Monday, May 22, 2017

Easter 7A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 1:6-14
Today’s first reading begins with Luke’s account of the Ascension of Jesus. The disciples still do not understand the nature of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. They still expect an earthly kingdom. If these are their expectations, Jesus disappoints. Instead, they are called to witness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in his absence. Jesus then leaves them and they do as he commanded, await the coming of the Spirit in Jerusalem.

1:6  When the apostles had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
Our psalm is a plea to God to “rise up” and exercise his power and authority. The psalmist has a view of God as not always attentive, like the rain. Many of the psalms contain this anxiety. Nevertheless, God comes in majestic power to order the creation and make good on his covenant with the people.

1     Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
                let those who hate him flee before him.
2     Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
                as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at
                                                    the presence of God.
3     But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
                let them also be merry and joyful.
4     Sing to God, sing praises to his Name;
        exalt him who rides upon the heavens; *
                Yahweh is his Name, rejoice before him!
5     Father of orphans, defender of widows, *
                God in his holy habitation!
6     God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners
                                                    into freedom; *
                but the rebels shall live in dry places.
7     O God, when you went forth before your people, *
                when you marched through the wilderness,
8     The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain,
        at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, *
                at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9     You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; *
                you refreshed the land when it was weary.
10   Your people found their home in it; *
                in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.
33   Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
                sing praises to the Lord.
34   He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; *
                he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice.
35   Ascribe power to God; *
                his majesty is over Israel; his strength is in the skies.
36   How wonderful is God in his holy places! *
                the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people!
                Blessed be God!

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
We have been reading through this letter throughout Eastertide. A primary theme is reiterated here: the Christian response to suffering for being followers of Jesus. This kind of suffering should be accepted and borne with joy and humility. The anxiety caused by suffering should be cast on God who is the one who restores, supports, strengthens and establishes us.

4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel Reading:  John 17:1-11
Our Gospel reading is from chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, the end of Jesus’ long teaching following the Last Supper. It is often referred to as “the high priestly prayer,” because it is Jesus’ intercession for his followers, particularly that they might remain one, even in the midst of the confusion and doubt he knows will occur in his absence. Overall, a great theme of John’s Gospel is expressed:  knowing/believing in Jesus is eternal life itself.

17:1 Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6 I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter 6A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 17:22-31
Our first reading this morning is Paul’s sermon to a group of Athenians, a fine example of taking the context of the listeners and working from it to the gospel. Paul is also playing into a debate among Greek philosophers, many of whom had begun to reject the traditional gods of Greek mythology, hence the altar to “an unknown god.” The quote “in him we live and move and have our being,” is probably a quote from the 6th century b.c. philosopher Epimenides, and “and we too are his offspring,” from the 3rd century b.c. author Aratus of Soli. These quotes show Paul was very knowledgeable of Greek philosophy, in which he had probably been well schooled while a young man.

17:22 Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Psalm 66:7-18
Psalm 66 as a whole is a poem of praise and thanksgiving clearly centered around the Exodus event (as all Israel’s praise and thanks ultimately is). The reference is strongest in the beginning of the psalm, but also in vv. 7-11. There follows and integration of personal promises to this praise and thanks, and also an invitation for “all peoples” to join in.

7      Bless our God, you peoples; *
                make the voice of his praise to be heard;
8      Who holds our souls in life, *
        and will not allow our feet to slip.
9      For you, O God, have proved us; *
                you have tried us just as silver is tried.
10   You brought us into the snare; *
                you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
11   You let enemies ride over our heads;
        we went through fire and water; *
                but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
12   I will enter your house with burnt-offerings
        and will pay you my vows, *
                which I promised with my lips
                and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.
13   I will offer you sacrifices of fat beasts with the smoke of rams; *
                I will give you oxen and goats.
14   Come and listen, all you who fear God, *
                and I will tell you what he has done for me.
15   I called out to him with my mouth, *
                and his praise was on my tongue.
16   If I had found evil in my heart, *
                the Lord would not have heard me;
17   But in truth God has heard me; *
                he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
18   Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, *
                nor withheld his love from me.

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 3:13-22
Our Eastertide readings from the First Letter of Peter continue with this passage that repeats many of the themes from the reading two weeks ago, particularly Peter’s emphasis on suffering for the good in union with Christ. In one sense, the entire letter is an attempt to understand suffering in the context of Christian faith. This reading has another importance—to articulate that part of the Apostles’ Creed—“he descended to the dead.” It answers the question of what happened to Jesus during the three days between his death and resurrection, but also the status of those who had died prior to the resurrection. The answer is that Christ “descended to the dead” to preach to those imprisoned there and bring them into the company of the resurrected.

3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel Reading:  John 14:15-21
Our Gospel reading follows on that of last Sunday. The promise of sending the Holy Spirit (here, “the Advocate” and the “Spirit of truth”) is bracketed by the command to love and obedience.  Lest “obedience” be taken as a new form of legalism, the promise is of an “Advocate” (a legal term), which may be a deliberate counter to one of the terms for the Devil, the “Accuser.”  We will not be abandoned as orphans, but remain related to God as daughter and sons.

