- Acts 2:14a, 22-32 & Psalm 16
- 1 Peter 1:3-9
- John 20:19-31
Easter in the lectionary
It may be helpful to consider what texts are actually drawn upon for Sunday readings during the Easter season. The Year A lections from the RCL are as follows:
- Acts 10:34-43 & Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
- Colossians 3:1-4
- John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10 [The empty tomb]
- Acts 2:14a, 22-32 & Psalm 16
- 1 Peter 1:3-9
- John 20:19-31 [Jesus appears to the disciples]
- Acts 2:14a, 36-41 & Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
- 1 Peter 1:17-23
- Luke 24:13-35 [Emmaus appearance]
- Acts 2:42-47 & Psalm 23
- 1 Peter 2:19-25
- John 10:1-10 [Jesus the Good Shepherd]
- Acts 7:55-60 & Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
- 1 Peter 2:2-10
- John 14:1-14 [Jesus’ Supper Discourse]
- Acts 17:22-31 & Psalm 66:8-20
- 1 Peter 3:13-22
- John 14:15-21 [Jesus’ Supper Discourse]
- Acts 1:6-14 & Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
- 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
- John 17:1-11 [Jesus prays for his disciples]
- Acts 2:1-21 & Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
- 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
- John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39 [The promised Spirit]
Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2
On each of the next three Sundays the first reading will be a portion of the sermon that Peter is portrayed as delivering in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost just a few weeks after the death of Jesus.
That sermon is, of course, the creation of Luke—the author of both the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. In keeping with the historiographical conventions of the time, Luke has created the kind of speech required of his hero on such an auspicious occasion; just as he did for Jesus’ classic sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth in Luke 4. We should read these texts not for information about the contents of the apostolic preaching, but for an insight into the narrative art and theological intentions of the author.
Leaving aside the opening sentence (vs 14) that is used to introduce each week’s selection, the excerpt for this week is as follows:
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (Acts 2:22–32 NRSV)
Luke begins this speech by invoking a text from the Jewish Scriptures that affirms resurrection. In Psalm 16 Luke finds a text, understood at the time as a composition by David, that describes the happy situation of the Lord’s anointed. Such a person will not be abandoned in Sheol/Hades, and their body will not be allowed to corrupt. Whether written by David or not (and most likely not), this text makes a bold claim for protection even in the most extreme predicament. Most likely it was written as a prayer seeking rescue from impending death, rather than as an affirmation of faith in the resurrection of the dead. However, Luke is using this text as part of a strategy to set up—within the rhetorical dynamics of his audience—a case for Jesus as the one to whom this ancient Psalm, now understood as a predictive prophecy, must apply.
It is not necessary for us to embrace Luke’s strategy in order to appreciate the message he is seeking to convey: Jesus’ resurrection was in fulfilment of the ancient Scriptures, and was not something totally beyond the religious traditions of Tanakh.
Second Reading: The First Letter of Peter
The First Letter of Peter is the longer of two very different books that each claim the authority of Peter, rounding out the set of early church “pillars” (i.e., Peter, James, and John) in the “letters” section of the new Testament.
First Peter presents itself as coming from “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” but is clearly not the work of the fisherman from Galilee. This “Peter” not only seems to channel a lot of Pauline ideas, but he even writes better Greek than Paul. This is sometimes explained by the letter having been written after Peter’s death by Mark and/or Silvanus, both of whom were also associated with Paul. However, there seems no convincing reason to defend an authentic connection with Peter, or to imagine the existence of a Petrine school similar to the Pauline school.
Whatever the actual circumstances of the letter’s composition, it is an exhortation to faithful and holy Christian living. Persecution is not a pressing reality for the readers, but being ready to suffer for and with Christ is part of being a Christian. One of the more interesting aspects of this letter is the survival of a very early understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus, including the “descent to hell” as the old versions of the apostles’ Creed expressed it. in this scenario, after Jesus descends to the realm of the dead after his crucifixion, he liberates the souls incarcerated there and leads them in a triumphant procession to heaven. For further on this theme see 029 Descent into Hell.
