Saturday, April 10, 2010

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.

1 comment:

Felicity Pickup said...

re "a time when these notes might have been of some little use."

No, I don't think so (for myself). I was experiencing information overload (as a result of parish activities chez moi) by that point in the liturgical year and wouldn't have been able to absorb any helpful commentary. I'm enjoying Easter much more this week!