Reading Ramblings – April 28, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019

Texts: Acts 5:12-42; Psalm 148; Revelation 1:4-18; John 20:19-31

Context: We may still have in our heads the picture of Jesus beaten, crucified, buried. Graphic depictions of the final hours of his life in movies such as The Passion of the Christ have done a good idea of giving us a better understanding of just how brutal death by crucifixion was. But if that is the only or most lasting mental picture we have of Jesus, we are mistaken! Our Lord was not defeated by death, but He defeated death! He took the greatest abuse possible, culminating in death and burial. But He rose from the dead. Notice that none of the accounts of the resurrected Christ say anything about wounds to his body other than his hands and feet and side. These are the wounds of victory, however, not defeat. They identify him clearly, they testify to what sort of victory He accomplished. When we see our Lord again it will be in glory, far closer to John’s vision of him in the reading from Revelation. This is the Lord who promises us life through faith in him – our victorious Lord!

Acts 5:12-42 – I’ve expanded this reading because I think it has so much in it that just reading half the story is unfair. And since the rest of the story isn’t returned to in the readings for the rest of the year, we’ll do it now! Because things have changed. Granted this reading is from after Pentecost, so the disciples have the Holy Spirit in a new and powerful way. But beyond this, the disciples have seen the resurrected Christ. They know who He is, and what He has accomplished, and it infuses them with a boldness they never had for long during their time with Jesus during his ministry. Even though they could cast out demons at times or heal the sick, their understanding of Jesus was limited, and their bravery was more words than deeds. Now they are arrested, imprisoned, beaten, warned, and yet the strength of the Holy Spirit within them, who has led them into all knowledge regarding Jesus is more powerful. They cannot be silenced. They will not succumb to fear! They cannot be intimidated! This boldness and eloquence is not lost on their persecutors. There was no effort to arrest or try the disciples of Jesus – the religious leaders considered them of no consequence, incapable of continuing on the ministry of Jesus. They expected – rightly so – that the disciples would slink back to their homes and humble jobs once Jesus was removed. But this determination was not expected, and Gamaliel is wise to point out that the situation is so unusual that it might just be the finger of God at work, in which case they would be foolish to oppose it!

Psalm 148 – Who is to praise God? It might be simpler to list out who shouldn’t praise him. The heavenly realms and those who dwell there are to praise him. The celestial heights and the lights that dwell there – so often mistaken for divine themselves by flawed mortals – they are to praise God. They are not divine but simply his creations (as per Genesis 1). The mysterious creatures of the ocean should praise God, as well as the very elements of nature themselves. Likewise the land and all the creatures that dwell on it should praise God. The great people of the earth – kings and all rulers – they should praise God as should the least of mankind. There is no other entity who deserves the worship and praise that God does as the creator of all things, and certainly should his people praise him, those who know him and the great things He has done!

Revelation 1:4-18 – St. John spent three years or so following Jesus. Yet in this vision provided by Jesus the Christ, the emphasis is not on a reunion, but on the power and glory of the resurrected and ascended Son of God. John is commanded to write what he sees and hears in this vision to seven churches in Asia. John identifies himself as their brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom. These are the two realities which John and his hearers find themselves. They are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and inheritors through Christ of eternal life. But for now, they endure tribulation and suffering. Their lives are marked with suffering because of their steadfast faith in the resurrected Jesus as the Christ. It is this reality that predicates the vision to John and its communication to the faithful. And it is this reality that should guide us in reading and interpreting what John describes. To those who suffer, this letter is a letter of encouragement, ultimately a summary of Biblical history and the ancient enmity between Satan and God, the efforts of Satan to destroy God’s creation, but the victory that has, is, and will be won over Satan through the Son of God. Our lives may not always evidence this victory. We may suffer, whether from illness or disease, from persecution or poverty, or even suffer persecution for holding fast to our faith in an age that has decided such a faith is an affront to more sensible ideals. The letter is not intended ultimately as a secret code to unlocking the hows and wheres and whens of the final defeat of evil, but rather to encourage we who must endure faithfully to the end whenever our lives unfold.

John 20:19-31 – The events of that first Easter Sunday continue to unfold in John’s gospel. The sightings of the resurrected Jesus are not limited to that morning at the empty tomb. They continue as Jesus visits his disciples as they huddle in fear. They are invited to witness the signs of his ordeal – the holes in his side, hands and feet. This they communicate to Thomas who finds their words too difficult to believe. So Jesus once again presents himself to his followers – including Thomas – a week later. Thomas’ skepticism is gone. He does not need to touch the wounds to know that this is his Lord.

Nestled in this familiar account, however, are important words from Jesus to his followers and to us, the Church in our time. Jesus conveys to his disciples the Holy Spirit and the command that they are to forgive sins, and they are capable of withholding that forgiveness. This is not intended as some coercive tool for them to wield, but rather is the continued outflowing of what Jesus accomplished through his suffering and death. Jesus requested the forgiveness of God the Father for those around him as He hung on the cross (Luke 23:34), forgiveness made possible only through the death of the innocent Son of God on our behalf. It is now the duty and privilege of the Church to continue to announce the forgiveness of God wherever there is repentance, and likewise to state the unforgiven state of the unrepentant sinner. The Church – with the presiding priest or pastor acting on behalf of the gathered people of God – is doing nothing more than repeat what Jesus himself promised, and only under the authority of Jesus as granted here to the earliest Church – his disciples.

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