Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C
Time rather caught up with me this week, and I have not had time to prepare the notes I would like and a sermon. For that reason, I have added the text of the sermon as the comment on the Gospel.
Good Shepherd Sunday
In the older lectionary, a passage from John 10 was read as the Gospel on the Second Sunday after Easter (that is, last week) which was for that reason known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’. From the Sentence, the Collect, the Gospel readings as well as the use of Psalm 23 in all three years it is aparent that that title has been shifted ahead to the Third Sunday after, or Fourth Sunday of Easter.

Acts 9.36-43
Dorcas is raised from the dead by St Peter
After the account of Paul’s conversion, Acts tells a little more about his time in Damascus and Jerusalem and then turns its attention back to Peter. For though Paul will bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, it is through Peter that this great mission is inaugurated. Two miracles are recounted before the ‘epoch-making conversion of Cornelius’ (NJBC). Today’s reading is the second of these, the story of Tabitha of Joppa, whose name in Greek is Dorcas.
In reading this passage it is instructive to compare it to Luke’s account of Jesus’ raising of the widow of Nain’s son (7.11-17) and of Jairus daughter (Lk 8.49-56). There are also models in the Old Testament (1 Kgs 17.17-24; 2 Kgs 4,32-37).
After Saul’s conversion the Church in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee was at peace and growing. In 9.32 we read that Peter has been making a tour of the communities of those who followed the way. At Lydda, about 25 miles north-west of Jersualem, he healed a man named Aeneas who had been parayzed eight years. At this many were converted to the Lord.
36. Joppa, now Jaffa, is an ancient port city about 12 miles from Lydda. For further information see
Tabitha, Dorcas in Greek, means gazelle. Her name is familiar to us from the many groups of Church women devoted to good wirks, in particular various kinds of needle-work (see v. 39) . The NJBC points out that the fact that her name is translated for Greek readers, along with borrowings from the ancient Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible (1 Kgs 17.17-24; 2 Kgs 4.32-37) ‘show this to be a Jewish-Christian story transmitted by hellenized Christians’.
38. desiring him that he would not delay to come to them: note that they do not say what they want Peter to do.
39. All the widows; here the widows seem to act as official mourners. There was later a recogized group or order of widows in the Church, organizing charitable works: see 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made is the reason her name is used for Church groups today.
40. Peter put them all outside. See Mk 5.40, Lk 18.51. Tabitha, rise NJBC compares Mk 5.41, Talitha, cum. She sat up: compare the story of the Widow of Nain’s son (Lk 7.15).
43. And he stayed in Joppa: The stage is set for the story of Cornelius (Chapter 10); we have a summary of this story in the first reading next Sunday (Acts 11.1-18).

Psalm 23
This is possibly the best-known and best-loved of all the psalms. The idea of the king as the shepherd who guards, leads, and provides for the people is found throughout the ancient world. Tradition attributes this psalm to David, who was a shepherd in his youth. In this psalm, then, the shepherd-king sees that the Lord God is his shepherd.
It can be divided into two parts: vv 1-4 sing of the Lord as the Good Shepherd and 5-6 as the Divine Host. Nonetheless, it is a unity, for these images are closely related. The image of the Lord as host comes from the banquets given by ancient kings, continuing the image of the shepherd-king providing for his followers.
2. He leads me beside still waters can also be rendered as waters of rest. Compare Rev 7.17 in the second reading today, where these words about the Good Shepherd are applied to the Lamb (Christ).
3. Soul here means life or vitality.
4. The valley of the shadow of death is an ancient rendering, but valley of deep darkness is more accurate. The same Hebrew word occurs in Psalm 44.19; 107.10; Job 3.5; Isa 9.2 and other places. The Judaica Press version gives the valley of darkness. Your rod and your staff: the mediaeval rabbinic commentary of Rashi understands this as ‘The pains that came upon me, and the support’: the rod is for correction and the staff support.
5. Is a little difficult. None of the commentaries I have at the moment explain the table set in the presence of those who trouble me, or more simply, of my enemies. Chris Haslam has: ‘The feast (v. 5) is even more impressive, for it is in the presence of his foes.’ C. S. Lewis was obviously troubled by this verse. ‘Worst of all … after the green pasture, the waters of comfort, the sure confidence in the valley of the shadow, we suddenly run across [this verse], or, as Dr Moffatt translates it, ‘Thou art my host, spreading a feast for me while my enemies have to look on’; Lewis comments, ‘The poet’s enjoyment of his present prosperity would not be complete unless those horrid enemies (who used to look down their noses at him) were watching it all and hating it. This may not be so diabolical as [some other passages]; but the pettiness and vulgarity of it, especially in such surroundings, are hard to endure. [Reflections on the Psalms, p 24]
6. Dwell can also mean ‘return’, which supports the suggestion in NJBC that this royal psalm was ‘reinterpreted after the exile’ . Likewise, while the house of the Lord generally refers to the Temple (compare 27.4), it can also mean the land of Israel in general.

