Reading Ramblings – April 10, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday of Easter – April 10, 2016

Texts: Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:1-14; John 21:1-19

Context: The implications of Easter continue to fill the readings. Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus is evidence that the power and person of Jesus is still at work, even after his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 30 might be a fitting psalm for Paul to pray, rescued from the night of disbelief and persecution of God’s people into the Easter light of salvation and faith in Jesus as the Son of God. Revelation stresses the unique role of Jesus in the history of creation, and the Gospel lesson continues to describe resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples. The resurrected Christ has the power to transform lives. He transforms the lives of his disciples, restoring Peter to grace through forgiveness, and shattering Paul’s figurative blindness with literal blindness. John’s words from last week’s Gospel reading continue to be shown true – the testimony about Jesus provided in the Scriptures is more than adequate to bring someone to reasonable faith in Jesus as the Son of God come to take away the sins of the world.

Acts 9:1-22 – There are many skeptics of the Gospel today, and many who are outright violent against it. But they are not the first by any means. St. Paul stands as the most active and vocal critic of Christianity, the most ardent defender of Judaism. He takes it upon himself to personally oversee persecution of the early Church through the arrest of adherents. But not even Paul, smug in his elite status as a Jew, is safe from the transforming power of the resurrected Christ. Paul’s blindness to the truth of the resurrection is broken by his encounter with the resurrected Christ and literal blindness. His confidence and power is broken and shattered by the removal and restoration of his sight. Note Ananias’ reluctance to minister to Paul despite divine command. Loving our enemies has never been safe or easy, yet it is the unique call of the Christian to do exactly this, confident that even if we lose our life, we will yet live!

Psalm 30 – Who do we trust, and on what basis? Our trust is in the Lord, knowing that we are incapable of our own salvation. This psalm is offered from the far side of deliverance. While many psalms are beseeching the Lord’s help and end trusting that He will do so, this psalm begins with the Lord’s deliverance. God has already saved the speaker! What a perfect Easter psalm! What has the Lord done for the speaker (you and I)? Nothing less than bringing us up from death, restoring us from death to life. It is easy to credit ourselves with our successes (v.6), but suffering reminds us of our inability to control even simple aspects of our lives (v.7). We as God’s Easter people can sing this psalm fully and honestly (as St. Paul likely did after his conversion!) – we have been given life from death! Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints!

Revelation 5:1-14 – The imagery of The Revelation of St. John may escape us or lead us to conflicted interpretations, but the overall meaning of the text is clear: Jesus is victorious. The lamb who was slain (John 1:29, 36) has begun his reign. His divine incarnation, his perfect obedience, his innocent, voluntary death have exalted him to the highest position in all creation. The scroll represents the end of days, the tribulations and trials that plague creation and will continue to plague it until the final conflict of good and evil in the latter chapters of the book. But God remains in control through all things; the Lamb has possession of the scroll and is responsible for opening the seven seals. What we experience as unimaginable threats and catastrophes are not outside the power and purpose of the God of all creation. We are called to faithfulness in him, not ourselves. It is not we who hold the scroll, who can control the seals. We are not our own saviors. But we do have a Savior, and our trust should be in him at all times.

John 21:1-19 – Having witnessed the risen Christ in Jerusalem, the disciples have now returned home to Galilee. But to what? Their rabbi is no longer with them. He’s resurrected, but how are they to live their lives now? Is it so surprising that Peter suggests that they do what they did before following Jesus? They return to their boats and nets, perhaps as much for therapy and consolation and space to think as for a means of making a living. It is here where they encounter Jesus again, as He had promised them. Out on the water their own efforts and ideas are leading nowhere. But when guided by Jesus, they experience overwhelming success. How can they expect to be fishermen again after being followers of Jesus? Their lives will always be characterized by devotion to Christ and following his commands, regardless of the nature of those commands.

Verses 15-19 are beautiful, as they depict the restoration of Peter. Was Peter unforgiven until this moment? Not at all! Jesus’ death and resurrection had already conveyed forgiveness to Peter. But Peter had not forgiven himself. Perhaps even in the eyes of the other disciples he was criticized for so publicly and vocally rejecting his lord. So it is that Jesus now lovingly restores Peter, assuring him of his love and forgiveness.

I often wonder how Jesus would have restored Judas, had Judas not taken his own life. I have no doubt it would have happened. I have great hope that it has happened. But it would be beautiful to have that moment recorded for our benefit as well. I draw strength from Peter’s restoration. I fail my Lord in so many ways each day. I fail to listen to his voice. I reject his will and direction for my own. I willfully as well as accidentally sin. I am not worthy to be called his follower.

Yet I am restored! Forgiven! Called to be not simply his follower but his brother! What joy and hope and relief is in that forgiveness and restoration! If Peter can be forgiven, I trust that my sins large and small, known and unknown, are also forgiven. The past can be forgotten and replaced with a simple command, Follow me.

This is the power of Easter at loose in our lives and in the world. No one is safe from it. No life fully insulated. No spirit completely deaf and blind to the power in the message. And so we continue to proclaim the message. In ways large and small. Publicly and privately. In prayer and petition. That every heart might hear and in hearing, receive life through faith and trust in the message of Jesus resurrected from the dead as the Son of God.

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