The Third Sunday of Easter, 15 April 2018

Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
I John 3:1-7
St. Luke 24:36b-48

Background: Mystagogy

In the seventh and eighth chapters of the Gospel of John, we see the evangelist using an ancient, and a Jewish method of mystagogy, a means by which to understand the Christ. John uses the Feast of Tabernacles as a means to unravel the mysteries of the Christ. Mystagogy was a technique used by many religions to inculcate those who wished to understand or enter into a religion’s mysteries. Thus there would be a mystagogue or a hierophant to lead whomever was searching into understandings about the mysteries of the religion.

In the early Christian Church, this role was assigned to the bishop, so that catechumen might be properly prepared for Baptism, initiation into the Church. Thus, the idea of mystagogy in Christianity became closely connected with the Easter mystery, because the Great Vigil of Easter was one of several times that baptisms were celebrated. The early church fathers are a rich treasure trove of mystagogical homilies meant to educate catechumens on the sacramental mysteries and to lead them into their practice. If you are interested in this practice, there are several volumes by Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic authors on mystagogy and the catechumenate. I can also recommend Ezra Ham’s volume, John, the Mystagogic Gospel, Volumes I and II.[1] The growth of the catechumenate in recent years attests to its effectiveness in educating not only the young but anyone interested in learning the mysteries of Christianity. Easter is the ideal time to begin and work on this ministry. Deacon Ezra offers a different view of the Gospel of John, and gives us an effective tool for catechesis.

First Reading: Acts 3:12-19

Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

In the Acts of the Apostles, we will see a transformation, or really a projection, take place. First Peter and then Paul will take on the ministry and acts of Jesus. In this pericope, Peter heals, and then preaches, thus taking on what his master had led him to. The sermon follows his healing of the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate. The crowd is astonished and amazed at what they have seen and heard, Luke’s code words for faith and acceptance. What Peter gives in his sermon is a quick description of the life of Jesus, his connection to the traditions of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection. Like John the Baptist, Peter concludes with “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped awy.” Peter wants them to understand their connection to the ancient traditions, “You Israelites,” and their path to Jesus the Messiah. The healing becomes a sign not only of bodily redemption but of the possibility of spiritual regeneration as well.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. How are you a healer for others?
  2. How would you state the Christian message?
  3. How are you connected to ancient traditions?

Psalm 4 Cum invocarem

     Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; *
you set me free when I am hard-pressed;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2      "You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; *
how long will you worship dumb idols
and run after false gods?"
3      Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful; *
when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.
4      Tremble, then, and do not sin; *
speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.
5      Offer the appointed sacrifices *
and put your trust in the Lord.
6      Many are saying, "Oh, that we might see better times!" *
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.
7      You have put gladness in my heart, *
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.
8      I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

These are supplications by an individual who completely understands his status before God, for he has not only been defended by God but set free as well. His supplication is addressed not only to God, but to other hearers as well. To them he implores a return to the God of Israel, as he quotes God’s response. There is an implicit question in the course of this psalm, “What do I do in the face of God?” In verse four we two different states of being, “trebling” and “silence”. Between the two there is movement toward God. The author also hints at abundance, as “when grain and wine and oil increase.” Then in the abundance of God’s grace we can lie down in peace and dwell in safety.

Breaking open Psalm 4:
  1. Who are your enemies?
  2. Why are they enemies?
  3. How can you move beyond that?

Second Reading: I John 3:1-7

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

My father always wanted to have a youth group in his parish called tekna christou (children of Christ). In I John we learn that it is more than youth who are to be called by this name, but everyone. There is danger with such a designation, for the world might not recognize us for who we are, so closely identified with Jesus (whom the world doesn’t understand or know). These are passages of promise and hope for the fulfillment is not yet revealed. How then shall we act? The answer is that we should act in purity and in holiness of life. Jesus is not of sin, so we who follow him and are known by him are separated from sin as well. Christ becomes the model of life, and the behaviors of life.

Breaking open I John:
  1. Are you young or mature in your faith?
  2. Why?
  3. How can you achieve greater maturity?

The Gospel: St. Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

The silence and fear of Mark is developed by Matthew, Luke, and John into a variety of resurrection appearances. Here we have Luke’s version of what we heard last week from John, but absent Thomas, and the anointing with the Spirit. The themes are there, however. There is fear and terror, and here not of the Jews, but of the form of Jesus himself, for they “thought that they were seeing a ghost.” There is also the goodness of touch and of fleshiness – wounds are the evidence and eating and drinking complete the vision. The real theme however, is one of knowledge and understanding. Just as Jesus did to those who walked with him at Emmaus, Jesus opens the disciples’ minds to understand the import of the events they were in the midst of. Finally, as in John, there is a sending. Knowing Jesus, or rather witnessing Jesus then requires the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins – Easter mystagogy!

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How do you continue to understand Easter?
  2. How do you continue to know Jesus?
  3. What is your proclamation about Easter? About Jesus?

Question: What are the Easter Mysteries?

Possibility 1:   That there is the promise of Life
Possibility 2:   That there is a new kind of living
Possibility 3:   That people need to recognize this change in living

Program 1:      Learning about who we live our lives now.
Program 2:      Learning about what changes to life ought to be made.
Program 3:      Understanding our obligation to proclaim change of life.

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

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Ham, E. (2018), John, the Mystagogic Gospel, A Journey, Amazon Kindle Edition


Popular posts from this blog

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, 6 June 2021

The Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, 23 May 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent, 6 December 2020