14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Easter 5A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 7:55-60
In our first reading, the Deacon Stephen is stoned to death by a crowd which has been angered by his words spoken immediately before this reading in which he says that Moses himself foresaw the coming of Jesus the Messiah and that Jesus was murdered just as the ancestors of his listeners murdered many of the prophets before him.  The witness Saul is the later Paul, here still a persecutor of the followers of Jesus.  The parallels in Stephen’s death to the death of Jesus are deliberate, particularly his two prayers at the end of the reading.  Stephen becomes the first martyr among followers of Jesus.

7:55 Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Our psalm works well as a response to the first reading in that the writer is under profound threat from enemies.  He responds with trust and confidence in God’s loving purposes. In Luke’s Gospel, the first half of verse 5, comes from the lips of Jesus on the cross.

1   In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
     let me never be put to shame; *
            deliver me in your righteousness.
2   Incline your ear to me; *
            make haste to deliver me.
3   Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
     for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
            for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
4   Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
            for you are my tower of strength.
5   Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
            for you have redeemed me,
            O Lord, O God of truth.
15  My times are in your hand; *
            rescue me from the hands of my enemies,
            and from those who persecute me.
16  Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
            and in your loving-kindness save me.

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 2:2-10
Our second reading continues our readings from the First Letter of Peter during Eastertide.  There is much use of Hebrew Scripture images in this passage.  “Taste that the Lord is good” is an image from psalm 34 (v. 8).  There is then a quote from Psalm 118:22 (in both v. 4 and v. 7). The quote in verse 6 is Isaiah 28:16 and verse 8 Isaiah 8:14-15. The imagery of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood…” is from the prophet Hosea (2:23) and the book of Exodus (19:6).  It is clear from the last line that Peter is speaking primarily to Gentiles who were once “not a people” in the eyes of God. There may be elements of an early Christian hymn in this passage.

2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The Holy Gospel:  John 14:1-14
This passage begins Jesus’ long farewell speech to his disciples (continuing through chapter 17). It follows the scene of the supper at which Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and gives the “new commandment” to love one another as he has loved them.  He now prepares them for his departure:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He promises an eternal place for them with him (hence this passage is a frequent funeral reading). For many Christians this passage is somewhat troubling in its seemingly exclusive claims:  “No one comes to the Father except through me.” All that one can say with any certainty is that this claim was clearly important to the community of John (it is contained only in this Gospel). There are many other indications that John’s community was under a great deal of stress, feeling threatened by “outsiders.” In that context, such a claim is not surprising, even if many contemporary Christians want to bring a significant amount of nuance to it.  One must also be careful with Jesus’ promise to answer prayer. This is not a promise to do whatever we ask. The asking must be “in Jesus’ name,” that is, in relationship with him.

14:1 Jesus told his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Easter 4A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47
Today’s reading begins with a loose “they.” The verse before says that the result of Peter’s sermon after the Pentecost event, had the effect of three thousand people joining the believers.  It is this “they” whose life together is described below. It is an ideal community of generosity and faith, where the good of all is highly valued.  Note the dual reference to the Eucharist, which had clearly already become an important part of the community’s life. Questions about this passage concerning whether or not this way of life together made the first believers “communists” or “socialists” ask modern-day questions of an ancient text. The point is the profoundly different way of life this represented in the midst of Empire:  a way of life where all took care of one another in a spirit of “glad and generous hearts.”

2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm 23
The well-known and beloved Psalm 23 is a psalm of profound orientation in the goodness and companionship of God.  God, like a good shepherd, intends the well-being of his people, the sheep, doing for them what they cannot do for themselves.

1  The Lord is my shepherd; *
          I shall not be in want.
2  He makes me lie down in green pastures *
          and leads me beside still waters.
3  He revives my soul *
          and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
     I shall fear no evil; *
          for you are with me;
          your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5  You spread a table before me in the presence of those
                                  who trouble me; *
          you have anointed my head with oil,
          and my cup is running over.
6  Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
                                  of my life, *
          and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 2:19-25
Our second reading this morning is a troubling passage given its context.  Verse 18 addresses the verses that follow it to household slaves.  The good of the passage can only be in the fact that slaves are to be examples for the entire household of God.  Yet one cannot excuse the capitulation to unjust relationship.  Slavery at the time of the early church was considered a part of the natural order, as it was, shamefully, for centuries of the church’s life.  The last line of the reading pairs it with this morning’s Gospel.  The word “guardian” could also be translated “bishop” (it is the Greek word from which comes our word “episcopal.”

2:19 It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

The Holy Gospel:  John 10:1-10
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter we always read from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel with its imagery of Jesus as, first, gate for the sheep into the protection of the sheepfold, and then (immediately following this passage) the Good Shepherd. The image of Shepherd was long used as a title for the kings of Israel and Judah, and, also, for God, as in our psalm (see also, Ezekiel 34:1-10 and Isaiah 40:10-11).