A Reading from Revelation 7.9-17

I have no comments to offer on this passage except to note again the link between verse 17 and todays psalm and generally to note that the vision of the Lamb as Shepherd is a mystical filfilment of the Lord's words in the Gospel promising eternal life to the sheep of his fold.

The Holy Gospel according to St John 10.22-30

The only thing I would add now to the remarks which follow is the suggestion that one really ought to read all of John 10 and not simply the passage appointed for Sunday.

It was at Jerusalem, at the feast of the dedication, and it was winter; and Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. John 10.22
So begins today’s Gospel as appointed in the Book of Common Prayer to be read at the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Ever since I first read them, I have been enchanted by that little comment, it was winter. Perhaps, as the commentators say, it is there so that a reader unfamiliar with the Jewish calendar would know that the Dedication festival was in December (we know it now by its Hebrew name, Hanukkah), or more simply to explain why Jesus was walking under cover of a portico. The temple had colonnades or cloisters (porch is perhaps a bit misleading) marking the boundaries of the sacred precinct; the one on the east side was the oldest, and said to have been built by Solomon. But I love it because it sounds so much how people tell things that they remember. The whole opening of this passage is a vivid recalling; Jesus was as far as we know, not teaching, or engaged in controversy, but just walking. And as he walked the Jewish leaders gathered around—no, we catch the original better with surrounded or even encircled him—I see them coming up suddenly to stop him as he walked to say: Enough already! Will you tell us plainly what you are about?
The tenth chapter of John records Jesus’ sayings on the theme of the Shepherd and the Sheep, and although our passage today begins a new section, and we don’t know how much time or how little time has passed. Two parables about the Good Shepherd make up the first 18 verses, after which there is a note about a division among the Jews over Jesus’ words. Some thought he was possessed, others that he was mad; a third opinion was a that one who could do what Jesus did—specifically opening the eyes of the blind man—could not have a demon. In the new section we find that some reached another conclusion: these folk who surround Jesus in the temple cloister understood that all this talk about being the Good Shepherd was not just fine talk but a real claim, a claim to kingship, a claim indeed to be God’s representative or Messiah, his anointed one. All through the Old Testament, just as all through the ancient world, kings as the shepherds of their people, guiding them, protecting them, and providing for their welfare. In the 23 Psalm, David, the king who had been a shepherd, saw that the Lord God was the true shepherd, the host who brings his people to the feast. And does not the eightieth psalm say of God himself, Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock? This is why our Gospel today opens with the their demand, How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly. For Jesus to say I am the Good Shepherd, is as much as to say, I am the Messiah, if not to claim that unity with God which ends our reading.
By the way, the words translated as, keep us in suspense, literally mean ‘take away our life’. Now this expression can mean, make us doubt, or keep us in suspense, but it is not a common expression. However, Jesus used the same expression earlier in the chapter, when he said that he lays down his life for the sheep and added, I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me. It is possible that the people who circled around Jesus that winter day had that saying in mind and were casting them back at him. Be that as it may, we now see that their demand makes sense.
But Jesus does not give a direct answer. How could he? That He was the Christ, he had declared to the Woman of Samaria (4.26), and in very slightly veiled terms to the man born blind (9.37). But if He had said it to the folk who circled him that day, either they would have thought he offered himself as the national and political leader against the Romans, or else they will start asking Him what prophesies He would fulfil. To say either Yes or No would be equally misleading. he cannot deny that he is the Christ, but he is not the kind of Christ the people were expecting or seeking. only his chosen disciples had any hope of understanding the new type of Messiahship which he has adopted—the Son of Man must suffer—and even they could clearly not understand what he meant, though they did not scoff at him or turn away.
Yet he had given the answer to the question many times in terms which they cold have grasped, if they had only been schooled by their own teachers and their own scriptures. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me (5.46). Even more, His works—those signs in which power is subordinate to love—are evidence Indeed, some of them had seen this, those who said can a demon open the eyes of the blind? But the ones who challenged him now cannot hear the evidence, however clear is. He had said of sheep, A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they know not his voice [10.4-5], and these challengers show that to them he is a stranger. They are not of his sheep and cannot hear his word (8.43).
Once again he declares that he is the true Shepherd, who keeps his sheep safe, safe for eternity. No one shall snatch them out of my hand. He had used this word ‘snatch’ [ἁρπάσει] before, of the wolf who attacks the flock [10.12]. [The Greek verb also gives us the words ‘harp’, which is played by plucking the strings, and ‘harpy’. The myth tells us the harpies were sent each day to snatch away food set before Phineas king of Thrace ] Nothing can snatch Christ’s sheep from his hand
Here is the message of hope, the Good News, we declare today. If we are truly committed to Christ, no assault can tear us from Him. St Paul wrote, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress,? For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8.35, 38, 39). There’s one thing that can, but we’ll finish commenting on the passage before we come back to it.
These words are implicitly a claim to divine status: now he makes it explicit. The reason why He can confidently say that none can snatch his sheep from His hands is that this is certainly true of the Father—no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand; and what is true of Him is true of the Son; for I and the Father are one [30]. He did not give a plain answer to a plain question, but this is a plain statement. It took centuries for Christians to work out all that this means in light of their faith and experience. Nonetheless it is a stupendous affirmation of union with the Deity, a union that is the only ground for our trust in the Lord Jesus. His hearers tried to arrest him or blasphemy, but he escaped. This claim was blasphemy if it was not true. So much was seen at the time.. But there is another consideration. The claim is ridiculous if it is not true, it is the word of a madman. The fact that no one ever felt an inclination to laugh at it is very strong evidence of its truth, a truth is proved both in the Resurrection and in the lives of Christian men and women.
But I said that there was one thing that can snatch us from Christ’s hand. What can snatch me from him? I can. Our Shepherd does not force us to follow him, and we are perfectly free to turn away from him. And many do, or at least wander off on our own perhaps blithely thinking that it doesn’t matter whether we follow him, whether we listen to him or not. If we are truly committed to Christ, no assault can tear us from Him. But if we are not, or if we ignore him, and stay away from his church, then we open ourselves to assault, we leave a postern gate open for spies and invaders. With such a wonderful promise as we hear in today’s Gospel, how can we be so careless?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lectionary Notes

