Trinity Sunday C

The first reading is from the book of Proverbs (8:22-31), which is classed as wisdom literature. The section we have for today is a poem spoken by wisdom herself, Sophia in the Greek. The whole passage is chiefly about the presence of wisdom while God was creating. Among the nations surrounding the chosen people there were other collections of what may be called wisdom writing. Here she is an aspect of God before, during and even after the process of creation. In Christian circles this developed and Wisdom came to be identified eventually as one of the three that comprise God – the doctrine of the Trinity; but this took time and is still a mystery. Despite all this theology and doctrine we see in it, the reading is a quite delightful poem.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans (5:1-5), the most structured of all his writings. He had had difficulties of various kinds in his life as a Christian, and here he tries to express what he has learnt from this. It is a suitable reading for Trinity Sunday because he explains something of the relationship of God to us Christians. It is through the presence of God in Christ with us in our humanity that we who are enabled to believe, realise our right relationship with God (which is what the word ‘justification’ means in Paul). He wants to ‘boast’ of this, but maybe being proud would be a more appropriate way of saying it. When a believer has hardship one is strengthened and builds up a great hope – if for nothing else, for a share in the glory of God; and this strength is the very Spirit of God within us bringing us a deep peace through it all. Thus our life is involved in the very threeness of God, through Christ and the Spirit.

The third reading is from John’s gospel (16:12-15) which is clear from its style. The words attributed to Jesus express both the unity of Father, Son and Spirit, and also the promise that the understanding of the significance of this threeness will develop through time. It can develop for us as individuals in different ways or areas of our lives; for some it might be in an intellectual way with the use of words and thoughts, but for others in a devotional way as they grow loving Jesus or experiencing His Spirit, and for some it might work out in their practical living like Jesus, living for others and with the energy of God’s Spirit. For the Church as a whole it developed the Creed with its faith in the Trinity, but this doctrine, will always be a mystery, although what is important is not so much any grasp of the meaning, as living out the practical implications of being spirited.

See Jeffs Jottings on the Trinity

Pentecost Sunday C

The first reading is Luke’s account of the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). The Jewish feast (called the feast of Weeks) started as a harvest festival, thanking God for the fruits of the earth, but its meaning changed gradually into a celebration of the reception of the Law as part of their covenant with Him. The Greek word Pentecost which we use refers to the fiftieth day after the celebration of the Passover. The reading is the basis for this Christian feast that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Luke writes of the disciples, the women and all the brethren – 120 people – gathering together. In the references to wind and fire there are echoes of accounts in the Old Testament of God’s contact with His covenant people, especially through Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19f) for the giving of the Ten Commandments. Luke writes that it celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak out, he says, “in different tongues.” According to the first letter to the Corinthians it seems some of them had been ‘speaking in tongues’ (called glossolalia) during worship gatherings (as some charismatics do to this day) but Luke has different languages in mind because he wants to make the point that the Good News is for the whole known world, hence his long (traditional) list of different places and peoples; this might be a sign of the reversal of the communal pride and godless aspirations in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis Chapter 11.

The second reading is from 1 Corinthians (12:3-7,12f) which opens with the basic fact that what makes a person a Christian and able to have Jesus as his Lord, is the gift of the Spirit. This Spirit can effect different people in different ways (many omitted in the reading). But variety does not cause the church to be broken up, but enables harmony to come from the different gifts people have. This is said because there were different views and different ways of expressing prayer and the following of Jesus. Paul wants them to see themselves as a body that needs different parts to make it what it is. We know from the beginning of this letter that there were groups in the church that differed in their understanding of what it was to be a follower of Christ. We should be guided by the Spirit that we have, but be careful to be in harmony with the body of believers.

The gospel is the same as that for the 2nd Sunday of Easter:-
The gospel passage (John 20:19-31, is the conclusion of this great gospel of John (chapter 21 reads as a later addition). Jesus comes to the weak and scared humans; He comes with renewed life, physical but also transcending the physical – the resurrected Christ. John always emphasised that Jesus is sent by God, is obedient to God’s will and empowered by God’s Spirit. Now Jesus passes to His followers this same commission; to bring deliverance to all who can accept it. This moment is like a new creation, with a renewed infusion of the Holy Spirit, as at the first creation. Then the gospel brings in the story of doubting Thomas – the sceptic who wants evidence but who makes a baptismal confession “My Lord and my God” when he sees Jesus; and the masterful conclusion which speaks to us all “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed.