10:1 Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for study groups is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Easter 3A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41
Peter’s Sermon after Pentecost continues.  One must point out the potential anti-semitism in this passage: “ this Jesus whom you crucified.”  This has been taken to mean that the Jews were solely responsible for Jesus’ death (this notion was present in last week’s reading as well).  Through history this charge has led to anti-semitic tendencies among Christians, from which the Church can only repent.  Peter’s point, however, is different.  In his mind it is God who acted in Jesus death and resurrection.  The people were just instruments of this action.

2:14a  But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, 36 “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
Our psalm this morning is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s action in the life of the writer. That action requires a response of offering both praise, thanksgiving and service. The phrase “sacrifice of thanksgiving” will become a very important image in Anglican theology and worship. It is used no less than 14 times in The Book of Common Prayer.

I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of
                                        my supplication, *
            because he has inclined his ear to me whenever
                                        I called upon him.
The cords of death entangled me;
    the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
            I came to grief and sorrow.
Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: *
            “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”
10  How shall I repay the Lord *
            for all the good things he has done for me?
11  I will lift up the cup of salvation *
            and call upon the Name of the Lord.
12  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord *
            in the presence of all his people.
13  Precious in the sight of the Lord *
            is the death of his servants.
14  O Lord, I am your servant; *
            I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
            you have freed me from my bonds.
15  I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
            and call upon the Name of the Lord.
16        I will fulfill my vows to the Lord *
            in the presence of all his people,
17  In the courts of the Lord’s house,
            in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.  Hallelujah!

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 1:17-23
Our Eastertide readings from the first letter of Peter continue. Peter uses the metaphor of “ransom” to describe the atonement (how God made salvation possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus). He also uses the metaphor of “exile” to describe the state of Christians in this world. He closes this passage with the image of “new birth” and the commandment to love, both echoes of Jesus from John’s Gospel.

1:17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. 22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

The Holy Gospel:  Luke 24:13-35
Our Gospel reading is the well-known and much-loved story of Jesus’ appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is clearly a very important story for Luke and appears only in his Gospel. It reflects the pattern of worship that emerged in the early Church: Word and Sacrament. Jesus is revealed as the interpreter of Scripture for Christians (this is a theme throughout Luke’s Gospel), and as the one who is revealed in the breaking of the bread. There is also a detail which allows the reader in any age to insert him or herself into the story:  the unnamed disciples (the companion of Cleopas).

24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter 2A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 22-32
By tradition we read from the Acts of the Apostles during Eastertide. Our reading this morning is from Peter’s first sermon, following Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and others. The sermon traces the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, including Peter’s interpretation of a portion of Psalm 16 (this morning’s psalm).  The use of the Hebrew Scriptures to foretell the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was important to the early followers of Jesus, underscoring the fact that these followers were observant Jews, for whom those Scriptures were vitally important.

2:14a  But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, 22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say:  Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29 Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Psalm 16
Our psalm this morning is a psalm of trust in God.  In Hebrew the psalm begins with a single imperative word:  Protect!  Then follows the reasons for which the psalmist believes God should protect him or her.  It is verses 8-11 which Peter quotes in the sermon we have just heard. The Book of Common Prayer appoints these same words to be said at the grave in the Burial Service (p. 501).

1  Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
         I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
         my good above all other.”
2  All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
         upon those who are noble among the people.
3  But those who run after other gods *
         shall have their troubles multiplied.
4  Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
         nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
5 O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *
         it is you who uphold my lot.
6  My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
         indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
7  I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
         my heart teaches me, night after night.
8  I have set the Lord always before me; *
         because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
9  My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
         my body also shall rest in hope.
10  For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
         nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11  You will show me the path of life; *
         in your presence there is fullness of joy,
         and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 1:3-9
The First Letter of Peter was written to a group of Christians undergoing suffering, probably in one of the waves of persecution of the early Church by the Romans. We will read from this letter throughout Eastertide this year. It is also clear that Peter is writing to persons who had not been part of the original followers of Jesus, i.e., they had never seen Jesus. Peter exhorts his readers to embrace the “new birth” of their conversion and, therefore, the new life to which they are called despite their present sufferings.

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The Holy Gospel:  John 20:19-31
Our Gospel reading this morning is read every year on this Second Sunday of Easter (the only instance of a Gospel reading repeating year after year in the entire cycle of readings).  The reading is composed of two scenes.  The first is John’s account of the first appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples. For John it is also the formation of the Church (including the gift of the Holy Spirit). Jesus’ forgiveness of the disciples is extraordinary given their betrayal and abandonment of him. Moreover, he also gives them the power of forgiveness! The second scene is the familiar story of Thomas, the disciple missing from the first appearance. Thomas needs physical proof, for which we can hardly blame him. The story is partially a set up for the important statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Note that by “the Jews” in the first verse is meant the religious authorities, not all Jews.

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.