Reading Ramblings – April 8, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter, April 8, 2018

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

Context: The benefits of the resurrection are personal, but are celebrated and lived out in community. The early Church would likely not understand American Christianity’s heavy emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus. While we are transformed individually, we benefit from and are a benefit to each other in Christian community, which comforts, strengthens, protects, and encourages us in our walk of faith.

Acts 4:32-35 – The first description of the early Church is not a spotlight on any one particular apostle or believer, but rather on the community of faith and how followers of Jesus ordered their lives. They were open-handed with their belongings, sharing with one another rather than hoarding for themselves. As such, all were taken care of and nobody among them was in want. All of this is linked to the ongoing proclamation of the resurrection by the apostles, and the work of the Holy Spirit among them. Even their homes and properties were considered as gifts from God to benefit others. Care for one another is a hallmark of faith in Jesus Christ. When we properly recognize what we have received in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, we begin to see everything – and everyone – in our lives through that recognition. And naturally the place where this should be easiest to begin living out is with others of a similar faith.

Psalm 148 – This psalm of praise exhorts the citizens of heaven first to praise God, as they would be in the best position to do so based on their proximity to the presence of God. Nature is next enlisted to join in worship, with the highest and most beautiful aspects of creation – the heavenly bodies – mentioned. Focus moves downwards to aspects of earth – the oceans, the seasons, geographical terrain, creatures, and finally human beings, starting with the highest (kings) and progressing to those least esteemed (the elderly and the very young). All, however, are capable of giving praise to God, and such praise is appropriate to all people and all of creation. God the Father, the Creator of the Universe is to be held in universal acclaim and worship.

1 John 1:1-2:2 – John begins his letter with an affirmation of his first-hand witness to the events now associated with his youth. It is the life of Jesus – both before and after resurrection – that has formed the center of John’s preaching, the one message he never tires of repeating. He exhorts his hearers and readers to holiness, calling them from darkness, the shadows where sin hides and where we might learn to protect and encourage it, into the light which shows sin for what it is while at the same time offering forgiveness and life. Only in confession can sin be brought into the light for examination. Only in the light can we be assured of the forgiveness of our sins and encouraged towards holiness. When we refuse the light, we are at risk of removing ourselves from the grace of God, preferring our sin and shadows to his holiness and light. The net result of our new life in Christ is that sin should lose it’s attractiveness. There will be moments, of course, when we give in to sin or even seek it out. But even as we do so we know it for what it is – sin, death, the antithesis of our new identity in Christ. And where before there may have been no struggle, now there is a struggle. A struggle made possible by the Holy Spirit of God living within us, made possible only through the death and resurrection of the perfect and holy Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

John 20:19-31 – A familiar story of Jesus’ first appearance to the group of his disciples. Jesus does not wait for them to return to Galilee. It’s as though He can’t bear to leave them in sorrow or confusion. They need to be brought into the good news, the good news He tried to tell them about beforehand but which they couldn’t understand. They would need to see it firsthand to truly believe and begin to understand.

Thomas isn’t present for whatever reason. And while he gets a bad rap, I can’t think that I would have said differently. Would I accept so easily an assurance that Jesus was alive? Might I not suspect a joke? Might I not suspect some sort of mistaken identity, some confusion of the eyes, even a specter or some other entity? I think Thomas is much like us. Skeptical, preferring his own validation to the assurances of others.

Jesus grants this validation. He does not rebuke Thomas for his doubt. Rather He addresses it directly, as it were. The others have proved it true for themselves, but He now offers Thomas the opportunity to do so. But no further proof is needed. This is no specter. No mistaken identity. This is not the result of too much wine or wishful thinking or hallucination. Here is Jesus, whom Thomas has lived with day in and day out for three years. Here is his voice, his visage, even some of the wounds from his ordeal. Could it be anyone else?

Thomas calls out in faith, confessing Jesus as Lord and God himself. Who else could explain such a miraculous event? Who else but God can raise the dead, and hadn’t Jesus reiterated over and over again his relationship with the Father, his unity with him even in his distinction as the Son?

The Easter message is miraculous indeed – unbelievable many would say. But on what basis? On the basis of no personal experience? How much of the world do we hear and read about but never see with our own eyes, yet we trust that the events we are told about it are true? Or perhaps the doubt is based on the fact that the dead do not come back to life. True enough, this is a very rare thing and therefore the basis of great proclamation regarding Jesus, who did come back from the dead. But should we doubt the eye-witness accounts of those who saw him alive again after his death and burial? On what account? On the incredible nature of the assertion? Isn’t it amazing to think that 50 years ago man walked on the moon, and yet most people don’t doubt that this is true! Is it because it is impossible to believe that anyone could rise from the dead? On what basis? Here we enter the realm of philosophy and world-view, and most of us in the US have been taught from early ages in public schools that such things are impossible. Life is life and death is death and death cannot be undone. On what basis is this assertion made? How can such an assertion stand when there are accounts of someone who was raised from the dead? Do we allow our presuppositions about the nature of reality to dictate that we must ignore any evidence that contradicts it?

Or do we study the word, study the accounts, the witnesses, and see whether or not, after all, they have the ring of truth, the ring of honest and simple descriptions of real events, rather than flights of fancy or imagination, no matter how well intentioned?

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