Thursday, April 3, 2008

Some Notes for the Third Sunday of Easter Year A: Mostly for St Matthias'

The Third Sunday of Easter does not seem to have as many names and nicknames as we saw that the Second Sunday has. I mention this again because just the other day Pope Benedict noted that “during the Jubilee Year 2000 ‘Servant of God John Paul II ordained that throughout the Church the Sunday after Easter, apart from being 'in Albis' Sunday, should also be called Divine Mercy Sunday.’” (It was on the Eve of Easter II, 2005, that John Paul II died.) Strangely enough, in mediaeval documents this Third Sunday was known as Misericordia Domini, "The Mercy of the Lord," from the first words of the Introit. Does this mean there are two Divine Mercy Sundays?

The Readings
A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(2:14a, 36-41). Last Sunday we heard part of Peter’s speech on Pentecost, in which he interpreted the events of the day of Pentecost for the crowd that had gathered in response to the loud noise. Starting from the Prophet Joel he declared that the mighty wind and fire, and the apostles’ preaching were signs of the end time, when all who call on the Lord will be saved. Today we hear his concluding words and the effect his speech had. He tells the people of Jerusalem, God has made Jesus, whom they had crucified, both Lord and Christ [v. 36]. At this bold declaration of their responsibility “they were cut to the heart.” At their reply, “What shall we do?” Peter called on them to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins. Three thousand people were “added” (that is, by God’s grace and action) to the 120 believers (Acts 1:15) that day.
People of different ages have used the Bible in different ways, often by asking different questions of it. This passage gives us a good example of how the Bible used to be used to support points of doctrine. At the Hampton Court Conference in January 1604, King James I noted that the English Prayer Book seemed to give permission for lay people to administer baptism in an emergency. This had not been allowed in his native Scotland, and the King didn’t like it. He was especially put off by the idea that women might be baptizing (as in fact many midwives did). Many in the English church disapproved of this practise as well. James discussed the matter with the bishops, and they agreed to change the service to remove the apparent permission (the effect of this was limited, since they did not declare lay-baptism invalid). During the discussion, the Bishop of London Richard Bancroft, used this passage from Acts to support Baptism by lay persons, since to baptize 3000 in one day, “for the Apostles alone to do, was impossible, at least improbable; and, besides the Apostles, there were then no Bishops or Priests”. Therefore, he concluded, lay people must have administered the sacrament [William Barlow, The Summe and Substance of the Conference, London: 1604, p. 15]. Today we might consider it anachronistic thus to distinguish between clergy and laity in the very early Church. We would probably just assume that all the disciples took part and not give it any more thought. Far more likely, we will ask about the idea of numbers being "added", of God's work, and perhaps link it to the idea that Christ and his passion were "destined before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter). However, even if we don’t use the passage in the way Bishop Bancroft did, reading about this controversy over Baptismal Ministry and how the Bible was applied to it can spark our minds to think about how we understand the place of the ordained ministry in the Church and how it derives from the ministry of the Apostles in the early Church.

Psalm 16.1-3, 10-17. This Psalm [vv 1, 10-17] was also used on Maundy Thursday. The psalmist tells of his love for God, for “hehas heard my voice”. Since God helped him in his time of “distress and anguish” (v. 3, serious illness), he will “call on him” (v. 2) for the rest of his life. He was near death; as life slipped away he felt as if death and the grave (literally Sheol, the place of the dead) were grabbing hold of him. He called on the name of the Lord and was rescued from death. What is his response to the Lord’s goodness? To pay his vows, to raise the cup of salvation. The meaning of verse 13 , Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants is that the Psalmist believes that such a death is rarely allowed to happen. Another translation is Difficult in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his pious ones. This verse should be kept in mind while listening to the words of the epistle that speak of our being ransomed not with silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ.
The psalm prayer given in the BAS [p. 865] declares that the experience of the Psalmist is Christian experience: Gad has “given us hope for life here and hereafter through the victory of his only Son” and prays that when we share in Christ’s cup of salvation, the joy of this everlasting gift might be revived in us. With this linking of ideas, and remembering that this psalm was also sung on Maundy Thursday, we would do well to meditate on the cup of the blessing of the Last Supper, the cup Christ asked to have pass from him in Gesthemane, and the cup of salvation. The cup of the passion was necessary for the cup of salvation and blessing.

The Epistle: First Peter 1.17-23. This short passage describes the death of Christ and the salvation it has worked for us in terms of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, a strange land, and their Passover deliverance by the bood of a spotless lamb. Though we are still in exile, we have been delivered by Christ, the true lamb without blemish. Through him, that is throug Baptism into him, we may address God as Father; but this means that in all our life we must hold God in reverent respect [v. 17], and set our faith and trust on him [v. 18]; we can live in genuine mutual love because our souls have been purified by obedience to the truth [v. 22], and reborn by the living word of God [v. 23].

The Holy Gospel: St Luke 24.13-35. St Luke’s account of how the the Risen Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, is a well-loved story. The story itself is clearly told, and we do not need many comments here. Stress is usually (and rightly) put on the fact that he was known to them in the breaking of the bread, which is obviously a eucharistic reference. However we must note that when Jesus came up to them, “their eyes were kept (or even held back) from recognizing him”. The text does not tell us who held there eyes, though it is natural to assume that it was God. However it has always struck me as odd that when Jesus upbraided them as “foolish and slow of heart to believe” the disciples didn’t start to twig to who it was; it sounds so like him! However some interpreters seem to take their lack of recognition as being of his divinity. So Chris Haslam wrote in his notes that “from Jesus’ interpretation and their hospitality to this “stranger” (v. 18) “their eyes were opened” (v. 31), i.e. they develop a deeper understanding of who Jesus is, that he is divine.” If this is true the recognition must be double: that it is Jesus and who Jesus is.

The Week of Easter III
all weekdays of Eastertide count as part of the festival of the Resurrection.
In the Daily Office Lectionary the Old Testament readings are from Exodus, Chapters 18 to 25, while the Gospel readings are taken from St Matthew, Chapters 1 to 4. The psalms and readings for each day may be found in the BAS on pages 464-5,
Wednesday, 9 April: Commemoration of William Law, Priest and Spiritual Leader, 1761. (William Law was the Author of A Serious Call to a Holy and Devout Life, a classic of Anglican Spirituality.)
Friday, 11 April: George Augustus Selwyn, First Missionary Bishop of New Zealand, 1878.

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