See Jeffs Jottings for the Feast of Pentecost

Easter 7 cycle C

The first reading (Acts 7:55-60) is Luke’s ending of the story of Stephen the first martyr in his story of the beginning of Christianity.  In chapter 6 he tells how the community of Christians in Jerusalem were. asked to choose seven helpers for the work of serving and extending the number of believers.  Luke then tells of Stephen who was one of the seven chosen by the people and commissioned by the apostles.  But it was not long before his preaching was opposed by some of the Jews accusing him of defaming holy Jewish leaders of the past etc.  Stephen is tried and sentenced to death.  Luke has him deliver a long speech and we listen to its ending in our reading.  He fogives those opposed to him., and Luke tells us that a young lad was guarding the clothes of those who stoned him to death – this was Saul better know later a Paul and by us as Saint Paul.

The second reading is extracts from the last chapter of the book of Revelations (22:12-20) omitting verses 15,18 and 19.  The writer has described the Glorious Future – the fullfillment of God’s plan for creation with the imagery of a New Jerusalem.  He uses ideas from the literture and hopes of the people of Israel found in what Christians call the Old Testament.  The future will be a home for all nations like a  New Jerusalem described here as a bride – it’s like a wedding feast that is coming soon (they thought).  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.

See Jeff’s Jottings on the feast of the Oentecos.

Easter 6 cycle C

In the first reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29) we hear of an important development in the early Church.  Jesus was a Jew, it was the God that the Jews believed in Who was the God of Jesus, and He and His Father were equally God.  It was this God who chose the Jews and gave them certain guidelines by which to live and to distinguish themselves; among other things the men were to be circumcised.  But now, with the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, many non-Jews had come to believe in Jesus and join His followers.  It seemed to most Jews that if Gentiles accepted their God, then the they should accept His requirements, including circumcision.  But this was not the view of Paul who had come to see following Jesus as a radically new phase in God’s plan of salvation – salvation for all.  It was because of the great increase in the number of Gentile converts that the issue became urgent and was taken to the centre for Christianity at the time in Jerusalem.  The reading omits verses 3-21 where Luke tells us how the matter was considered.  The reading we have takes up again with the letter that was sent accompanied by delegates to confirm the message – circumcision was not required of male Gentile converts. This gives us a hint of how Luke saw the development of centralized authority in the early Church.

The second reading as last week is from the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse (21:10-14, 22f).  It is a further description of the glorious completion of God’s creation in heaven; some verses which elaborate on the description are omitted from our reading .  It is a vision of a place somewhat in terms of the city of Jerusalem, which was a recognised symbol of God’s chosen people considered as a whole community; but this is the ideal, the heavenly Jerusalem.  It is seen as the fulfillment of the Jewish religion, the heavenly gathering of the twelve tribes.  But it is renewed since the work of Christ through his apostles who are spoken of as the foundations of this new Jerusalem.  It is a city that has entrances in all directions throughout the world; the six verses that follow our reading indicate its openness to all nations.  It is a city of light, a further symbolic word for all that is open and wonderful; it is a city with no need for a special temple where God may be found, a city suffused with God’s presence.  The whole description is a vision of what this world in which we live today is in process of becoming.

The gospel of John is a well-developed exposition of the life and death of Jesus and consequently often has a depth that we cannot easily plumb.  But this passage (14:23-29) chosen for the reading today is perhaps meaningful to us for two reasons.  Because of the celebration this week of the feast of the Ascension and also because in two weeks’ time we celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  In the reading Jesus tells his disciples that he will be leaving them and they will no more have Him to teach them in the way that he has up to now.  But the Holy Spirit will come to them once he has gone; they will be supported in their work as disciples by this Advocate who speaks now for Jesus just as Jesus spoke the words of the Father.  Those who live by these words will be loved by God.  The passage also is copied in the prayers used just before the Peace in our Sunday service ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.’  The common Hebrew word shalom’ for peace has also the rich and deep meaning of fulfillment and completeness.

See Jeff’s Jottings on the feast of the Ascension.

