Reading Ramblings – April 12, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter – April 12, 2015

Texts: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 148; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Context: Easter is not just a single day, but a liturgical season of the Church as well. It lasts eight weeks until the Feast of Pentecost.

Acts 4:32-35 – So, I personally wouldn’t have placed this reading here. It’s much more appropriate after Pentecost, as it describes the early Church after the coming of the Holy Spirit. However, if we’re going to have it in Easter, we can say that this is the result of coming into contact with the resurrected Christ. Our attitudes about life and the world around us and the people around us cannot be the same attitudes as the world. Our lives have a new context that supersedes a goal of personal wealth or a habit of seeing others as means to our own ends. We have the general description but then a specific example as well – Barnabas, the later missionary companion of St. Paul. Note that this text does not indicate that the selling of property was required – only that this is what the wealthier Christians felt was the right thing to do in order to alleviate the suffering of their poorer Christian neighbors. This text also sets up the beginning of Acts 5, providing a context for why Ananias and Sapphira were judged so harshly.

Psalm 148 – All of creation is called to praise the Lord. The reason for this praise is that He is God, and therefore the only one who deserves such praise (v.13). As well, He has been the source of protection and strength for his people (v.14).

1 John 1:1-2:2 – The resurrected Son of God is to be a source of joy for all creation. To this end the Apostle John begins this letter. The basis for the letter is entirely in his experience with the Son of God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is his testimony, and the one through whom joy and fellowship is truly possible. John testifies that God is light – a shorthand way for describing all that is good and holy. Those who insist on continuing in darkness do not share in this light. They hide from it because they prefer their sinfulness to the holiness required and empowered by God. The beginning of honesty and true fellowship with the Light of God is to admit that we are sinful, and to seek forgiveness as well as the honest desire to change our sinful practices as enabled by the Holy Spirit. Only the repentant who acknowledge their essential sinfulness can receive forgiveness and share in the Light of God.

This may seem a terrifying prospect – to lay before the Creator of the Universe our sinfulness and rebellion against his holiness. John writes quickly in 2:1-2 to assuage such fear. The righteous and holy God has provided an intercessor, one who stands with us before God the Father and has already paid the penalty for our sin. Is this grace selective? No, it is available universally, to anyone who would receive it as their source of life and hope.

John 20:19-31 – St. John is the go-to Gospel for the most important times and seasons of the Church. The Gospel of John does not have it’s own year in the 3-year lectionary cycle, and so is incorporated particularly at Christmas and Easter every year.

John recounts the event of Easter evening. Here we have the disciples described in their initial fearfulness. Fearful that as Jesus was arrested, so might they. The women have come back from the tomb with their report. Peter and John have seen the empty tomb for themselves. The men who Jesus accompanied on the road to Damascus have returned with their account. What is to be made of all this strange things? Undoubtedly these unusual reports only highlighted the suspense.

Suddenly, there is Jesus in their midst. The locked doors could not keep him back any more than the rock in front of the tomb could. Though Jesus had instructed his disciples to seek him in Galilee, it’s as though He can’t wait that long. He needs to see them, to show them that He truly is alive, to put their fears at ease. His first words to them indicate as much – peace be with you. Immediately He confirms his identity by showing them the marks of his crucifixion. It is not a hoax, they are not hallucinating, and Jesus is physically real, not a ghost.

The disciples are convinced and their fear turns to joy. Now Jesus grants them his Holy Spirit as a security of that peace and joy, and confers on them as his Church the power to forgive sins. They are to utilize this in harmony with the will of God, so that what they announce is truly indicative of a person’s reality before God. Repentance leads to the forgiveness of sins. The pastor or priest announces this and the penitent heart is to receive it with joy as if Jesus himself had pronounced it, because it is just as true and valid. Likewise, when the unrepentant person is warned of their sinfulness, warned that they cannot receive forgiveness so long as they refuse to acknowledge their sin (1 John 1 again!), they truly have placed themselves outside the forgiveness of God. It is the Church’s duty to declare both states as realities both temporally and eternally. Only God can forgive sin, but the Church exists in part to declare when that forgiveness has been granted, based on the Biblical witness.

This is a contentious teaching, and there are many who take issue with it. But the Biblical basis for this doctrine is pretty darn clear. If a church or pastor abuses this duty, misuses it in some way, it does not logically follow that the duty does not exist, only that they must answer for abusing it. Forgiveness is not left to the imagination – it is verbalized in the Absolution conferred after Confession, and represents the very real forgiveness won for us in the death and resurrection of the Christ.

Doubt is a reasonable part of human experience, and it is hugely comforting that Thomas and his doubt are dealt with in love and care. It is also comforting that faith and trust and peace in the resurrected Christ can come without visual confirmation. I do not need to see Jesus in order to believe. Why is that? Because John – and the other Gospel writers – have recorded enough about Jesus that a reasonable person can believe. There is historic testimony regarding Jesus of Nazareth, and if we treat this testimony the same as we treat any historical testimony, we are led to conclude that Jesus is indeed who He claims to be, as evidenced in his resurrection and the eye-witnesses who attest to it.

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