Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sunday 10 April 2016 - 3rd Sunday of Easter

Theme                  Breakfasting with Jesus            

Sentence            Jesus showed himself to his disciples and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. Alleluia! (Acts 1:3)        [NZPB, p. 594]          

Collect                  God of peace,
                                By the blood of the eternal covenant;
                                You brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,
                                That great shepherd of the sheep;
                                Make us perfect in every good work,
                                And work in us that which is pleasing and good;
                                Through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen. [NZPB, p. 597]        

                                Acts 9:1-6
                                Psalm 30                                 
        Revelation 5:11-14
                                John 21:1-19


General observation about post-resurrection readings in the gospels: between Matthew, Luke and John a form of apology or defence of the resurrection faith is presented. Matthew's narrative in ch. 28 rebuts the charge that the tomb was empty because the disciples stole the body of Jesus. Luke's narrative in ch. 24 twice makes the case that the risen Jesus was a physical person to the extent that he ate and drank with disciples. John's narrative in ch. 20 makes the case that a believer who has not directly experienced the risen Jesus is no less privileged than the believer who has had that experience. In ch. 21 John also presents Jesus in 'physical' mode, but more making breakfast than eating it! John may also be defending a strand of Christianity ('Johannine Christianity') as valid alongside the strand associated with Simon Peter.

Acts 9:1-6

Paul (then known as Saul) encounters the risen Christ in a manner unusual for the telling of the history of Jesus through Luke-Acts. After the ascension (i.e. cessation of appearances of the risen Jesus Christ as 'earth-bound' experiences), the risen Christ appears to Paul. According to the narrative, Paul does not necessarily 'see' an 'appearance' of the risen Jesus: we are told he experiences a 'light from heaven' and hears the voice of Jesus, a voice also heard by his companions. Nevertheless in his own account, 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul describes this event as an 'appearance', using the same word to described the appearances before the ascension to the apostles and other disciples.

Many things can be said about this passage, for instance, there is a body of literature on the extent to which in this appearance Paul also received the whole revelation of the gospel which drove forward his subsequent preaching and writing, including his conviction that the gospel was for Gentile as well as Jew. Here we note two points.

First, the murderous intent of Saul/Paul against 'disciples of the Lord' is described by Jesus as persecution of himself (compare 9:1-2 with 9:5, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.') This could be an implied theology of the body of Christ: the church is the body of Christ on earth, to persecute the church is to persecute Christ. It could also be an insight into Saul/Paul's psychological state: he was outwardly raging against disciples, but the anger within was actually an anger focused on Christ (e.g. as a disruptive figure who was disturbing the settled state of Judaism).

Secondly, the transformation of Paul, from bloodthirsty crusader against disciples to humbly obedient disciple  is a paradigm of conversion. 

Psalm 30

Sticking with Paul, in his great discourse on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, one of the puzzling statements he makes is this (v. 4): 'that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.' Ever since Christians have wondered, where in the Old Testament do we find 'scriptures' which look ahead either generally to the resurrection or specifically to resurrection 'on the third day'. One possibility for the latter is Hosea 6:2. Our psalm today is chosen as a text which speaks generally to the possibility of resurrection. The psalmist (David?) speaks of a transformation from death to life, from weeping to joy, and from mourning to dancing.

Since David did not himself write this as a resurrected person, he must originally have been speaking of the situation in his life when all looked bleak and dark but God led him to a better place.

One aspect of resurrection which applies to us in this life is that we see God at work in raising Jesus from the dead as the God who is able to 'raise' us up from difficult situations.

Revelation 5:11-14

This portion of the great vision of the open heaven in Revelation 4-5 takes us to the slain but conquering Lamb, that is, to the risen Lord Jesus Christ (see also Revelation 1:13-20). Captured for us is the most appropriate and timeless response to the risen Jesus: worship!

The Lamb is 'worthy' of worship, on heaven and on earth, because he was 'slain/slaughtered' for us (we might go back to John's Gospel, 1:29, 36; also to 1 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Peter 1:18-19 for a range of insights into Christ as the Lamb slain for us). But we worship no dead Lamb. The Lamb has conquered (sin and death) and exists forever with God on the divine throne, together 'the one seated on the throne' and 'the Lamb' constitute for Revelation's vision one object of worship.

John 21:1-19

This story is full of 'angles'. A good commentary will help with possible solutions to the puzzle of significance of the number "153".

Here I simply observe that the story begins with one point being pressed (the reality of the resurrection as a real time event with many witnesses to subsequent appearances of the risen Jesus, appearances not confined to Jerusalem and its surrounds) moves through another point (the forgiveness and restoration of the thrice-denying-Jesus Peter with a thrice-affirming-commission) and ends just before a further point is pressed home about discipleship (21:20-23). This last point is that discipleship takes varied but equally valid forms.

In other words, in keeping with the feel of John 21, that it is an 'epilogue' or 'afterword' to the main part of the gospel, some loose ends are tied up here. The gospel ends perfectly well with 20:30-31. The addition (it need not matter for the present purpose whether by the author's hand or by the hand of a later editor) suggests a community which engaged with this gospel and raised some important questions. Now they are answered.

That might be a clue to how we preach from this passage on Easter 3. What are our pressing questions about the resurrection or about how we are to live for Christ as people of the resurrection? What answers would Jesus himself give, as he himself answered the questions being answered here? 

Broadly speaking the questions being answered here are still our questions today:
- Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen? John answers "Yes!"
- Will God forgive me and restore me to divine communion? John answers "Yes!"
- What does it mean to follow Jesus? John answers "All disciples follow Jesus wherever he leads them, whether to peaceful death in old age or to martyrdom."

The net was not torn (v. 11)

In a chapter on fishing and following Jesus, our minds are taken to Jesus' commission to the first disciples that they will become fishers of people. Jesus' expectation is that his movement will grow. Here the unbroken net speaks of a promise of Jesus that no matter how large his movement grows, it will cope with growth.

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