18 APRIL 2010

The Sentence appointed for this Sunday is Lord Jesus, open to us the scriptures; make our hearts burn within us whle you speak; it is founded on Luke 24.32. The same verse is used for the Alleluia verse in the Roman Missal on this Sunday in Year A, when the Gospel reading narrates the appearance of the Risen Lord to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. The Collect is also based on that passage in St Luke. Both the sentence and the Collect seem a little distant from the readings in Year C.

The First Reading: Acts 9.1-6 (7-20)
The Conversion of St Paul
We first met Saul in the account of the murder of the disciple Stephen. When the council stoned him, ‘the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul’ who ‘was consenting to his death’[7.58, 8.1]. In the next chapter we are told that this Saul was zealous in the persecution of the followers of Christ, ‘ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison’ [8.3]. He described his own conduct in the letter to the Galatians: ‘For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it …’ [Gal 1.13; see also Phil 3.6]. In the midst of his fury came a change, the call of God in Christ. The conversion of Paul is also recounted in slightly different versions in Act 22.3-21 and 26.9-20, see also Gal. 1.13-17.
The RCL commentary gives a helpful summary of one approach to these versions:
‘NJBC considers that the speeches give us a rare opportunity to gauge Luke’s editorial interests over against his source material. While the author uses the speeches to show development over time, the pre-Lucan Saul story is more likely to be seen in its first telling. The replays in the speeches are likely Luke’s rewriting of the same tale under viewpoints of his own. While 22:3-21 mentions Ananias, his role is less than here; he is omitted from the account in 26:2-28, where Saul receives his vocation directly from Christ.’ [NJBC= New Jerome Biblical Commentary]
This passage is very straightforward and I have only a few comments.
1. Still breathing threats ...: this picks up the story from Acts 8.3.
1-2. Went to the high priest and asked ...: According to the notes in the NOAB, those who ‘belonged to the Way were probably from Jerusalem; the Empire granted Jews the right to extradite their own from beyond Palestine.’ However, no authority is given for this statement, and others say that such a right is not documented. On the other hand, there is no proof that it did not exist. Damascus: the capital of modern Syria, is on the western edge of the Syrian desert, 217 kilometres North-East of Jerusalem. It was at the intersection of important caravan routes. Josephus says that there were either 10,000 or 18,000 Jews living in the city. The Way, i.e. the true way of the Lord, was one of the earliest names for Christianity. Those who belonged to it at Damascus were probably from Jerusalem; the empire granted the Jews the right to extradite offenders.

4. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him ... : it is not said here that Saul saw the Lord Jesus; in v. 17 Ananias speaks to him of Jesus who appeared to you on the way. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?: the Lord's reproach is identical in all three versions. In his disciples the Lord himself is persecuted, ‘a conception peculiar to these passages’ but true to a Christus praesens theory of mission. [NJBC[ The Church does not represent and act for an absent Christ; by giving the Spirit he continues his ministry in the Church. This is also true to the doctrine that Christians are members of Christ.
7. The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. In 22.9 the companions of Saul see the light but do not hear the voice..The Greek suggests that his companions heard the sound of the voice but not the words spoken (see Jn 12.29).
10. The scene now shifts to the disciples at Damascus. Nothing else is known of this Ananias, who is presumed to have been a leader among the Christians of Damascus.
11. The street called Straight, a major street that ran east west through the city.

