Reading Ramblings – April 21, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: April 21, 2013,
Third Sunday of Easter

Texts:
Acts 20:17-35; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Contextual
Notes:
Easter is not just a day, but a liturgical
season, just as Christmas is. The season of Easter lasts 50 days,
until Pentecost Sunday. The Old Testament readings for this season
are replaced with readings from Acts, representing the newness of
God’s work through the Church. The Gospel readings emphasize the
appearances of Jesus following his resurrection.

This week’s lessons focus us on
putting our own deaths in perspective. We can’t help but feel that
death is the ultimate devastation, and we have trouble imagining a
world without ourselves. Yet we are promised that death is not a
destination but a passageway, it is not the end of life but the
beginning of life. Our hope in this promise lies in the resurrection
of Jesus Christ, and therefore as we consider our own ends, we can do
so properly.

Acts 20:17-35: The
frankness of Paul is shocking here. Steeped in a culture that
demands that death be denied, ignored, and evaded at all costs,
Paul’s frank admission of his impending death and his determination
to remain faithful rather than seek to preserve his life is a bucket
of ice-cold water in our faces. What is life, if not the opportunity
to be faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit, to the God who
created, redeemed, and sanctified us? What is death compared to the
God who has demonstrated not just his intention but his ability to
pluck us from death itself? If the grave cannot hold us, why do we
allow life to hold us in chains?

Paul’s parting words to the church at
Ephesus are beautiful in their simplicity. They are the words of a
faithful servant recounting his faithfulness, discharging his final
duty to those who were in his care for a time but were truly always
in the care of the Holy Spirit, where they will remain after Paul
himself leaves them. What beautiful perspective on our roles in the
lives of others! May we be encouraged to be faithful witnesses to
the truth of Jesus Christ, giving no cause for offense, and willing
and able to leave those we love behind in the hands of the God who
loves and cares for them eternally!

Psalm 23: A traditional
psalm during times of distress or loss because of the beautiful
promises it recounts in the past, present and future. The first
three verses recount how the Lord has blessed us in the past,
providing for our needs not just of body but soul. Verse 4, the
longest verse, dwells on the moment at hand, the challenge to be
faced right now. It dwells not on the darkness of the challenge, but
rather on the faithfulness of the Good Shepherd. The one who has
blessed us so richly in the past will not fail us or desert us in our
hour of greatest need. Verses 5-6 look forward to what will be, once
the Valley of the Shadow of Death has been passed through. But note
that all the verses are present tense – they are all describing
what the Lord does for me at this moment, so that regardless
of our situation, we can sing this psalm of praise fully. The table
is already set. The rod and staff do comfort. We are
brought
to still waters.

Revelation 7:9-17:
This is our family reunion picture – a snapshot of the saints in
glory, and therefore you and I are in this picture. St. John
glimpses your face and mine in this sea of white robes. Did you live
a life of comfort and ease in this world? Praise God for the white
robe you wear in paradise. Has your life been a constant struggle
from one adversity to the next? Praise God for the white robe you
wear in paradise. All of life is seen as leading to the white robe,
to the roughness of palm branches in our hands, waving before the
throne of God to his glory. This vision of St. John’s does not deny
the reality of suffering in this world as Buddhism and Hinduism do,
but rather asserts that this suffering has been overcome. This vision
does not emphasize the glory of the individual saints as Islam does,
but rather glorifies the Lamb in whose blood the saints have been
washed. This vision does not deny the lives we live now in a broken
and imperfect world, but asserts that those lives have been
purchased, and that in faith in Jesus Christ, we will stand in the
glory of the presence of God forever, where no sorrow or loss or
deprivation will ever inconvenience or kill us again.

John 10:22-30:
The first part of this chapter concludes with confusion –
confusion between the words of Jesus that appear to be the ravings of
a lunatic, and the actions of Jesus which are clear and undeniable
like the healing of the man born blind in the previous chapter. The
Jews around Jesus are apparently in a bind – how to reconcile his
words and actions. His words are crazy at best, profane at worst.
He gives sight to the blind yet speaks of being the Son of God, the
promised Messiah. They see the words and deeds in contradiction to
one another.

Jesus clarifies that his words and actions are not in contradiction,
but rather work with one another. He would speak to them simply and
have them believe, but they will not, and so his words are testified
to with signs and wonders. While the words can be disregarded or
compromised, the actions cannot. The blind man now sees, and there
is no way for anyone to interpret this in any other way.

If the signs cannot be refuted, then the words need to be accepted as
well. The signs are not in contradiction to the words, or separate
from them, but rather flow from them and bear witness to them. And
what signs they are! These are not parlor tricks or sleight of hand!
The signs bear witness to power – power over things that no other
power can overcome. What other power on earth could restore sight to
the blind?

That same power is capable of preserving those that put their faith
and trust in it. Those who follow the voice of Jesus will not be
disappointed, and will not find their trust misplaced. He will
preserve them forever, something that the reading from the Revelation
of St. John reinforces. Faith in Jesus Christ, faith received as a
gift of the Holy Spirit and not something created for or by ourselves
is stronger than any other power or force in all of creation, and
will keep us safe for eternity.  

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