Easter 5 cycle C

In the first reading (Acts 14:21-27), we hear of the last stages of what is, according to Luke, Paul’s first missionary journey. It was beset with difficulties and would have covered about 600 miles in two or three years, mostly travelling on foot together with Barnabas. If this wasn’t enough, he suffered rejection, abuse and even stoning in one place, though even worse would come on his next two journeys. On this first journey Paul really settled into his distinctive mission of attracting the Gentile listeners to become followers of Christ. He would address the Jews in their synagogue first, since he was well-educated in that religion and would be welcomed by them; but many of them couldn’t bring themselves to accept Jesus as the Messiah; and possibly many didn’t like the idea that Paul welcomed non-Jews to join as well, for Paul believed God was for all the human race as Luke tells us here in Acts.
The second reading is from the penultimate chapter of the last book of the New Testament in the Christian bible (Revelations 21:1-5). It is the final vision of John the author of this book. This picture is the ultimate revelation of how creation is fulfilled; the world that we presently inhabit is changed; and since the Christ event, we can already begin to participate consciously in this new and final replacement of our world. ‘New’ is the word, for it is ever surprising, fresh and remarkable; ‘Jerusalem’ is the symbol of God’s people together with Him; and there is no ‘sea,’ as the symbol of all that is fearful and monstrous. The daring image attributes to God both the attractive beauty and the overflowing rapture of the ‘bride’ in the presence of her man. And in the vision, as well as this warming spirit, there is the word of God making us aware of how things are but from our point of view in time, how it is already beginning to be – and it is our privilege to progress this work.
The gospel reading is from chapter 13 of the fourth gospel. The author tries to put into words what Jesus means to us, what his life on earth meant, what it is now when His work is coming to its completion, and most importantly what we, his disciples, have to do. This is the beginning of the final discourses of Jesus that occupy several chapters in John’s Gospel, probably used in Christian meetings prior to Easter (and could be spread over a different number of weeks depending on the time of Easter). The stress is on the love which we, His followers, should have for others.

Easter 4 cycle C

In the Acts of the Apostles Luke presents his view of Christianity in the 70’s or 80’s AD by writing about the even earlier history of the church. Our first reading (Acts 13: 43-52) comes after Luke’s account of Paul and Barnabas preached by invitation during the synagogue service in Antioch in Pisidia. Paul himself was a well-educated Jew, confident in his religious beliefs about the chosen people and enthusiastic in his efforts to live in the way he felt sure was right – Judaism. But he was open to change and to questioning how things were; this enabled him, quite suddenly and dramatically to be converted to Christianity; however the church was suspicious of this one-time enemy of theirs, Paul. Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew with a sense of caring and pastoring others; it was he who befriended Paul in this difficult situation and the two became real friends and worked together for a time. But as Peter had opposition from Jews in Jerusalem (last week’s first reading) so, we read in Acts that Paul and Barnabas had similar difficulties from the Jews in the diaspora (outside of the Jewish homeland).

The second reading is, as last week, from the Book of Revelation (Rev 7:9, 14b-17). After expressing in visionary language the presence of people of all kinds in heaven before God, an explanation of the multitude of the saints in heaven is given in today’s reading by one of the elders. It was a time of great tribulation when many Christians were suffering and even being put to death because of their beliefs. The vision is of the reward that these people now have in heaven; the martyrs are like Christ Himself, who was executed really because of his loyalty to the will of the Father. But the pattern of history that this picture shows is one that will repeat itself for many individuals and groups throughout history; it is the case that those who live selflessly for others can be persecuted one way or another by others; so the vision reminds the readers that they must brace themselves for this as they also try to follow the life of Christ – to consciously share in His Life.

The gospel of John (Jn 10:27-30) uses many images of God, none of which can capture the mystery of His Being nor even of His relationship with us but all show something of it. Perhaps because humans at one stage of their development where like shepherds looking after flocks of animals, the image of shepherding was used by many peoples for their ruler or deity. In the Jewish religion, we think back to king David and the psalm attributed to him which is so popular, ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” In our reading from chapter 10 Jesus makes this application of shepherding to Himself and affirms that He and the Father are one, God, stressing the commitment of the shepherd to his sheep and the safety in which they can be confident. This expresses something of the relationship we reside in, between God and ourselves.

Easter 3 cycle C

In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:27-41 passim), Luke tries to present to us his ideal vision of the church. He writes from a time when the number and placement of Christians has grown and spread into the wider world; a time when it has become distinguished from its roots in the Jewish religion and, through the initiative of Paul opened up to the Gentiles. But he writes from this later standpoint about the beginnings of it all in the early days in such a way as to express and address his contemporary issues. So it seems awkward to us in our different situation and after centuries of developing thinking about the impact of Christ on everything. We now want to distance ourselves from any hint that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ; for we see the way humanity both in the centuries before and after Christ has fallen short of all that it should be and appears to thwart the creative intent of God. Notice that a section of what Luke wrote is left out of the lectionary reading; the missing verses tell of the wise conclusion that the Jews came to about this matter.

