angel’s message?
  3. What is their response?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or this

O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or this

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller