Today in the Spirit: Easter 2A

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The seven Sundays after Easter Day (including Pentecost Sunday) is the space used by the church to walk with Jesus through his resurrection appearances as revealed in the NT, or the teachings of Jesus delivered prior to his death about living life by his resurrection power. Thus, the Easter 2 Collect contains the petition that “Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.” In the Easter season the church turns the worshipers’ attention to the Gospel of John. On Easter 2 every year the Gospel reading is John 20:19-31 which relates the first post-resurrection meeting of Jesus with his disciples followed by the second seven days later and the well-known dialogue with Thomas. The OT reading Genesis 8:6-16,9:8-16 assigned for Easter 2A brings out the theme of new life under God in the promise of God to Noah that he will never again destroy the earth with a flood. Easter is also the season used by the church to feature important events in the Book of Acts, assigning readings in Acts as an alternative to the OT selection. In Easter 2A it is possible you will hear in Acts 2:14a,22-32, in a selection of Peter’s first post-Pentecost sermon, the declaration that the disciples of Jesus are witnesses that God raised Jesus from the dead. The appointed Psalm 111 will have us place the resurrection of Jesus among the mighty works of God for which he deserves his people’s praise. And in Easter 2A the NT reading in 1 Peter 1:3-9 is the first in a succession of assigned readings in 1 Peter focused on the new life of believers in the power of the resurrection of Christ poured out in us through the Holy Spirit. 

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Never Again Shall There Be a Flood (Genesis 8:6-16,9:8-16)

TThen God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth (9:8-13).

With the exception of its inclusion in the long list of readings for the Easter Vigil, this OT selection in Easter 2A is the only exposure to the Noah story we have in the entire three-year Sunday lectionary. And even here it is only the account of the aftermath of the flood and the delivery of God’s covenant with Noah. By itself there is something unsettling about God’s promise that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood. What about other possible forms of earthly destruction beside inundation? And what about the problem of sin? The flood for all its devastation does not resolve the core problem of evil embedded in the human heart. In Genesis, we need to wait for God’s covenant with Abram to hear God’s plan to actually reverse the curse and bring about the blessing of the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). The death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the Father’s keystroke to provide the way of eternal life for humankind. Only here are our hearts finally settled. Here is the promise of true liberation and peace for all future generations.  Truly, as Paul writes: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2). Today, Holy Spirit, we take whatever reservations we have from hearing God’s covenant with Noah and cast them aside when the risen Jesus pronounces Peace be with you (in our Gospel reading, John 20:19,21). 

God Raised Him Up (Acts 2:14a,22-32)

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (22-24).

In his first sermon Peter connects the Pentecost miracle with a prophecy of Joel that ends with: And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. At that point the critical question in the minds of his Jewish listeners may well have been, “How shall we do that? We are here for the Pentecost feast, what more is needed?”  Feeling the inquiry in the air, Peter goes directly to Jesus of Nazareth, and to his resurrection. He exclaims, God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death. “How shall you call upon the name of the Lord?  Says Peter in effect, “Look to the One who David predicted would beat death, the One who has shown himself alive even after dying.”  Today, through the Spirit, make like you are one of the Jewish people in that audience, hearing from Peter the Good News for the first time and being stunned all over again by Jesus’ rising.

Great Are the Works of the LORD (Psalm 111)

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever (1-5).

On Easter 2 Sunday we will say or sing with the psalmist: Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them, and our mind will go to the empty tomb two-thousand plus years ago. That, of course, is a fair association to make; but what about the great works God is doing among us now? Should we not be praising God for them too? And do we even know what they are? One gets the impression in this psalm that the worship leader has in mind, yes, the great works of YHWH in Israel’s past but also in her present. What does he have in mind when he says, He provides food for those who fear him? Is it just manna and quail in the desert centuries ago or could it be also the provision of food for the widow next door? My point here is that there is not enough time and space given to personal testimony in the life of our churches. Where is the time for hearing about what God is doing in each other’s lives now, so we can stop and praise or give thanks or pray for help as appropriate? Are we so afraid of letting people go off spontaneously speaking that we will deprive ourselves of knowing what God is doing here and now? Today, Holy Spirit, with our psalmist in the company of the upright, I will give you thanks for your wondrous works–for the resurrection of the Son of God and, in the same vein, for the healing of my sister in church from her long illness.

Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (3-5).

It is interesting this Sunday to compare Peter’s first sermon delivered early in his ministry (see my comments above on Acts 2:14a,22-32) and his words in the NT letter 1 Peter letter written some thirty years later. Though there are certainly variations–differences in form (sermon versus letter), audience (unbelievers versus believers), and the apostle’s maturity of understanding–it is striking to see Peter banging on the same message: God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death (Acts 2:24) and According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (above). The ministry of Christ has changed everything, he says, now believe in him and live like everything is new. Oswald Chambers writes: “The Cross is the point where God and sinful man merge with a crash and the way of life is opened–but the crash is on the heart of God.” Peter understands the judgment of God to be like a giant tidal wave rolling relentlessly on the world. There is no way to avoid being completely wiped out. But then, suddenly, Christ appears to receive the full force of that deadly wave on himself–”the crash is on the heart of God”–and somehow, inexplicably, we are saved. Today, Holy Spirit, grant me this Easter even after many years of being a Christian the freshness of spirit Peter shows through his long career of serving you.

Put Your Finger Here (John 20:19-31)

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (24-29).

It could be jealousy, or doubt, or both, driving Thomas to vow that he must touch Jesus’ wounded hands and side. Whatever the case, it is critically significant that, when he does appear to Thomas, Jesus demands that he do exactly according to the words of his oath. It is when we, like Thomas, are closed off to the life of God operating in our lives that we need to go beyond merely looking to touching the marks of our Savior by which he has won victory over death. It is when we are most troubled in spirit that we need to engage the senses with the feel and smell and sight of his wounded flesh, so that we can learn to delight again. But how can we be made to touch the wounds of Jesus two thousand years later? Is it not by “touching” our own damaged flesh? Is it not by putting our hands in and feeling the wounds we have inflicted on ourselves through sin and the scars others have inflicted on us? We cannot touch Jesus’ physical abrasions, but we can and must make contact with the suffering we have endured, especially that which has come on us in service to Jesus Christ. All too often–to our great loss spiritually–we avoid, brush off and bury our own hurts, depriving ourselves of the joy our Lord can give us in exchange for them. From the text we honestly do not know if Thomas ever actually reached out and touched Jesus’ flesh or not. We hear only his great confession: My Lord and my God! Today, in the Spirit, let us resolve to obey Jesus’ demand that we touch the Savior’s wounds marked on our own flesh, to admit that they are there and to pray for healing in the company of others; that, with Thomas, we might find fullness of joy by his resurrection power being extended to us.     

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

April 10, 2023

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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