First Reading, The Acts of the Apostles 7.55-59. The readings from Acts have shown the early Christian community as united in heart and soul, and sharing all things. In Chapter 6 we hear of grumbling between two groups of disciples, the “Hellenists” and the “Hebrews” (the difference isn’t that important for our immediate purpose.) The Hellenists felt that their widows were being “neglected in the daily distributions.” The Apostles felt that this distributions were distracting them from the work of preaching the word, though as the New Oxford Annotated Bible notes, Jesus, who came as one who serves, seems to have considered that waiting on tables was compatible with the word of God (Luke 22.27). The Apostles called a church meeting at which seven disciples were chosen for the ministry of “serving tables,” an expression which can also refer to financial administration (Acts 6.1-6). The seven chosen have traditionally been accounted the first deacons (from the Greek diakonos, servant).
One of the seven was Stephen. We know nothing about Stephen’s earlier career, except that his being selected shows that he was well-known in the commmunity. The new position seems to have given him new energy and a new scope of ministry, for we find him not only serving in administration, but also preaching with power, and doing great signs among the people. This suggests that service is not really a distraction from proclaiming the word! Stephen’s preaching led to his arrest for blapshemy and trial before the Council (6.9-7.54), in which he acused the people of Israel of disobedience to God and the murder of the prophets, culminating in his own day with the crucifixion. The council heard these words ith increasing anger and “ground their teeth against him.” It is at this point that today’s reading begins.
Stephen must have known that the anger of the council meant his death, but he was fillled not with fear or hatred but with the Holy Spirit; he gazed into heaven (7.55) and declared, :”I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (cf John 1.51). This only infuriated the council more, and they rushed him out of the city to stone him (see Leviticus 24.14; Deuteronomy 17), and Stephen was killed. Here we first meet a young man called Saul, who wll play a larger role later in the book.
Stephen is considered the first martyr, which means “witness”. The martyrs are those who by their death witness to their faith in Christ. Stephen not only witnesses by his faith; in his last moments he showed that the Lord Jesus waa the model of his actions in death as well as life. Unlike the prophet Zechariah, who as he died said “May the Lord see and revenge” (2 Chronicles 24.22), Stephen echoed the words of Chrst on the Cross, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (comp. Luke 23.46) “Lord Jesus, do not hold this sin against them” (comp. Luke 23.34).
With the death of Stephen, animosity to the Church in Jerusalem reaches its peak. In Chapter 8 of the Acts, the spreading of the good news to non-Jewish areas begins.
Psalm 31.1-5, 15-16. Refrain: Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. Psalm 31 is a lament, a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies. The reason it was chosen for today is clear from verse 5, “Into thy hand I commit my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth,” which links the psalm to the first reading, and recalls Christ’s words on the cross. This verse has come to be used as a responsory at the late evening office of Compline. In the verses chosen for this Sunday we read the pslamist’s cry for help and his expression of confidence in God (1-5) and his confident prayer for vindication (15-16).
The Epistle: 1 Peter 2.2-14. We remember that the first letter of Peter was addressed to the Christians of the northern part of Asia Minor. Many in his audience, if not all were recent converts to the faith. See 1:3 (By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead) and 1:23 (You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God). Now he encourages them to seek the spiritual nourishment by which they will grow in grace. Compare 1 Corinthians 3, where St Paul reminds his readers of his first teaching: I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready (v.2). We should take a moment to note the exopression “pure, spiritual milk:” This translation only renders part of the original meaning. The word rendered “spiritual” is logikos, “pertaining to the Word or Reason”, which recalls the Word (Logos) of God in John 1.1-18. Now “logical milk” is admittedly meaningless in English, but we should have some sense of “milk of the Word”, that is “of Christ,” in mind when we read this passage.
