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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Easter Day - April 20, 2014



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Acts

This book is the sequel to the gospel according to Luke. Beginning with Jesus' ascension, Luke tells the story of the beginnings of the church. By no means a comprehensive history, it does however describe the spread of the church from Jerusalem to all of Palestine, and as far as Greece. The episodes he reports show how Christianity arose out of Judaism. He shows us something of the struggles the church underwent in accepting Gentiles as members. The Holy Spirit guides and strengthens the church as it spreads through much of the Roman Empire.


Note: Acts 10:34-43 must be read.
Acts 10:34-43

The setting is the house of Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Regiment, part of the military occupation force in Palestine. Cornelius, already a believer in God, has had a vision (vv. 1-8). As a result, he has invited Peter to visit. It is against Jewish law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, but Peter comes anyway, with “some ... believers from Joppa” (v. 23).

The Greek here is rough, full of grammatical errors, unlike the rest of Acts, so we may well have Peter's unedited words. He tells the assembled company that God does not favour Jews over others: anyone, whatever his nationality, who reveres God and lives in unison with him “is acceptable to him” (v. 35). In vv. 36-38, Peter summarizes Jesus’ earthly ministry; he applies prophecies found in Isaiah 52:7 and 61:1 to Christ. (Psalm 107:20 says “... he sent out his word ...”) Christ is Kyrios , “Lord of all” (v. 36).

In baptism, the Father “anointed” (v. 38) Jesus “with the Holy Spirit” and with the “power” of God (but he was already integral with God’s very being.) The good news (“message”, v. 37) spread throughout Palestine (“Judea”); he “went about” (v. 38) “doing good” and combatting evil, doing deeds so powerful that it is clear that he was God’s agent: he is a model for all to follow. He suffered death as one guilty of a capital offence, per Deuteronomy 21:23: he hung on a “tree” (v. 39) and was cursed. (By Jesus’ time, the “tree”, a pole, had acquired a cross--arm.)

But, although cursed, the Father “raised him” (v. 40) and “allowed him to appear” to those chosen by God – to be “witnesses” (v. 41). In Luke 24:41-43, Jesus eats broiled fish with them, so he was clearly humanly alive again, i.e. physically brought back from death, resurrected. Jesus, the Kyrios , is the one appointed by God to set up the Kingdom and to judge both those who are alive and those who have died at Judgement Day (v. 42). Then v. 43: he fulfills many Old Testament prophecies: he is the one through whom sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is now available to “everyone who believes”, not just to Jews.

Vv. 44-48 tell of the immediate gift of the Holy Spirit to “all who heard the word”. The Jews “who had come with Peter” (v. 45) are “astounded” that even non--Jews receive the Spirit – the evidence being that they too speak “in tongues” (v. 46), praising God. Peter then commands that the converts be baptised.


Jeremiah

From Chapter 1, we know that Jeremiah was either born or began his ministry in 627 BC. During his life, Babylonia succeeded Assyria as the dominant power in the Middle East. He was a witness to the return to worship of the Lord (instituted by the Judean king Josiah), and then (after Josiah's death in battle in 609), the return of many of the people to paganism. When Babylon captured Jerusalem in 587, Jeremiah emigrated to Egypt. God called him to be a prophet to Judah and surrounding nations, in the midst of these political and religious convulsions.


Jeremiah 31:1-6

Jeremiah witnessed the fall of Jerusalem. The city was first overrun by the Babylonians in 597 BC; ten years later they occupied the whole of Judea and deported many of the leaders. Today's reading is a prophecy that the exile will end, that God will not desert Israel. It depicts the return from exile as a new exodus. The people “found grace in the wilderness” (v. 2), God loved them then and has done ever since. His love is “everlasting” (v. 3). The nation of Israel will be rebuilt, the people will make merry, and agriculture will prosper (v. 5). Even in Ephraim, the first part of the country to be conquered, the call will be to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem (“Zion”, v. 6).


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 118:1-2,14-24

Vv. 1-2 are a call to thanksgiving: God’s mercy, his “steadfast love”, is everlasting. May “Israel” (v. 2) and “those who fear the Lord” (v. 4) proclaim this!

Vv. 5-13 say that, when the psalmist (possibly the king) was in distress, he “called on the Lord”, who heard him. With God on his side, there is nothing to fear; trusting in God is better than trusting in humans. Surrounded by his enemies, “in the name of the Lord I cut them off” (v. 12), with God’s help. V. 15 recalls Exodus 15:2a, Israel’s classic victory song sung by Moses and the Israelites after crossing the Reed Sea.

The “glad songs” (v. 15) are heard in the Temple, the community of the faithful. The psalmist expects to live to old age (v. 17); he will proclaim God’s acts of power. He has suffered greatly at God’s hands, as a discipline, but God has preserved his life. He seeks entrance to the Temple (“gates of righteousness”, v. 19) to give thanks; only the godly may enter therein (v. 20). V. 22, possibly based on an ancient proverb, may speak of the king’s rise to power or his victory. On this day (v. 24) God has either saved his people or punished the ungodly – or both. This is a time for rejoicing. In v. 26, all proclaim he who was “rejected” (v. 22), but is now God’s chosen ruler. All the faithful share in the power and blessing of God, who “has given us light” (v. 27).


