8th April 2016
The first reading is about the first martyr. Luke has told us that more and more Jews in Jerusalem began to be converted; so much so that there needed to be some structure to their organisation. They appointed deacons, and one of them was Stephen, who had quite a charismatic gift with words. Some Jews in Jerusalem were upset by this growth and the enthusiasm of the followers of the Way of Jesus, and brought false accusations against Stephen before the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin. But Stephen, with his great gift for speeches, expounded the whole history of the dealings of God with the people from the time of Abraham onwards. He particularly illustrated the failings of the chosen people and ended: ‘You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: you always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him – you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it’ (Acts 7:51-53). The reading for today (Acts 7:55-60) comes after this. It describes a vision that Stephen had of Jesus in heaven with God; how he was stoned to death with the presence of Paul at the scene – then a young man, named Saul, who seemed to be on the side of the Sanhedrin.
The second reading is from the end of the Book of Revelations comes from Revelations 22:12-20, which is mostly an epilogue after the final vision from which we have read over the last few Sundays. It confirms that all this is the word of God; it makes it seem that the final end is just about to happen; it will be the completion of God’s work begun with the garden of Eden and the tree of knowledge there; it presents God as at the beginning and at the end of all things, like the first and last letter of the alphabet (the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, Α and Ω). It reads towards the end as if it were used in the early church gatherings; the use of the word ‘come’ is the calling of Christians which is firstly pronounced by the Spirit and by Christ the Bride, then said by those present inviting God into their liturgical gathering; and it finishes with the prayer preserved in the very language of the early Jewish followers – maranatha – which is used sometimes in Christian worship in our own time; it can mean “Come Lord!” or “the Lord has come.”
In John’s gospel, a number of chapters are used to express what Jesus would pray for to His Father while still in this world but leading up to his final moments. Some think that because the period leading up to what we call Easter differed in length depending on the lunar calendar, different amount of this long section provided the reading for the liturgy that they had at that time. Today (17:20-26) it culminates with a prayer expressing Jesus’ great desire for the unity of all, of all followers; and this was a unity with each other, but brought about by the more important unity of believers within the very life of God, addressed by Jesus as Father. The characteristic of this unity can best be expressed as love.