This Psalm is the hymn of a person who has recovered from a grave illness. Like many who are struck down by disease or misfortune, he had formerly lived in assurance, which is the delusion that I shall never be moved [6]. In his illness he turned to God, and was restored, and so sings God’s praises. Can we take this as a reflection on the theme of the first reading, and perhaps of St. Peter’s restoration in the Gospel?

Please refer to the very extensive notes on this reading at
and at the attached ‘Clippings’
I will only add that parts of this reading appear in the great Chorus, ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ just before the final Amen in Handel’s Messiah, and may be heard here:

I. The Risen Lord appears to the Disciples by the Sea of Galilee
The Fourth Gospel appears to have been meant to end with the note on the purpose of the book in 20.30-31, which we read last week. The final chapter seems to have been added by a different hand; its intention in recording these events may be to address particular questions in the early Christian community. William Temple suggests that of the two narratives the first ‘speaks of the condition upon which alone the work of disciples is effectual (1-14)’ and the second ‘the condition on which aloine the commission to work for Christ is given (15-22). In our reading the last verses are omitted.
1. The Sea of Tiberias. The Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake of Gennesaret and Lake Kinneret, was called the Sea of Tiberias in honour of Tiberius Caesar. It is still called Buhairet Tabariyya (بحيرة طبريا) in Arabic. Herod the tetrarch founded the town of Tiberias on the western shore of the lake in about AD 20.
2. Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.. ‘Here are Peter and the sons of Zebedee, as of old; one of the unnamed is likely to have been Andrew; that makes the old quartet (Mk 1.16-19) But now there are also Thomas and Nathanael.’ Despite the events of the Resurrection, they ‘have not yet found the new direction for their lives. They are returned to Galilee.’ The ony difference ‘is that they are a company united by the fact of their discipleship.’
3. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They return to their old occupations. St Augustine noted ‘that they were not forbidden by their Apostleship from earning their livelihood by a lawful craft, provided they had no other means of living.’ St Gregory the Great: ‘The craft which was exercised without sin before conversion, was no sin after it. Wherefore after his conversion Peter returned to fishing; but Matthew sat not down again for the receipt of custom. For there are some businesses which cannot or it can hardly be carried on without sin; and these cannot be returned to after conversion.’ Have you ever considered whether some occupations do not fit the Christian vocation? Temple notes that in I am going fishing ‘The word he uses is that which we have often translated “go his way”. It expresses a completely voluntary & self-chosen action; it may be used of wilful choice or the fulfilment of a destiny, but it suggests that the ‘going’ is an individual act. The others at once decide to join: We will go with you. So they go on their self-chosen occupation—innocent, but self-chosen.: Night was the best time for fishing; but in that night they caught nothing. The work which we do at the impulse of our own wills is futile.’
4. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. As in other appearance stories (20:15; Luke 24:14-15) Jesus is not immediately recognized. There is, however, a more natural explanation: it is just daybreak and still too dark for recognition.
5. Children, you have no fish, have you? Although the context suggests that this is what Jesus means, the literal meaning of the words is ‘have you any food?’ Children may be the same usage as in the First Letter of John 2:13, 18; 3:7. NJBC says that this is the ‘self-designation’ of the community John wrote for. It may also be ‘no more than a casual, friendly greeting,’ meaning something like ‘Lads’.
6. When they answer No, the Stranger commands or advises them to try again, this time on the right side of the boat. Such definite advice must represent knowledge, wherever it comes from; when they obey, they catch more than they can handle. Temple: ‘What is done in obedience to the Lord’s command, even though He who gives the command is not recognized, results in overwhelming success.’ The contrast between the self-chosen occupation and obedience to Christ is of as great importance to the life of the community as it is to an individual Christian.
7. Something convinces the Disciple whom Jesus loved that this stranger is the Lord Jesus. We are not told how he knew this, but we remember that it was he who first believed on seeing the empty tomb (20.8) . Simon Peter acts with characteristic impetuosity and jumps into the lake to hurry ashore. The other disciples have given up trying to get the catch aboard, and tow it ashore by a smaller boat or dinghy. Our translation misses the distinction between two forms of the word for boat in vv 7 and 8.
8. The spot traditionally identified as where the disciples met Jesus is marked by a pretty little church just on the shore of the Sea of Galilee called “the Church of the Primacy of Peter”. For further information see
The charcoal fire recalls the charcoal fire in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house in 18.18, the scene of Peter’s denial, and should be remembered when reading verses 15-19.. with fish upon it. Temp. On arriving at shore they find that somehow provision has already been made. Jesus’ request for fish in the following verse appears strange if there are already fish on the fire, but see below on verse 12.
11. The symbolism of the 153 fishes is disputed. It may refer to the universality of the mission. The Fathers vary in their interpretations. Temple wisely says that ‘It is perverse to seek a hidden meaning in the number; it is recorded because it was found to be the number when the count was made. The net did not break: if the fish represent those who will come to Christ, this stands for the unity of the church in contrast to the divisions over Jesus among the unbelievers. See 7:43; 8:16; 10:19 [NJBC]. Temple:. The gift of God is always more than we can offer for its reception.
12. Come, and have breakfast: once again Jesus is their host. That some of the fish were on the fire ‘suggests that the meal he offers consists partly of what he had prepared and partly of what the disciples have brought to land. If so, the symbolism is true. The Lord refreshes us for His service by a gift which is in part derived from Him, in part the fruit of our own labour under his direction; but it is all His gift, for the whole fruit of our labour is His, not our own, and we only enjoy it rightly or fully when we accept it as from Him’ [Temple].
13. The description of the meal is reminiscent of the miraculous feeding in John 6, which also took place by the ‘Sea of Tiberias’. It is also clearly eucharistic.
14. The third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples. For the two previous appearances, see 20.19-23 and 26-29. Note that those both happened on the first day of the week, that is, Sunday, when the disciples were gathered; this third appearance is associated with the eucharist. The whole is clearly associated with the Sunday Eucharist as the centre of the Church’s life.
Temple gives a good link between the first and the second parts of this reading: ‘The Lord has by a ‘sign’ illustrated the blessing which rests on work done in obedience to His command. he has refreshed His friends with sustenance which is, in part the product of their own labour. Then He turns to the eager-hearted follower whose loyalty so sadly failed as a result of the self-will that was intermingled with it.’