The second reading is from the Book of Revelation (5:11-14) (or as I explained last week, the Apocalypse). We saw in last week’s reading that the writer can produce a visionary description in a style of writing that is as unfamiliar to us as the cartoons and computer games of our days would be to him and his original recipients. Here he tries to picture the glory of heaven where Christ is now present after the success of His earthly life and, especially, death – the completion of His life’s work. From our standpoint it is a vision of the future that we expect to experience, but it is a setting which we already key into at times – we become a remote part of this heavenly scene symbolically when we celebrate together in communion with the saints, but also when we live out the life of Christ by applying His attitude of loving care and forgiveness in the ordinary meetings with people we have from day to day. It is in these that we are amongst all the creatures and the thousands that worship in this scene of heavenly praise. However, the people that lived nearer than us to the time of Jesus had no difficulty with his humanity, but him being divine was all the more difficult to comprehend; so in this scene, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit, but rather an emphasis on Jesus being praised and worshipped as God.

The third reading is from chapter 21 of this the fourth gospel (John 21:1-19). Chapter 20 ended  “All this has been written so that you may believe … and believing may have life;” that ends the original work, but then a final chapter was added. It has an account of Jesus meeting the disciples after a night’s unsuccessful fishing – have they not yet settled down to the task of founding a new community of the followers of Jesus? Yet they do have a large catch and the net isn’t broken, which may symbolize the growing community (and no one really knows the symbolism of the 153 fish for certain). The chapter also has the purpose of confirming the leadership position of Peter; he was the one that in the passion account denied having anything to do with Jesus – three times! Now, in a touching tale, the risen Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” and Peter is able to counter his denials, saying at last, “Lord, you know everything, you know I love you!” In our present time, we notice the role of leadership in the church is meant to be one of feeding the followers

2nd Sunday of Easter

Luke, in this extract (Acts 5:12-16) has awkwardly put together allusions to tales about Peter in the early Church. He wants to impress us with the power of the resurrection and the expansion of the number of believers. They gather together in a public place sheltered from the weather, where people generally could meet as friends, for business or for learning from expert teachers; so the gathering Luke describes shows the believers as such a group but highlights the miraculous power of the leader (the power of Peter’s shadow sounds legendary to our ears); but this is often the attitude of religious people to their senior representative.

The second reading is from the last book of the Christian bible, called the Book of Revelation (1:9-19 passim) or, by some, called the Apocalypse (meaning momentous or catastrophic). It is attributed to John though its style is different from the Gospel and letters attributed to him. It is from the last decades of the first century when the Christians where suffering persecution within many parts of the Roman Empire under Diocletian. The author indicates that he is in exile on the island of Patmos as a result of this. The text is tightly written in places as we hear, “I share with you the distress, the kingdom and the endurance we have in Jesus;” referring to the difficult times they are in, but also the joy of belonging to the kingdom of God and hence being able to put up with the situation successfully with the power of Jesus in whose life they share. Then the literary genre turns visionary as he writes about the seven churches – bright lights in these dark times – to each of whom he has a message latter on. He describes an encounter with Christ, affirming the new life he now has with God and the influence of this life in the whole of creation; it is this that urges him to write this book.

The gospel passage (John 20:19-31, is the conclusion of this great gospel of John (chapter 21 reads as a later addition). Jesus comes to the weak and scared humans; He comes with renewed life, physical but also transcending the physical – the resurrected Christ. John always emphasised that Jesus is sent by God, is obedient to God’s will and empowered by God’s Spirit. Now Jesus passes to His followers this same commission; to bring deliverance to all who can accept it (in Chapter 9 Jesus met people who could not receive faith). This moment is like a new creation, with a renewed infusion of the Holy Spirit, as at the first creation. Then the gospel brings in the story of doubting Thomas – the sceptic who wants evidence (but who makes a baptismal confession “My Lord and my God” when he sees Jesus; and the masterful conclusion which speaks to us all “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed.”

 

Easter Sunday

 

What Luke has passed on in the Acts will be the sort of message that Peter would have delivered and the style that preaching actually had in those early years. They all contain reliable information about the way the early churches understood and expressed their beliefs. The reading we have today is a sermon that Peter delivered after his understanding had been expanded by his experience with Cornelius. It is significant that the public life of Jesus is referred to and not just the resurrection.  For Jesus gave His whole life for others – not just His death.  So that’s what we are encouraged to do with our lives as we celebrate the fulfilment of Jesus’ life this season of Easter! Cornelius was not a Jew and Peter came to realise the universality of the redemptive benefits of the life of God in Jesus – for all, not just Jews. In all the centuries since then, Christians, as individuals and as organisations, have often failed to grasp the enormity of this message – the absolutely unlimited range of God’s love for everyone who recognises Truth and does Good! Today we particularly celebrate and rejoice over the achievement of God in the resurrection of Jesus, but it is regrettable that the few verses omitted at the beginning of our reading are the ones that proclaim this universality – “Then Peter addressed them: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right, is acceptable to him.’ “ (Acts 10:34f The Jerusalem Bible 1966).

