Reading Ramblings – April 27, 2014

Date:  Second Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2014

Texts: Acts 5:29-42; Psalm 148; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Context: The season of Easter continues for seven weeks, until Pentecost, a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover.  The Gospel reading continues to focus on the events after Easter morning, while the other readings flesh out the implications of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for you and I today. 

Acts 5:29-42 — This reading picks up in the weeks after Pentecost, as the body of believers continues to grow and spread, facing the Jewish authorities with a problem they thought they had gotten rid of in crucifying Jesus.  The disciples who were once timid and fearful for their lives are emboldened by the Holy Spirit, willing and able to teach and testify to the Son of God even if it means suffering.  Suffering—while we don’t search it out—is not our ultimate enemy.  Life involves suffering, and in this situation the suffering is on behalf of the Gospel, so that the disciples are able to give thanks and glory to God for their suffering. 

Psalm 148 — This psalm of praise is rooted in the reality of God’s creative power.  All creation is called to praise God because He is the maker of all creation.   Such praise would be difficult, however, were not creation to be restored to the glory it enjoyed prior to the fall into sin in Genesis 3.  This psalm anticipates the response of creation once again, when all things have been restored to their proper glory and function, a direct result of the death and resurrection of the Son of God, to be fully realized in his Second Coming. 

1 Peter 1:3-9 — Peter begins his letter in praise of what God has done through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is the good will of God the Father to bring people to faith in God the Son through God the Holy Spirit, thereby granting them forgiveness, grace, and the eternal life that flows out of proper relationship with the Creator.  We are to rejoice in this, even though we do not experience it fully yet.  Suffering is not the disproof of God’s intentions towards us, rather suffering is an opportunity to have our faith grown and strengthened.  Our eyes are fixed on the day of our Lord’s return, trusting that God will do what He has promised to through Jesus.  Jesus’ resurrection is our proof and evidence of God’s promises, and so we can endure the suffering of this life (as the Apostles endured their suffering in Acts 5) knowing that Jesus is victorious over every power that sets itself in opposition to him.  We may suffer and even die at the hands of those powers now, but those powers possess no real power at all because Jesus has conquered even death itself. 

John 20:19-31— Jesus has instructed his disciples to go to Galilee to meet him there.  However He does not keep them in suspense.  Easter evening He appears to them in Jerusalem as they met behind locked doors.  The fantastical reports of the women, and later of Peter and John, are now substantiated firsthand for all of the disciples except Thomas. 

Jesus’ message is powerful.  Peace.  Instead of fear and uncertainty, they are to receive peace.  Instead of huddling in fear, they are to be sent.  We often think of peace and peacefulness as a lack of activity whether positive or negative.  But here peace is equated with carrying out the Father’s will as directed by the Son. 

They go empowered for their work, further adding to their peace and confidence.  They receive the Holy Spirit so that they are able to pronounce forgiveness to people.  No longer is forgiveness attained through the blood of animals.  The blood of Jesus has bought forgiveness once and for all.  Jesus is therefore able to delegate that authority to his disciples.  To this day the most important work of the Church is announcing forgiveness of sins to those who place their hope and trust in Jesus the Messiah.  This is serious work.  If the Church does not do this, the implication is that people remain in their sins.  They have no forgiveness, no peace, no hope. 

Sometimes we are inclined to relegate the blessings of Jesus’ resurrection to the end of our lives.  We look forward to the Get-Out-of-Hell free card, and the promise of eternal life.  But the implications of the resurrection are to be enjoyed here and now as well.  We have forgiveness.  Grace.   Not just for those things that we know of that we’ve done wrong.  Not just for those things we’ve done wrong and have overcome.  But forgiveness here and now, where we stand.  As we come in faith before our Lord and plead our weakness, our brokenness, our hopelessness apart from him, we are assured of forgiveness and grace. 

What a blessing this is to the troubled heart and mind!  And how easily we dismiss it almost before we consider it.  How easy it is to let our minds wander during Confession on Sundays, and to let the words of Absolution float over our heads while we check out what so-and-so is wearing today.  We hear it so often, we begin to quit thinking about it. 

Forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel message, and the Church must always remain the place where no obstacle is placed in the way of forgiveness.  Where repentance is taught, modeled, and received, and where forgiveness is announced and assured and embodied.  This is Christian freedom!  Not the freedom to indulge our sinfulness without fear of repercussions, but the freedom to let go of our past sins and guilts and to begin new lives in God’s grace.  Lives where we can be sent as agents of forgiveness and grace to the people around us. 

 

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