II. The Restoration of St Peter
In Chapter 18 we read how St Peter denied his Lord while standing by a charcoal fire by night; now in the early morning, by another charcoal fire, the Lord forgives and restores him. In his denial, Peter claimed a greater and more certain devotion than that of his fellow-disciples (see Mat 23.36). Does he claim this still? Jesus asks, Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? [15]. The essence of the passage is that He asks this three time, and three times Peter confesses his love, thus undoing the threefold denial of Maundy Thursday night. The passage then ends with a prediction of how Peter would die in witness to the Lord [18-19]; tradition says that Peter was crucified in Rome in the days of Nero. The last words are the vital call: Follow me.
We should note, however, that our translation covers over a possible distinction in the original. This is a difficult matter, since the scholars don’t agree about the importance of this distinction. Sicne we do not have the space or time to discuss this matter at all sufficiently, I will simply provide Archbishop Temple’s hyper-literal version, which gives a sense of the nuances of the Greek, in the hope that it will provoke thought. The words in bold are translated by ‘do you love me’ or 'I love you' in our version:
So when the breakfast was over, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these?’ He saith to him, ‘Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I am thy friend’. He saith to him ‘Feed my lambs’. He saith to him again, a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?’ He saith to him, ‘Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I am thy friend’. He saith to him, ‘Tend my sheep’. He saith to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, art thou my friend?’ Grieved was Peter because he said top him the third time, ‘Art thou my friend?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, all things thou knowest, thou seest that I am thy friend’. Jesus saith to him, ‘Feed my sheep’.
And with that I have run out of time for this part of the work this week. May God bless you in the reading of the Scriptures.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Daily Irritants I

On 'Mutual Friends'
It was years ago that I first read in one manual of English usage or another that 'mutual friend' is a solecism. As is often the case, once I learned this I have never been able to forget it, despite the fact that the world around me goes on cheerfully speaking of 'mutual friends' so that the battle is probably lost. This was only a minor irritant until recently.
Every day, when I go to Facebook, I see a suggestions someone to add to my list of friends. Most of these are people I have never heard of, but who apparently are friends of friends. Facebook helpfully tells me how many common friends we have, but it always says, 'x mutual friends'. Thus a little error noticed occasionally has become a daily irritant. There is no salve I know for it, nor any hope of bringing about change. What I have seen of other attempts to change Facebook suggests saving my breath to cool my porrige.
Still, though I resoved to keep silent, the matter burns within, and I think perhaps that my few readers will indulge me for a moment.
Not long ago, I found a passage in one of Angela Thirkell's novels which sets out the facts about 'common friend' and 'mutual friend', a passage you might like to read. The conversation is between Miss Bunting, an elderly governess, and Gradka, a refugee; the time is towards the end of the Second World War; the place is in Trollope's fictional county of Barsetshire.
'"A common friend in good English, means a friend of two or more people," said Miss Bunting, wishing Gradka would go away but impelled by her life's training to give information where it was desired. "For instance, Dr. Dale is a friend of Sir Robert's and a friend of Admiral Palliser's. One could therefore say that he is their common friend."
'"Aha," said Gradka thoughtfully. "Which you ollso say mutual friend. It is synonym, yes?"
'"No, Gradka," said Miss Bunting roused like an old soldier by the distant trumpet. "We do not say mutual friend when we mean common friend. That our great author Charles Dickens uses the word in this way is a fact you may note, but not copy. He was a law to himself. A common feeling is a feeling about some person or subject, shared by two or more people. A mutual feeling is an identical feeling in each of two people about the other. There could be a mutual friendship between two people. A mutual friend is nonsense."'
~ Miss Bunting (NY: Knopff, 1946), p. 76.

