Today in the Spirit: Easter 3B

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We continue in the Easter season with readings appropriate for the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. The assigned Gospel reading from Luke 24:36-49 appears to be Luke’s version of the initial post-resurrection visit by Jesus to his disciples, which we heard last Sunday from John 20. If that is the case, Luke’s narrative puts the disciples in much the same light Thomas was under in John. Jesus rebukes those present with much the same language Jesus uses with Thomas later: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see” (38-39).

The assigned Acts reading this week, Acts 4:5-14, covers the narrative of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem’s response to Peter’s second sermon after Pentecost, the content of which we heard last week (3:11-23). The sudden rise of the Christian movement in Jerusalem, with thousands of converts, led to an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin. 

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The alternative OT reading appointed is Micah 4:1-5. In stark contrast to his prediction that shortly Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins (3:12), Micah employs language probably common among prophets of his age (see Is. 2:1-4) to describe a new vision of YHWH for Jerusalem as the gathering place for the nations to come and know the one true God. To go along with a new vision of Jerusalem comes the assigned singing of a new song to the LORD from Psalm 98. This psalm, also assigned on Christmas Day every year to celebrate the incarnation of Christ, calls to mind for the worshiper that the resurrection is likewise a means by which The LORD declared his salvation; his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations (v.3, BCP Coverdale).  

The assigned NT reading is another section of 1 John. While last week we heard a part of the last chapter of that letter, this week we go all the way to the beginning with the assigned verses from 1 John 1:1-2:2. Here we have John’s abbreviated version of the prologue of his Gospel followed by encouragement to his flock to keep short accounts with God in the confession of sin: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1:9). The Collect for Easter 3B marks the beginning of a transition in the lectionary in the season from a focus on the resurrection of Christ itself to concentration of matters of personal discipleship. So we pray this week, “Give us grace thankfully to receive his inestimable benefits, and daily to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life.” 

The Collect

Almighty God, you gave your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and an example of godly living: Give us grace thankfully to receive his inestimable benefits, and daily to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And They Recognized That They Had Been with Jesus (Acts 4:5-14)

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. (13-14)

Note the extra detail Luke gives us in his description of the Sanhedrin in their emergency meeting with the apostles Peter and John: And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. What is this? Does this mean the religious leaders recognized the faces of Peter and John as part of the band that had followed Jesus earlier? Or, were they perceiving something else–not from before, but now in the apostles’ presentation of themselves at the moment? It was not simply unusually good speaking skills from uneducated, common men but extraordinary authority—something similar to what the crowds noticed about Jesus when he spoke to them on the streets (Mk. 1:22). 

Devotionally, we might ask ourselves, are we perceiving the same authority in the ministry of the church today? Is the body of Christ giving off that same ring of Christ in the air? And, closer to home, are our interactions with others at home, school, and work having an effect that shows a Christ difference? Sure, it must be said that you can and do witness Jesus in ways you often do not know about. (Many people closest to you will keep quiet about the positive effects you make for Jesus, much like the Sanhedrin did with Peter and John). 

The key is the sanctifying work of humility increasingly causing us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and displaying his authority positively as a means of healing a broken world. In his extended sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis makes the following observation about humility and the self-denial as the way forward to our giving glory to Jesus in our lives: “For each of us the Baptist’s words are true: “He must increase and I decrease.” He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only in so far as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls.”

Today, in the Spirit, I pray, Father, for the deepening of your sanctifying work in me, that others might recognize in me, as did the Sanhedrin with Peter and John, the power and presence of the Son in my daily witness to the Good News.

And No One Shall Make Them Afraid (Micah 4:1-5)

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore;
4 but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
    and no one shall make them afraid,
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
5 For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever. (2c-5)

In this vision of the latter days (1), though it is clearly apocalyptic with language many prophets might have used to describe a glorious new day for Israel, we note there are still swords to be reforged, troublemakers who threaten the peace, and peoples who worship false gods. This is not the coming of a new Jerusalem in its fullness, with the transformation of all things into a new heaven and new earth as in Revelation 21. For Christians, this vision is better understood as a description of the interim age of Christ in the world, beginning with his incarnate presence and ministry and extending into the age of the Spirit of Christ in which we now live. Something decisive has happened–yes; but change is underway, and yet we wait for the completion of the all-enveloping mission of God.

