The Second Sunday of Easter - 7 April 2013

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

Background:  The Easter Cycle
Divided into two major segments, the Festival Half, and Ordinary Time, the Church Year has now reached the mid-point of the Paschal Cycle in the Festival Half of the year.  Eastertide extends from the Great Vigil of Easter to Pentecost, some fifty days later.  Eastertide is constructed as a “Great Lord’s Day” with each of seven Sundays named as a “Sunday of Easter”.  The initial feast and the concluding feast correspond to Jewish counterparts: Easter and Passover, and Pentecost and the Feast of Weeks, which commemorated the giving of the Law.  During this period of time there are other festivals, such as the Rogation Days (either a major Rogation on 25 April, or minor Rogations on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding the Ascension of Our Lord) and indeed the Ascension of Our Lord, which is celebrated on the Thursday (Forty Days) following the Sixth Sunday of Easter. 

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."

This reading is from the so-called “Second Persecution” in which the apostles face the questions and judgment of the Council.  The reading illustrates what Luke saw as the divine imperative to spread the Good News, and in his rendering of Peter’s discourse models for us the outline of the Apostolic Kerygma (proclamation).  The demand of the Council is met with the determination of the apostles to continue to “fill Jerusalem” (for Luke, the center of the apostolic mission) with the proclamation of the Good News.  Luke quotes from Deuteronomy 21:22, and notes in Peter’s speech that they (the Council) “hung him on a tree.”  Paul uses this same reference but goes one verse further to heighten the humiliation that Jesus endured in hanging on the cross.  Luke has Peter focus on the guilt of the Council as he forms his creed-like answer to their question and demand.  Thus the sequence is: Jesus raised up by God, you raised him up on a tree and killed him, and God exalted him.  From this formula come the words of Good News, Repentance and Forgiveness.  Luke also appropriates a political term and applies it to Jesus: Soter (Savior).  With hints of the kingdom (Soter was a term applied to emperors and kings) Jesus now rules over a realm of reconciliation and the Spirit.  Peter ends his speech noting the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Breaking open Acts:
  1. In what ways does our society discourage us from telling the Good News?
  2. How do you overcome that obstacle?
  3. What is your proclamation about Jesus?

Psalm 118:14-29 Confitemini Domino

The LORD is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.

There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:

"The right hand of the LORD has triumphed! *
the right hand of the LORD is exalted!
the right hand of the LORD has triumphed!"

I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the LORD.

The LORD has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.

Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the LORD.

"This is the gate of the LORD; *
he who is righteous may enter."

I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the LORD'S doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

On this day the LORD has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Hosannah, LORD, hosannah! *
LORD, send us now success.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the LORD.

God is the LORD; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

"You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you."

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

This is a thanksgiving psalm that has a keen military context.  In these verses chosen for our responsorial psalm, the aspect might be a bit different.  Thus the scene pivots between notes of “justice” and “victory”, both appropriate for this Second Sunday of Easter.  The references in succeeding verses regarding the city gates indicate that the theme of justice can be seen there as well, for the city gates were the place of justice.  The Psalter’s notion that only the living can praise God is picked up in verse 17 “I shall not die but live and recount the deeds.” and serves as another appropriate Easter theme. The remaining verses have been sung on Palm Sunday, and have been commented on there.

Breaking open Psalm 118:
  1. How is Easter about justice?
  2. What is the victory in Easter?
  3. How have you personally been reconciled to God?


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.

As Easter is a celebration of Seven Sundays of Easter, so this psalm is the culmination of six psalms all centered on “Hallelujah” – or praise of God.  This particular psalm is sung accompanied by musical instruments, which gives us an idea of how temple worship must have sounded.  But it is the human breath, the ru’ah of the Spirit that animates us, that is the ground of such praise.  Fingers to pluck and bow, hands to grasp mighty cymbals, feet to move in the dance – these all combine to become a hymn of praise.  I like the German phrase from the Bach Motet and the Mendelsohn Symphony – Alles was Odem hat, lobe den Herrn.

Breaking open Psalm 150
1.     What is your favorite musical instrument?
2.     How does it “lift you up?”
3.     What does this saying mean, “Whoever sings, prays twice”?

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.

A Canon of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City (whose name I have now forgotten) once told a friend that these readings, from the Book of Revelation” need to be “screamed from the ambo.”  In doing so, the readings themselves are separated from human speech and morphed into a divine revelation.  (We actually did this, one Eastertide, accompanied with tympani and other drums – it was quite effective.)

Here the Divine greets us and provides an introduction to the “letters” to the seven churches.  The tone of awe and magnificence is set immediately with the “seven spirits”, the throne, and Jesus the Christ, himself.  The words, “Grace to you and peace…” are the usual indications of an epistle, but that is not so here.  We will witness in subsequent sections “letters to the “seven churches that are in Asia”, but not in the lectionary for the Sundays of Easter.  Here we are introduced to the glory, and the completeness of God’s mighty act in Christ Jesus.  Scenes that take us back, deep into salvation history, and then to a future seen in the guise of the Divine’s present time, are indeed the alpha and omega, in a sense a composite of what has been and yet will be.  The hearer sitting in a modern church will want to understand and hear it all.  Here we realize that this is not possible, we can only glimpse a part of the glory.  The completeness belongs to Christ.

Breaking open Revelation:
  1. Does the Word of God ever appear “majestic” to you?
  2. When you hear the word “glory”, what comes to mind?
  3. What do you think is the purpose of the Book of Revelation?

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.

The Gospels for these Sundays of Easter begin with a series of resurrection appearances from John, but deeper in the season, we see Jesus as the teacher, who takes from resurrection back into the daily business of life and living.  This particular pericope (which according to some commentators was intended by John to be the culmination of his Gospel) always captures the hearers’ imaginations with the story of Thomas, missing the beauty of the first paragraph.  It is the sending passage, making them apostles.  They are recreated for this task, “he breathed on them – receive the Holy Spirit.”  What follows is an order of the new creation, the business of discernment, judgment, and hopefully forgiveness.  Any parish priest should spend some time in meditation over these verses.

What is interesting about the Thomas verses is that Thomas seems to be the reverse of St. Mary Magdalene.  He isn’t convinced, and where Mary’s belief and joy is met with nolo me tangere (do not touch me), Thomas is invited to touch the risen Lord.  It is also Thomas who completes a progression of faith statements made by witnesses of the Resurrection – “My Lord and my God!”  This is quite a turn-around, and represents I think the tension of any believer confronted by this outrageous event.  This brings us back to the task outlined in the initial verses.  This stunning event needs to be at the center of what “the Twelve” proclaim, teach and do, in their forgiveness of the sinner or in their confrontation of the sin.  The concluding verse is not so much a command “have life” as a realization that we already have life in his name.

Breaking open Revelation:
  1. How is Confession and Forgiveness practiced in your parish church?
  2. Do you ever avail yourself of it?
  3. If not, why not?

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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