This week’s excerpt from 1 Peter is as follows:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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 into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1Peter 1:3–9 NRSV)
The central ideas in this passage, and especially the specific vocabulary chosen to express them, reflect a stage in the development of Christianity around the end of the first century, if not early in the second century. Note especially these examples:
- an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (focus on life to come rather than presence of risen Lord as Spirit among community)
- protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (a very different use of “faith/fulness” than we find in Paul)
- now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials (at least some history of persecution/suffering)
- although you have not seen him, you love him (cf John 20:29 “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”)
- the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (focus on “souls” being saved rather than whole person, cf 1 Thess 5:23)
At the same time, we can appreciate the fit of this letter with the Easter season and understand its selection for the lectionary in the Sundays after Easter.
Like us, the original recipients of this letter from “Peter” stand some distance from the original events of Easter. Their religion is becoming clearer with more definition of its central beliefs, leadership, ritual practices, and sacred writings. Neither Jews nor Pagans, these “Christians” (the actual word occurs in 1 Peter 4:16 – one of only three occurences in the whole NT, and the other two are both in Acts, also best dated early in the second century) are beginning to stand out from the crowd and attract hostile attention. What does it mean to be Easter people in such a situation? What does it mean for us to be different from our neighbours and work colleagues because of our religious identity?
Gospel: Jesus and Thomas
This week’s Gospel includes the famous scene of Thomas initially missing the Easter Day appearance by Jesus to the gathered disciples, refusing to believe until he sees the Risen One for himself (and can actually touch his resurrected body), and then subsequently being granted a chance to do just that.
At first glance this story seems to be the very model of an Easter appearance story.
- We have fearful disciples hidden away in a secure place for fear of the Jewish religious authorities.
- We have a miraculous appearance as Jesus appears in their midst and reassures them they are not seeing a ghost.
- We have words of commissioning, as Jesus both bestows the Spirit on them that very day (rather than some 50 days later as Luke-Acts will one day tell the tale) and empowers the disciples to forgive/retain sins.
- We have a missing disciple who refuses to accept the testimony of his fellow followers, and demands to have that same experience (and more) himself.
- We then get a return appearance by Jesus, with no explanation of his intervening absence and for no apparent reason other than to meet Thomas’ demands.
- Once again Jesus miraculously appears inside a secure place, but this time Thomas is present. His wishes are granted.Thomas both sees Jesus and has the opportunity to touch his (presumably physical) body.
But is this really a standard example of an Appearance story?
Note that Thomas is hardly commended for his belated discovery of faith. There is no beatitude for Thomas; only for those who, unlike Thomas, believe despite never seeing Jesus for themselves!
Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus does not renew the gift of the Spirit (for Thomas), nor does he repeat the apostolic ordination ceremony so that Thomas can now share in the commissioning previously given to his friends. In the end, Thomas becomes the very model of the kind of disciple Jesus does not need. Far from serving as an exemplar of faith, Thomas is belittled by the narrative. He has come to faith, but he has not received the blessing.
The summary statement that follows this incident (vss. 30-31) makes it clear that the faith which marks a true disciple relies on the witness of others rather than a personal experience of the Risen Lord.
The Gospel of John almost seems embarrassed by the appearance tradition here. A visitation by the Risen One might be the basis for ministry by the disciples, but it is neither a necessary nor sufficient basis for faith. Faith depends on accepting the witness of others, not in securing a personal miracle that removes all opportunity for doubt.
What might be the current equivalent of Thomas’ inappropriate and unwelcome desire for some tangible proof of the resurrection? Might it be the continued insistence by some Christians that authentic Easter faith necessarily involves belief in the empty tomb? Has an insistence on the literal historicity of the biblical texts become a Thomas-like retreat from Johannine faith in its quest for some quasi-tangible miracle to serve as a prop for faith?
- 018 Revealed to Disciples [vss. 19-21] – (1) 1 Cor 15:5b,7b; (2) Matt 28:16-20; (3a) Luke 24:36-39; (3b) John 20:19-21; (4) Ign. Smyrn. 3.2b-3.
- 479 The Promised Spirit [vss. 19-22] – (1a) Luke 24:44-49, (1b) Acts 1:1-8, (1c) John 20:19-22.
- 375 Binding and Loosing [vs. 23] – (1a) Matt 16.19, (1b) Matt 18:18, (2) John 20:23.
- 386 Faith against Sight [vss. 24-29] – (1) John 20:24-29, (2a) Ap. Jas. 8:3, (2b) Ap. Jas. 3:3-5.
- 364 These are Written [vss. 30-31] – (1a) John 20:30-31, (1b) John 21:25.
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:
- Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan’s WorldMaking Music site
- David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site
- Brenton Prigge’s New Hymn site