Second Sunday of Easter, April 11th, 2021


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For the crescendo Sundays of Palm Sunday and Easter, the readings chosen and their relationship to each other are straightforward and clear to the point of overflowing. There is a lot of good material to choose from and work with. The symphony soars.

Let’s take a moment to look ahead a bit now, as Easter is not only a single decisive day, but for churches using a lectionary a season of seven Sundays. Seven Sundays conforming to the seven times seven weeks of the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot in Hebrew or Pentecost in Greek. The wheat harvest festival which in time became a festival associated with the giving of the Torah, a pilgrimage festival – and so we see it in Acts at the Day of Pentecost. Pilgrims present from all the areas of the Mediterranean basin.

The opening chapter of Acts is the one source supplying a forty day time period during which Jesus’ Risen life was experienced by his disciples and others chosen as witnesses, as Peter stated it last Sunday. “appearing to them over a period of 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Ascension Day is traditionally set as the Thursday in week six, consistent with this 40 day reference and Acts own account of Jesus’ ascension, preceding his promised sending of the spirit, for which they are to pray and wait.

This Sunday we have an opportunity to hear another resurrection account, the continuation from John chapter 20, and next week from Luke. For the remainder of the season we will shift to earlier chapters in John for our Gospel reading, a pattern that holds in the other two years of the 3-year cycle. More on that for Sundays to come.

The Easter season is also a time when we hear from chapters in Acts. Selections, as again Acts also appears in the other two years. Sometimes cued to the Gospel, sometimes to the Epistle, sometimes the Psalm.

The Epistle reading to be followed in Year B comes from the First Letter of John. Next year, Revelation. Last year it was First Peter. It is the second Sunday of Easter that introduces this special Easter Season Epistle. We do not hear it in its entirety, but sequentially and fairly completely just the same.

The opening section of John 1 is our Sunday Epistle reading, concerning the word of life. This isn’t a specific reference to Easter or Resurrection but of course includes it as the culminating confirmation of the loving fellowship of the Father and the Son, which fellowship we now share. We also have the detail in the first verse about Jesus being seen with eyes and touched with hands, often thought to counter the heresy of Gnosticism. In the flesh Jesus was a real man. But it also resonates with accounts of the Risen Christ. Jesus offers to his disciples that he be touched (“handle me and see,” Luke 24; “put your finger here, and see my hands,” from John 20 today).

More generally, John is speaking here about walking in the light that has broken out among us, and shunning the darkness that marked our former life, and which was defeated by the atoning work of Christ on Good Friday. In the light of that, we have an advocate with the Father. John makes two points on the same theme. To say that we have no sin would be to deceive ourselves and render the work of Christ on the Cross meaningless. Or in the liberal Christian version, a tragic end for a morally heroic good man. No, we are sinners and God’s work in his son has cleansed us. That work has a continual cleansing action as well, John’s second point. If we sin, and acknowledge it and its power, we have an advocate to whom we can turn. An advocate for us individually, whose death on the cross was also for the sins of the whole world.

The reading from Acts, replacing the usual OT reading in Easter, speaks of the fellowship in the light—John’s language—in concrete form. The believers shared what they had and took care of the needy in their midst. They didn’t do this by drawing up action plans and exhorting those to do their part, but rather we hear that great grace was upon them, and that they lived so close to the resurrection light that their testimony was empowered and empowering. This is doxological living, and Acts is proud to declare it as alive in and enlivened by the Spirit of the Risen Lord Jesus.

The psalm is there to capture the mood well, with exclamation point at the ready. How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity. The oil of anointing, anointing even the body of Christ, runs now down over the believers, like the dew on Hermon. For there, in the Hermon of Christian fellowship in the Risen Lord, God ordains blessing: life forevermore.

John’s account of Jesus appearance to disciples follows on from Easter Sunday and Mary’s announcement to the fellowship, “I have seen the Lord.” Having walked out of linen wrappings he appears to them behind fearfully locked doors. Having breathed on Mary life by calling her name, he now breathes forth the Holy Spirit. Jesus resurrection is a life changing fact with a life changing charge and purpose. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of forgiveness and new life, for the sins of all the world, as the Epistle reading put it.

Being a twin is hard. Thomas, upon hearing that Lazarus had died and that Jesus was going to see him, volunteered. “Let us go too that we might die with him.” Whatever the reason for his absence when Jesus appeared, he is not content with being left out and getting their report only. Back in their company—not to be left out again—a week later Jesus appears as before and repeats word for word the same hello. He turns directly to Thomas and without a sign of knowing addresses him and his week-ago complaint, lavish to the point of extreme. Doubt is to have no place. Jump in. Side and hands are at the ready.

To say this does the trick is an understatement, belied by Thomas “My Lord and my God.”

Now John lifts Jesus eyes to us who are receiving this testimony but not within the privileged circle, but on account of their testimony. As Peter put it in Acts, not to all, but to those chosen to bear witness. If John could step harder on the lavish pedal I believe he would. Fine for Thomas, Jesus stood ready to defeat doubt within the circle of those who would be witnesses. But what is written is fully competent, by the work of the same spirit breathed on the disciples, to make the Risen Lord alive for us. Not second string latecomers, but blessed as those who have not seen yet have been empowered to believe.

I will let John have the final word. 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, life as rich in blessing as those in the chosen circle in their way, that you may have life in the church, in the fellowship of light, in his name.

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