Haslam notes that In vv. 4-5, two metaphors for believers are used. They are as living stones making up God’s building (“spiritual house”), and as a priesthood dedicated to God (“holy”) presenting lives of faith and love (“sacrifices”) to him on behalf of all humans. Christ is the “living stone”, the cornerstone, the foundation of the building, the Church. The writer goes on to show that Psalms, Isaiah and Hosea foretell this building image of Christ, Christians and the Church (vv. 6-8). In v. 7, Christ is the “stone”; he is rejected by the community’s pagan persecutors but to us he is of great value (“precious”). On verse 10, see Hosea 1:6, 9, 10 and 2:23, as well as Ex.19.5 following, Deut 7:6. The expression “God’s own people” literally, “a people for his possession” is based on the old Greek version of Isaiah 43:21 and Malachi 3:17 (Haslam).
This passage is obviously appropriate to the celebration of Holy Baptism We all know the Church as a very human community of people seeking to know God and his love, 1 Peter tells us — and those seeking baptism — what the Church is at the level of faith: a temple (the place of God’s presence), of which the members are the living stones, a people sharing in the royal priesthood of the Lord Jesus, a consecrated nation, a people God claims as his own. When we come seeking God and community, the passage reminds us of the words of Christ: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” [John 15:16].
The Sentence of the day, which is used in the Alleluia verse, is our Lord’s saying in the Gospel passage, John 14.6.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Saint John 14.1-14. As we move through the Easter season and towards the feast of the Ascension, the Sunday Gospels are chosen from John’s account of the farewell discourse of Christ at the Last Supper. Before his passion, Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure; the words are as important for us after the resurrection.
The Gospel according to Saint John is a tightly written text, which deserves more detailed comments than I am able to provide in these notes. I cannot provide a better brief summary than the one provided at the “Revised Common Lectionary” site, for which the URL is http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/aeas5m.shtml. Some other points may be considered
Just before today’s passage, Jesus predicted that Simon Peter wil deny him (13:36-38); this is why his disciples are troubled. He now comforts them with the assurance that he is going to prepare a plae for them in his Father’s house and that he will come again to take them to himself. The saying in my Father’s house are many dwellng places has been taken to refer to different degrees of glory or blessedness, or to different spheres of existence, but this is not necessary; the principal meaning is that there is room for all of Christ’s people. The image itself may come from the fact that the Temple, of which Father’s house is the heavenly antitype (see Joh n 2:16), was surrounded by many side chambers.
Often in John’s Gospel, people ask questions to which Jesus responds by take us deeper into his teaching. In this passaage we find that his words have satisfied neither Thomas, who wants a clear road map of the way Christ is going, or Philip, who demands a direct vision of the Father. Each of these questions leads Jesus to state clearly that he is the revealer of the Father, whose words he speaks, and whose power is manifest in his works. This is not a passage to be passed over in a moment.
The Week of Easter V (20-26 April, 2008)
On April 21 the Church celebrates rhe Memorial of Anselm, Arhchbishop of Canterbury, Teacher of the Faith, 1109. See For All the Saints, pp 146-7, 513. You may quickly learn more about Anselm at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anselm_of_Canterbury.
On April 23 the Church observes the Commemoration of George, Patron of England, Maryr, 4th Century. We need only comment that St George was not English but was adopted as Patron Saint of England by King Edward III, and that the story of the dragon, a later addition to his story, is no reason for doubting the existence of George. For All the Saints, pp 148-9; you might like to see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_George. This day is also traditionally observed as the birthday of William Shakespeare.
On April 24 the Church observes the Memorial of The Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. In the twentieth century more Christians have suffered death because they chose to reamin faithful to the gospel than at any other time in the Church’s history. “If we were not careful, the sheer number of martyrs might stagger our efforts to remember them,a nd why and how they died. So, today’s memorial is meant to be a small act of resistance, a refusal to be silent in the face of terror and injustice.” (For All the Saints, pp. 150-1, 517.)
On April 25 the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist. John Mark is mentioned frequently in the New Testament; the authorship of the second Gospel is traditionally attributed to him. In addition to the material in For All the Saints (p. 152-3, 528), see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mark.