In this light, devotionally, we may profitably sit for a time with the phrase, and no one shall make them afraid (4). Afraid (Heb. charad) means “tremble” or “shudder.” What causes you to be so afraid as to quake with fear? Under the sovereignty of Christ, who is at once sitting unmoved on the heavenly side of the Father and deposited in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, in keeping with this vision of the time in which we live, we can only conclude that there is nothing to be anxious about. So Paul urges as Christians: The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:5). Paul’s words here are an apostolic command coming out of his understanding of this vision of the prophets. Stop being afraid

Today, Holy Spirit, give me counsel to live wisely in the community where I live but liberate me from undue fear, anxiety, and worry.

He Has Remembered (Psalm 98)

1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
    His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
2 The Lord has made known his salvation;
    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
    All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises! (1-4)

This is the section of Psalm 98 the BCP urges the church to give attention to this week (note: they are vv. 1-5 in BCP Coverdale). Consider the phrase, He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel (3). The literal translation of the Hebrew zakhar (“to remember”) is really Hebrew imagery assigning human traits to the divine. It is colorful, but we must not be tricked by the language into thinking that God could ever be capable of forgetting something only to recall it later. Consider the more meaning-based translation: He remains loyal and faithful to the family of Israel (NET). God forgets nothing. What seems like delayed fulfillment to us is actually the revelation of the eternal present in human linear time. What appears to us to be something lacking, like the love of God, is actually there all along.

Devotionally, this means that singing out the new song of praise psalm in the Easter season is giving thanks to God for a new life in the resurrected Christ, which has now been unleashed in the world. In the person and ministry of Jesus, heavenly time and human time have touched like a kiss from heaven on earth so that we might see and feel his steadfast love and faithfulness. It is a new song for us of the love of God that we, not he, have forgotten.

Today, in the Spirit, we sing of the one true God, who, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has shown his love to the world, like a reaffirmation of a vow that can now never be broken.    

If We Confess Our Sins (1 John 1:1-2:2)

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1:5-10)

1 John starts with a mini prologue similar to that of John’s Gospel, but where the Gospel goes on to address non-believers, that [they] might believe (see Jn. 20:31), his letter addresses the believing community, that you too may have fellowship with us (1:3). See the connection John makes right away between having fellowship with Christ and the apostles and the willingness of new Christ-followers to confess [their] sins. He repeats in various forms the phrase If we say we have not sinned as if, as a pastor, he has heard such a claim from his flock one too many times. Already, it seems, the elder John is perceiving in the hearts of the second-generation Christians a hesitation to be humble, to confess their sins on an ongoing basis, to be forgiven and purified by Christ constantly over time

In our personal and corporate devotions as the church, we need to face squarely the extent to which we are making that false claim ourselves. When you come to the confession of sin in the liturgy, are you finding that you just cannot think of anything? And is that confession prayer the only occasion for the confession of sin you have during the week? Yes, brothers and sisters, we need to trust that the blood of Christ has forgiven our sins once and for all, but it doesn’t mean we go idly by day after day and week after week without keeping short accounts before God (and each other) for mistakes, great and small, we make on an ongoing basis.

Be careful, preaching confession of sin as an ongoing source of health and life in a congregation of believers will lead to fallout. Many will leave because they do not want to hear about the conviction of sin. Today, in the Spirit, grant my congregation and me a renewed devotion to the ongoing confession of sin for the ever-freshening purification of the body in Christ.  

Touch Me, and See (Luke 24:36-49)

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. (36-43)

Taken together, the resurrection appearances in Luke and John show these common featuJesus’esus’ declaration of peace (Lk. 24:36; Jn. 20:19,21,26); Jesus showing the wounds on hands, feet and side and a command to touch them (Lk. 24:39; Jn. 21:20,27); food and eating (Lk. 24:30,41-42; Jn. 21:12-13). All of these are suggestive to us of our overall liturgical experience on Sundays–hearing the word of God, exchanging the peace of the Lord, and Holy Communion.

Last week, I mentioned in passing that our Holy Communion is like—and is actually—our moment of meeting the resurrected Jesus, looking at his wounds of Jesus, touching them, and eating with the Lord. Indeed, in the eating are we not merely dining with him but consuming him, eating his own body and blood?  Jesus taught, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn. 6:51).

Many might think it was easier for the Eleven to maintain a passion for Jesus because of the experiences they had with him throughout his ministry. As dramatic as those experiences were, our own partaking in the Lord’s Supper is equally so. So Paul writes about every Christian’s experience of receiving the sacrament, For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Death, meaning God’s own atoning sacrifice which ended in his resurrection and which confirmed our hope for his glorious return. So, together, we proclaim: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Alleluia!

On this Sunday in Easter, in the Spirit, treat your participation in the Eucharistic feast, and every one thereafter, your own post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. 

Today in the Spirit

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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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