Paul’s encyclical letter, Colossians, is direct evidence for us of his understanding of the impact of the resurrection which he preached to the Christian communities that he initiated. The second reading makes the same point as the first.  We celebrate the success of Jesus, but want this to affect the way we live now! This is utterly apposite for our celebration today of the resurrection. Paul teaches that our humanity is elevated by Christ in terms alluding to the imagery of Christian baptism; this ceremony for early Christians included immersion under water followed by elevation out from it, actions that symbolised a dying to an ordinary this-worldly life and rising into a new extraordinary life in union with Christ and hence with the Life of God, where Christ is now enthroned. He reminds his readers of the consequences of this elevation; their aim in life on which they should set their hearts should be on a way of life like Christ’s; all their thoughts should be on higher ideals. As we celebrate Christ’s victory over death we should let Paul’s words speak to us who are trying to live up to our baptism into Christ.

The gospel we hear today shows us the truth of the resurrection, but also the amazement and confusion about what it really means. It is a new beginning so it starts “on the first day of the week.” It is a transition from an ordinary and even inadequate life – as it says “while it is still dark.” But there is a possibility of something better for those who are kind and gentle and loving, so it is Mary Magdalene who “came to the tomb in the early morning.” She is an important witness and announcer of the physical absence of Jesus’ body. Such a person can notice that there might be more to life – “she sees the stone removed.” But she will humbly seek confirmation from others so she “ran… and told them.” But she can’t yet believe for its beyond belief, so vaguely says “they have taken the Lord.” Peter and the other disciple are in the same state of uncertainty, so she includes them saying “we don’t know…” The two of them run to see, though the beloved disciple runs faster, he only looks “and did not go in.” Peter, the leader seeks out the evidence and sees that rather than a stolen body there are signs of an orderly departure of Jesus, for the burial cloths are neatly arranged. Then the moment of the beginning of the transition of their lives starts with the other disciple for “he saw and believed.” And it is celebrated by us today as we begin to understand the whole story of Scriptures. But we should now realise, as the Church began to, that it is the body of Christians and followers of Jesus’ way of life that comprise the body of Christ here and now.

See Jeffs Jottings – Risen life

Easter Sunday

The Acts of the Apostles is the second volume of Luke’s writings; his intention is to write a view of the development of Christianity from the Ascension (where he ended his Gospel) to its spread into Rome and its territory; and he wanted to write it as an encouragement to his readers about the successful growth of believers in Jesus under the guidance of the Spirit. In chapter 10 he tells how Peter’s view expanded to see Jesus’ work as applying also to the Gentiles. Cornelius, a non-Jew, had asked Peter to visit him, and when he arrived Luke tells us (Acts 10:34-37 passim) “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism  but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God…’;” but the section in italics is omitted from the reading we have today; namely the point that Jesus’ work of salvation is for all people; This is not just what Luke is saying to his readers but is also an important message for Christians today as we look at the many good people (who do what is right) in our secular world. The message attributed to Peter certainly reads as though it is not simply Luke’s summary of the written gospels, but a traditional statement handed down in the church; and interestingly, at the end of the speech, we have the conclusion “that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The first 4 verses from chapter 3 of Colossians is the conclusion of a section in which Paul is trying to correct those who thought that there were many rules about what they can eat and what they should do, passed to them by higher beings than themselves; they have lost sight of the liberation that Christ brings. The conclusion which is the reading for today, is an attempt to bring them back to the reality that Christ is for them, that they live a life not restricted by any earthly rules and regulations; this is symbolised in their baptism – going down into the water and rising from it in Christ; the passage concludes with a reference to the final coming of Christ which seemed imminent to early Christians but which we have not just pushed into the distant future but out of mind.

John chapter 20 opens with a very brief account of the discovery of the empty tomb; there are more and different details about this in the other gospels. Here, Mary Magdalene alone, makes this discovery; she concludes that the body has been stolen, but after this account in John, she is in the same place where she meets Jesus in an account unique to John’s gospel. It seems that in this gospel the empty tomb is not taken as evidence of the resurrection, although it says they believed, this belief doesn’t yet launch them into a confident new life announcing the resurrection. Just as Peter and John, the reading tells us, did not really understand about the resurrection, for us too it a mystery of our faith. We need, however, to consider its implications for how we live out our lives.