Lectionary Notes


To the Reader,

Christ is Risen. Alleluia!

Dear friend, I am sorry to have been away so long and at a time when these notes might have been of some little use. But that seems to be the way of the Church as of life generally: the times of greatest importance are the busiest.\ One thing happened over the season of Lent which will help me produce these notes; I was able after some delay to use an e-mail list of parishionners so that I could make a version of the notes available to them. This was I can make the exercise more clearly parish work and not s little thing of my own!\\

I hope that your Easter Day was joyful, and that all Eastertide will continue so!

The Octave Day of Easter

This Sunday is commonly known by Anglicans as ‘Low Sunday’, probably from the contrast between the joys of Easter and the first return to ordinary Sunday services, though some wags suggest it is from the difference in attendance. In old times it was called Dominica post albas, because on this Sunday the newly baptized for the first time stopped wearing the white garments [‘alba’] that they had put on every day in the first week of Easter. From the Introit in the Latin Mass it was known as Quasimodo, now better known as the name given to Hugo's Hunchback, so called becasue he was found on this Sunday.

The Readings
A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 5.27-32

Context: This passage is part of the story beginning at Acts 5:12, which tells of the swecond arres tof the apostles by the leaders of the Temple. For the first arrest, see Acts 4.1-21. At that time, Peter and John were ordered not to speak to anyone in the name of Jesus. The apostles replied ‘We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’. Now all the apostles are together in the Temple and healing many [12-16] But the High Priest and the Sadducees had them arrested and put in the common prison. That night an Angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and led them out and commanded them to preach to the people. Hearing this, they went to the Temple at daybreak and taught. [17-21] It should be remembered that ‘angel’ is a Greek word meaning ‘messenger’.
When the chief priest assembled the council that morning and sent for the prisoners, it was reported that though the prison was carefully locked and guarded there was no one inside. When they heard this, the captaon of the temple and the chief priests were much perplexed, ‘and wondered what this would come to.’ [24] Then news came that the prisoners were standing in the temple and teaching the people, and the captain and the officers went to arrest them, but without violence, because they were afraid the people would stone them. It is at this point that Sunday’s reading begins.
The reading ends with Peter’s speech, but the story continues. Peter has so enraged the council that they want to kill the Apostles, but the great teacher Gamaliel advises them to let them alone, in case they find themselves acting against God [34-39]. They had the Apostles flogged and forbade them (again) to speak in the name of Jesus [40]. The Apostles went out rejoicing that they had been worthy to suffer for Jesus' name, in which they did not cease to teach [41-42].
28. We gave you strict orders, see 4.17-18. ‘Strict orders’ renders an idiom that would seem strange in English: the original is literally, ‘Did we not command you by commandment…?’ … you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us: The high priest alludes to Deuteronomy 21.23: “ … anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse”. He means that by their preaching the apostles want to lay this curse on the Council rather than on Jesus.
Peter’s reply in verses 29-32 illustrate the promise of Jesus : ‘... they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.’ [Luke 21.12-13]. This speech is a brief but complete statement of the essential message of the Gospel.
29. See 4.19. 30. whom you killed by hanging on a tree: Peter repeats the charge which the High priest found offensive, that the Council was responsible for Jesus’ death. This time he says it more clearly. 31. Leader, the word is translated ‘Author’ in 3.15. It can refer to a pioneer or the founder of a new city {so NOAB]. The term Saviour was used in ancient times of a person who saved a city or nation, rescues, or heals; the New Testament uses it of Jesus as healer and deliverer from sin and death.
When we read this passage we are put in mind of the boldness of the Apostle’s witness to Christ and should consider our own, whether in word or action. We may also think of the healings which God worked through them, as reported earlier in this chapter. Some believe that the works of power were removed by God as they were appropriate for the first days of the Church but not afterward; indeed it may well be that fewer miracles of healing are needed today, since God works through human skill and knowledge in medicine. Others point to reported miracles happening today. These are matters we should consider. St John Chrysostom said that we do not do the miracles of the apostles because we have fallen away from the community life of the apostles.