Colossians

Colossae was a city in what is now southwestern Turkey. It had a flourishing wool and textile industry and a significant Jewish population. It seems that most Christians there were Gentile. Although long thought to be written by Paul, today this epistle is considered non-Pauline for a number of reasons. The most compelling is that it emphasizes what God has already done for his people: Paul tells us what God is going to do in the future (although some argue that Paul shifted his viewpoint in later life.) It gives descriptions of false teachings which were being promulgated in the churches. Some scholars consider this evidence of later authorship. In the ancient world, writing in the name of a respected author was accepted and regarded as an honour.


Colossians 3:1-4

The author has described baptism as being “raised with Christ” and becoming sharers in his suffering and death. In the early Church, those to be baptised removed their clothes before the rite and donned new ones after it, symbolizing the casting aside of their old ways (“died”, v. 3) and their new “life” in Christ. Our reading summarizes this teaching. We already have close fellowship with Christ, but this is not yet fully revealed; our lives are still “hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3), unseen by worldly people. When Christ’s glory is “revealed” (v. 4) at the end of time, our complete union with him will also be seen. (Early Christians saw Psalm 110:1, “... Sit at my right hand ...”, as showing that Jewish messianic hopes are realized in Christ.)

Being baptised has ethical implications (vv. 5-17): we are to cast aside both sins of the body (v. 5) and of the mind (v. 8). “Fornication” (v. 5), porneia in Greek, means all forms of sexual immorality; the “impurity” is sexual; “passion” is lust; evil desire is self--centred covetousness; “greed” motivates a person to set up a god besides God. “The wrath of God is coming” (v. 6) at the end of time on those who indulge in immorality. In the baptised community, racial and social barriers no longer exist, for “Christ is all and in all” (v. 11).


Symbol of St John

John

John is the fourth gospel. Its author makes no attempt to give a chronological account of the life of Jesus (which the other gospels do, to a degree), but rather "...these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John includes what he calls signs, stories of miracles, to help in this process.


John 20:1-18

Early on Sunday morning (“the first day of the week”), before dawn, Mary Magdalene (witness to Jesus’ death and burial) comes to the tomb and finds that the “stone” door has been rolled back, so she and those with her (“we”, v. 2) tell “Peter and the other disciple” (traditionally thought to be John) that they suspect that someone has removed the body. The “other disciple”, apparently younger, outruns Peter (v. 5). But the orderliness of the “cloth” (v. 7) and “linen wrappings” show that the body has neither been stolen nor spiritualized. John, when he sees, comes to trust that God is active; by implication, Peter does not understand yet. They do not yet understand the significance of what is occurring (v. 9), of how it fits into God’s plan, because they have not yet fully received the Holy Spirit.

Mary, still thinking that the body has been moved, has returned to the cemetery. In her grief, she sees “two angels in white” (v. 12), heavenly messengers. She recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. But something has changed: they are in a new relationship: “do not hold on to me” (v. 17). To John the evangelist, Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, exaltation and return to heavenly glory, his ascension, are parts of a single event.


Symbol of St Matthew

Matthew

This gospel is the first in the New Testament, but it was probably the second to be written. Scholars recognize that it borrows material from Mark, and from a sayings source containing sayings of Jesus and known as Q (for Quelle, German for source). The author shows an understanding of Jewish culture and religion not found in the other gospels. It was probably written about 60 to 70 AD, possibly for a largely Jewish audience.


Note: Either John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10 may be read.
Matthew 28:1-10

On Friday, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (“the other Mary”) have seen Jesus’ body laid in the tomb, the stone door sealed, and a guard mounted. Now, soon after dawn on Sunday morning (“the first day of the week”) they return to “see” and probably to mourn. Matthew highlights important milestones with displays of cosmic power, God’s power: here, and when Jesus died, an “earthquake” (v. 2), which heralds the arrival of “an angel”, a messenger from God. The sealing of the tomb has marked death’s victory, but now God’s agent rolls back the door (“stone”) and sits on it – symbolizing Jesus’ triumph over death. The angel’s “appearance” (v. 3) shows God’s presence and power (“like lightning”); his clothing is like Jesus transfigured. The guards are paralysed with “fear” (v. 4), but the angel is no threat to the women (“Do not be afraid”, v. 5). As Jesus has told his disciples (“as he said”, v. 6), Jesus has risen from the dead. The disciples will see him again in Galilee. The women leave the tomb filled with awe (“fear”, v. 8) and “great joy”. Jesus meets the Marys again later (v. 9). That they “took hold of his feet” attests to his bodily resurrection. Jesus refers to the disciples as “brothers” (v. 10): he has forgiven them for deserting him.

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