Readings for Second Sunday of Easter 15 April 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 2 Textweek


Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Sometimes there’s more in the mistakes that we make than there is in what we actually get right, and it wasn’t until the Gospel was being read this morning that I noticed in the pew sheet that the Gospel came from Chapter 205. And I thought as I saw that, yes, that would make so much more sense if we gathered together and read chapter 205, not chapter 20, because my guess is that that would be about the number of the chapter that we would write. The gospel must live. Easter’s not about a life that came to life years ago. It must live: the Gospel, the chapter 20 that we read, we’ve got to draw into the present. When we draw it into the present we will rewrite it. And because we won’t be allowed to rewrite it because it has value on its own, we’ll have to add another chapter. And if we keep doing that, eventually in churches around the galaxy they’ll be reading chapter 205 of the Gospel.

The readings Sunday by Sunday are really quite important. The liturgy hasn’t been put together as an entertainment package that fills an Anglican hour on a Sunday morning; rather they are there to help us with what is revealed and what is being revealed. You’ll notice that we’ve ditched the Old Testament all of a sudden. Before Easter we were happily going along reading from the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures. We’ve chucked that now, and we’ve got two readings from the New Testament, the reason being that the readings are mirroring the shift within the liturgical year. A new day has dawned and what we’re reading about is we’re reading from the Acts of the Apostles. This is the book of the church that was birthed from the empty tomb, and the first reading that we heard today is just a short narrative of an incident in the Acts of the Apostles, very short, but it gives us a great insight into the orientation of the early emerging church, those who gathered after their experience of Easter. And like us, when they gathered they sang Alleluia very quietly; they too were not sure. They didn’t make a great deal of noise, they were a little bit afraid, a little bit ashamed, a little bit let down. Maybe still a flicker of hope because I’m sure they could give voice, and the fact that they gathered said something.

What we find though is very quickly, the energy, that which emerged from the tomb which is revealed in the reading that we heard, raised questions and called into question the authority of the contemporary church, the contemporary religion of the day. Very soon the energy of that emerging church started to become a challenge. Why? Because the early church, the new church that gathered in the light of Easter was in integrity with Resurrection; it found integrity with Resurrection; it was able to write a chapter in the Gospel. It didn’t believe in Resurrection, the early church didn’t believe in Resurrection, the early church didn’t have any faith in Resurrection: it lived in integrity with Resurrection – amazingly different. There are a lot of things that we believe, there are a lot of things that we have faith in: what is that we live, what is that we live and from where do we find life?
The early church had an orientation to the divine in all life. There was a seeing: it says in verse 32, ‘And we are witnesses’. There was a seeing beyond that which was, that which was accepted, that which was religious, that which was the worldview of the day; there was a seeing beyond it. And there was also an alignment with the Holy Spirit, and it’s interesting to just be aware of that alignment. We, in the liturgical calendar, we mark the end of Easter with Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s very easy therefore to think, ‘Oh, Easter happened and now we’ve got to wait for these fifty liturgical days until the Holy Spirit comes.’ It’s only a marking, it actually didn’t happen on the fiftieth day after Easter. What we’re trying to do in the ritual of the church is to give life to that which already has life, to enable us to see beyond the everyday. The Spirit is already given, it is revealed, nothing is withheld at Easter.

The place where you come from when you really get that is echoed in the psalm that we heard this morning, and one of the questions we can ask ourselves in these weeks of Easter is can we, can I, sing or read with the same integrity as the composer. Is Psalm 118 my psalm or do I just mimic its words, the words of someone else? Likewise, can I speak and live with the same integrity as that of the early church or is that something that is back there in history – we’ve retained the story, but the actuality is just a crumbling relic? Yes we can, we can make Psalm 118 our psalm, we can sing it, if we look beyond that which is within our given field of vision. If we live in integrity with the new insight of Easter, Psalm 118 becomes our psalm if we leave the tomb. If we leave the tomb and live in the light of Easter, we too will sing that psalm as the composer sang it.

It’s also amazingly appropriate that today we get the opening verses from the Book of Revelation, because arguably last week we celebrated the Revelation - the coming of the new light of Easter. The Book of Revelation is like listening to someone’s dream, you actually have to do a little bit of ‘what does that mean, what are the symbols?’ John is writing to the seven churches, the seven churches – not one, he’s not writing to the Church, he’s acknowledging diversity; and yet it’s seven, not any number, not two, not 205, but seven - that which represents the whole, as in the seven days of creation. John is writing to the diversity of the church and to the whole.

‘Grace and peace from…..’ Now where’s this grace and peace, where does it come from? Not from the hero of last Sunday, not from the superman who came off the cross and broke the power of death. No, grace and peace from ‘the one who is and who was and who is to come.’ Again we’re being asked to look beyond that which is in our foreground. Our culture today asks us to stay just with your foreground and extend that for as long as you can; that’s where we’re asked to look, that’s the frame in which we live. Is it, is it the frame in which we live? Is the world in which we live just that which we see, either around us or on television? No, it isn’t, it isn’t at all. We can all see that there is an unseen world that we do participate in, that what we see, what is real for us is not necessarily seen or real for the whole of which we are a part. What the Book of Revelation does, it seeks in symbolic language to paint that world that is beyond our own foreground, our own self-interest.

Verse 5 in that second reading, the grace and peace now is named from Jesus Christ, but the emphasis that John gives is not to the name. John constantly asks us not to look to Christ, but to what is revealed in and through Christ: ‘the faithful witness’ – the one who sees in and through faith; ‘the firstborn of the dead’ – the one fully in integrity with Resurrection; ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ – an authority that is divine and is beyond all authority that we know. And John goes on to speak of his and therefore our relationship with all that is revealed: in verse 5 and 6, ‘the one who loves, who frees us and who made us to be a kingdom and priests serving our God’ - the relationship of orientation, of capability, of purpose, of activity.

John speaks with great confidence of the outworking of Resurrection, confidence in the truth, not of the story of Easter, but the actuality of Easter, not a story, but there is a truth in Easter that is to be actualised, to be lived and made real within us. John speaks with confidence of a new day that dawns, a new vision that is to be seen beyond that which is held by the church, by the state and by the world, and against the backdrop of these two readings, the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation, today, the Sunday after Easter, we’re introduced to the character of Thomas.

Thomas is not written into the Gospel because he was one of the twelve. Thomas is in the Gospel because Thomas is within us: Thomas is the voice of doubt. Thomas is the voice that is hesitant with the hymn singing; Thomas is the voice that cannot believe – I would lose too much if I believe; he is the voice of the world, shaped by the consuming passions of our own self-centredness; that’s Thomas. Thomas is the voice that calls us back into the tomb. And yet when he got in touch with the Resurrection, he too saw that which was divine.

Easter is fifty days, to journey like Lent. Don’t be disappointed if Lent wasn’t finished, wasn’t completed in Easter, because Lent takes us to Easter and now we stay with Easter. The fifty-day journey has begun well. The wedding feast that we celebrated yesterday is a sign of new life, it is a sense that there is a community here with a spirit where love is made manifest and real. It is amazingly, not unique, but rare in the modern world. Think about how many people you know who have got married - they all had family, they all had friends, they all had a celebration. Was it done in community though? It feels different; it feels like there is something, there is something more. It didn’t happen at Easter, but at Easter we acknowledged it is there, it is happening all the time.

We’ve got fifty days to live in integrity with Resurrection or to stay out of touch, to not even go where Thomas has gone but to go back into the tomb, roll the stone and stay the dark. Fifty days to move into light. Let’s do it! Amen.