The Psalm

There is a choice of Psalms this Sunday: 118.14-29 or 150. Since we used almost the same verses of Psalm 118 last Sunday, I have decided to use 150 this year.
Psalm 150 is the exuberant hymn of praise which brings the Psalter to a close.
1. The word Hallelujah or alleluia (which is merely its form in Greek and Latin) means ‘Praise the Lord’. Psalms 146-150 all begin and end with this word. It is also used in Psalms 113-118, which are called the ‘Egyptian Hallel’ and are associated with the Passover and other great festivals. At passover. Psalms 113-114 are sung before the meal, Psalms 115-118 afterwards. (On this, see Matthew 26.30.) In his sanctuary, e.g., in the temple. The Judaica Press translation has ‘Praise God in His holy place’.
There is also a choice of Psalm-refrain [see BAS p. 337]. We may use ‘God has exalted his anointed’, or ‘Let everything that has breath Praise the Lord!’ or simply, ‘Alleluia!’ \

A Reading from the Revelation of John 1.4-8

The fnal chapters of the final book of the New Testament, the Apocalypse or Revelation, ‘depict the consummation toward which the whole Biblical message of redemption is focussed.’ That the word ‘apocalypse’, which is merely the Greek for 'revelation', has come to mean to most people ‘the terrifying end of the world’ shows how far it is forgotten that this book is a book of hope. The introduction to the Revelation in the NOAB makes a helpful comment:
‘It may be described as an inspired picture book which, by an accumulation of magnificent poetic imagery, makes a powerful appeal to the reader’s imagination. many of the details of its pictures are intended to contribute to the total impression and are not to be isolated and interpreted with wooden literalism.’
Space does not permit us to provide anything like a useful introduction to this book here: I will only say that it is one part of Scripture that ought not to be read without a good commentary at hand.
The book begins with a letter to the seven churches of Asia. The Roman province of Asia was a part of what is now Western Turkey. The seven churches were: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The number seven suggests the idea of completeness and totality. The expression Grace and peace is a usual part of the salutation in the letters of the New Testament which combined the the conventional salutations of Greek (grace) and Hebrew (peace). See 2 Rom 1.7, 1 Cor 1.3, 2 Cor 1.2, and so on.) The seven spirits who are before his throne means either exalted angelic beings or the Spirit of God in his manifold energies (see Isaiah 11.2). Who is and who was and who is to come: i.e., God; see verse 8, 4.8, and 11,17.
5. Faithful witness: see John 18:37. Firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth: By his resurrection Jesus is installed as universal king (see 1 Cor 15.20-28; also Mat 28.18). who loves us and has freed us: note the tenses. He loves us continually and has freed us once for all. freed us … by his blood: Although this precise wording is unique in the NT, ‘the basic idea is early Christian tradition (cf. Rom 3.21-26; 8.37; Gal 2.20)’ [NJBC].
6. a kingdom, priests to his God and Father: see Ex 19.6; 1 Peter 2.4-5. Verses 5 and 6 are clearly the reason that this passage was chosen to be read today. There are questions about the priestly nature of the Church and its relation to the existence of an ordained priesthood which might be raised here but cannot for lack of time. I hope we will have a chance to return to them. This point also touches on the commissioning of the Apostles in the Gospel reading.
7. The first of two prophetic sayings, this verse combines and adapts Dan 7.13 and Zech 12.10 as a prophecy of the coming of Christ to judge the world. The hymn Lo, He Comes with Clouds descending (number 114 in Common Praise is in part based on this verse.
8. The second saying is one of only two in all of Revelation of which God is explicitly identified as the speaker. This is one of the differences between prophecy and apocalyptic: the prophecy is directly the word of the Lord, while in apocalyptic the revelation is mediated, that is received as a vision or through a heavenly being such as an angel. I am: see Exodus 3:14. the Alpha and the Omega: the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (i.e., ‘A to Z’); hence, the beginning and end of all things (Isa 44.6).

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St John 20.19-31

This passage describes two appearances: to the disciples on the evening of the first Easter Day, which appears in various forms in Luke and Matthew; and to Thomas a week later, which is peculiar to John. The first appearance [20.19-23] is the traditional Gospel passage for today.The nearest parallel to it is Luke 24:36 43, which would be usefully compared as we read it.

In the followng notes I have made extensve use of William Temple's Readings in St John's Gospel First and Second Series,1940 (1985 reprint).

