Reading Ramblings – May 5, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Dates: Third Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2019

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

Context: The work of God the Holy Spirit is the reconciliation of all creation to God the Father through the atoning work of God the Son. The Christian hope is mistakenly characterized as deliverance from our enemies, when in reality the prayer of all Christians should be for the conversion and transformation of our enemies into brothers and sisters in Christ for all eternity. This is in fact the very power of God at work in our world, and if we doubt that our enemies might be won through this power, we need first to remember that we ourselves have been won by this power.

Acts 9:1-22 – While we rightly revere St. Paul and his mighty evangelistic and apologetic efforts in the early Church, the real glory goes to God. Saul was feared but was he prayed for? To quote Billy Joel, could St. Paul have said of the Church before his conversion she never cared for me, but did she ever say a prayer for me? How many Christians and churches are guilty of this today? We see our enemies only as fit for defeat and ourselves fit for deliverance. Yet the same God the Father created all of us, and the same Son of God died for all of us, and the same Holy Spirit of God seeks after each one of us. Lost sheep are sometimes so because of ignorance or carelessness, but also sometimes so deliberately and defiantly, yet the Good Shepherd seeks each one of them. If God the Holy Spirit can bring Saul to faith in the resurrected Son of God, how much more should we be praying that those who fight against his power today be brought to faith as well?

Psalm 30 – The scope of this psalm is a personal song of thanks to God for delivering the speaker from a difficult situation, one reasonably brought about by enemies (v.1) and that could conceivably have resulted in death or complete destruction (vs. 3, 8-10). I think it is the mention of enemies in v.1 that might have prompted the inclusion of this psalm with the other readings today. Again, we tend to think of deliverance from our enemies in terms of their defeat and our victory, but deliverance could mean the conversion of our enemies, so that they end their persecutions and plottings against us. This should indeed be the greatest cause for celebration, for transforming mourning into dancing (v.11) – to know that those who once fought against the love of God in Jesus Christ are now robed in it! What better reason to give thanks to God forever (v.12)?!

Revelation 5 – I’ve gone with the optional full reading of this chapter for better context. I would have preferred to see this reading on Ascension Day, but since that’s not a Sunday I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m inclined to side with those who speculate that this scene, particularly verses 6-14, is the heavenly counterpart to the earthly descriptions of Jesus ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11). Jesus departs earth for heaven, returning now in power and majesty to do what He has earned the right to do through his obedience and death – to open the book with the seven seals. Because He has earned this right through his obedience, He is rightly to be praised, and the liturgies of the Church have long utilized words form this chapter and other places in the book of Revelation for worship. We echo, or join in with all the saints and heavenly beings as they praise unceasingly the wonder and worthiness of the Lamb who was slain. I also don’t think this particular reading fits well within the larger theme of reconciliation and the turning of enemies into allies that we see in the other readings. But that happens sometimes! Others see parallels in these readings that I’m opting not to discuss here, and that’s the beauty of God’s Word.

John 21:1-19 – I’ve opted for the fuller text reading here as well rather than omitting verses 15-19. It’s in those verses that we once again see the desire of God for reconciliation and restoration. This scene takes place back in Galilee, after the events in Jerusalem of Easter Day and the days following. The disciples have returned home. They’ve seen the resurrected Lord but, barring more specific details, what are they to do now? They know He will be sending them (John 20:21; Matthew 28:16-20) but what does this mean? While it is possible that this scene takes place after Pentecost, it seems more likely that it happens in between Easter and Pentecost. Jesus’ admonition in Luke 24:49 may mean the disciples stayed in Jerusalem for over a month until Pentecost, but that would have been a complicated and costly stay.

What do you do with the knowledge of the resurrection of someone claiming to be the Son of God and who prophesied the details of his death and resurrection ahead of time? How does that knowledge affect what you do, how you fill your time? Some interpret Peter’s statement that he’s going fishing as resignation of sorts, as though he is simply going back to what he was and did before Jesus called him to be a disciple (in fact, I used to see these verses that way!). But it seems more realistic that, needing some way to pass the time, Peter reasonably does what he has grown up doing. It is not a repudiation of his role of disciple, but rather a passing of the time until what that role will now entail is fully revealed.

And of course, in the meantime, there is the guilt.

The guilt of denying his Lord three times in one night, just as Jesus had told him he would, even though he denied it heatedly. That’s a powerful level of guilt, for one who loved Jesus so deeply to pretend he didn’t even know him. Perhaps there is some part of Peter that suspects that, regardless of who he once was as a follower of Jesus, he will no longer have that honor because of his denials. But once again the grace of God is at work. Jesus comes not simply to say hi and have breakfast, but to restore Peter. Jesus does not simply gloss over Peter’s denials. He doesn’t simply say it’s no big deal and let bygones be bygones. Such words are helpful at one level but they do not remove guilt. They may restore relationship but they don’t absolve us from the guilt we carry inside of us. Instead, Jesus offers Peter three chances to express his love for his Lord. And once again Jesus privileges (or challenges) Peter with a foreshadowing of what this restoration will mean. Peter denied Jesus in fear, but in his restoration Peter should not assume he won’t be placed in equally difficult and frightening situations. He prophesies in general terms what Peter will suffer (on more than one occasion) but not how Peter will respond. Persecution is a known entity, but this time denial is not. We could easily infer that Jesus is letting Peter that unlike last time, he will stand firm in his love for his Lord in the future.

God’s desire is for reconciliation with a rebellious creation. He is not content merely to punish his enemies but rather is willing to suffer and die so that his enemies might become his loving subjects, freed not only from the sin of rebellion both active and passive, but also from the crushing guilt of knowing they have rebelled against the good and holy and righteous creator of all things. This is a love that truly confounds us with the depths and heights it is capable of and willing to go to for our sake!

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