19. William Temple says that when it was evening means ‘late in the evening’; he takes it that it is after the two disciples have returned from Emmaus (Luke 24.33). The doors were locked in the NRSV is perhaps stronger than warranted by the original; a more natural rendering would be shut, as in most earlier English versions. The disciples were in fear of the Jews because they knew that the report of the empty tomb was known and that they themselves might be charged with stealing the body of Jesus. Jesus came and stood among them: As Temple pointed out the text does not say he came through the closed doors, simply that at one time he was not there and at a later time he was. Clearly, he adds, the risen body was free from some of its former limitations. Peace be with you was the common greeting. But long ago Bishop Cosin said in a sermon on this text, that it was more than an ordinary greeting, ‘that Christ came not here among his Apostles a-visiting only, to spend away his time by seeing how they did, and so bid them good morrow’. They would have recalled Jesus’ words, Peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you (John 14.27).
20. He showed them his hands and his side to confirm their belief that it was he himself. Temple writes ‘This, however transmuted, was the Body which hung on the Cross and was laid in the tomb. But the scars are more than this; they are evidence not only that what they see is the Body of Jesus, but what is the quality forever of the Body of Him whom they know with ever-deeper understanding as the Christ.: “The Son of Man must suffer”’. On recognizing Jesus, the disciples rejoiced, or perhaps better, were full of joy. See John 16.22.
21. After perhaps a few minutes of rapturous joy the Lord spoke again; he repeated his greeting and said: As the Father has sent me, so I send you. For the commissioning of the apostles (‘those sent’), see also Luke 24:47 48; Matthew 28:19 20a. He sends them out 22. after breathing on them and saying Receive the Holy Spirit. [Although all English translations agree in giving the Holy Spirit here, the article is lacking in the original; Temple translates it receive holy spirit (or breath). Since elsewhere in this Gospel the words translated holy spirit and comforter (paracletos) invariably have the article, we should not ignore its absence here. Temple comments: ‘What is bestowed is not the Divine Person himself but the power and energy of which He is the source. Earlier it had been said not yet was there spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified (7.39) But now that glorification is complete, and it is possible for the new divine energy, which operates through man’s response to the manifested love of God, to begin its activity’. This is at least in part a response to the apparent difficulty of the Spirit’s being bestowed both on Easter and at Pentecost.]
The Lord continues, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. Empowered by holy spirit the body of disciples is to carry forward Christ’s work of pronouncing God’s forgiveness of sin. The authority is here given to the whole body; in Matthew 16.19 a parallel charge is given to St Peter. Temple writes that ‘in practice’ the Church has to exercise the work forgiveness ‘through appropriate organs’ and is justified in ‘translating this commission from the plural to the singular in the Ordination of Priests’. Nonetheless, the appropriate organ, that is the ordained priest, is not a delegate of the body. For Christ himself chose and sent his apostles, on whose ministry all later ordained ministry is grounded. When the ordained priest pronounces absolution it is not ‘in the name of his fellow-Christians, but in the name of Christ.’ Although the commission speaks of sins that are retained, the minsitry is not essentially a ministry of judgement, but of reconciliation and ‘of judgement only incidentally to those who refuse to be reconciled’.
No more is reported of this first appearance of the Risen Lord to his disciples and we may presume that he left their sight as mysteriously as he had come. 24. We are told that Thomas was not with them when Jesus came. And not being with them he did not believe when they told him of the Lord’s appearance. Not only that, but [25] he demanded a sign. we may contrast Thomas’ demand with the demand of the Pharisees for a sign (Matthew 8.11, 12). Why was Thomas given a sign while the Pharisees were refused? The Pharisees we are told made their request to test him; because, as Temple writes, ‘they did not want to believe’. Thomas’ doubt, however, ‘proceeded from loyalty and good will’; he was utterly devoted (see John 11.16, 14.5). The other disciples had not believed at first (Luke 24.11). Thomas is only asking for the same sign that Jesus gave the other disciples when he appeared to them. [26] When, therefore the disciples were gathered the next Sunday and Jesus appeared again (can you miss a reference to attending the Sunday eucharist?), [27] he shows his knowledge of the disciple’s heart, offering the test he had demanded. He says Do not doubt but believe: The Authorized Version has be not faithless, but believing, which is more literal; Temple renders this Do not become unbelieving but believing, which is perhaps too literal but gets the point across. But Thomas needs the sign no longer, and does not take the Lord’s invitation to touch, and leaps to the first confession of Christian faith, saying to Jesus, [28] My Lord and my God! He has reached in an ecstatic moment the truth that the Church as a whole reached most gradually. For Thomas, though he demanded and was offered the evidence of touch as well as sight, sight was enough. But as Temple comments: ‘But that is not the real cause of his belief, any more than a similar wonder had been the cause of Nathanael’s belief long ago (John 1.50): Is it because thou hast seen me that thou hast believed? Do you really suppose that the ground of your faith is your experience in this moment? No; of course not; it is grounded in that loyalty which made you ready to share your Master’s journey to death. The moment has done no more than release a faith which was ready, if it could find an occasion, to burst its inhibitions.’ Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe; so in the first letter of Peter we read of Jesus, Whom, not having seen, ye love; on whom, though now yet ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
31. It was to just this end that John’s Gospel was written: That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ. the Son of God, and that believing you may have Lfe in his name.