Monday, March 29, 2010

Second Sunday of Easter Year C

Second Sunday of Easter C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 11814-29 OR Psalm 150; Revelation to John 1:4-8; John 20:19-31 (see also Second Sunday of Easter Year A)

Conflict between religious authorities and the apostles is a recurring theme in Luke's Acts of the Apostles.  In this excerpt, the apostles, led by Peter, have just been miraculously sprung from jail the night before and have returned to the Temple to continue their witnessing.  They are brought before the "council" and questioned by the "High Priest."  He reminds them that they were previously warned (4:18)  not to stir-up the people of Jerusalem with their healing and teaching in the name of Christ and to stop blaming them for the execution of Jesus.    This latest confrontation is Luke's opportunity for Peter to provide another succinct summary of the church's claims about Christ.  Peter and the others insist that they must obey "God rather than human authority."  After all,"The God of ancestors" called and empowered  Jesus "whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree."  But God exalted him  and made him the originator of a new opportunity for Israel to repent and have a new experience of God's love.  "And we are witnesses to these things."

Having been brought down by enemies (v. 13), the psalmist reasserts confidence in the Lord's vindication, which is the result of the Lord's passion for justice.  Therefore, the one rejected is now ready for rightful service to the Lord.  Celebrate!  Rejoice!  The Lord is good; the Lord's forgiveness is forever.


The psalter concludes with a psalm packed with incitements to "praise."  Accompanied by a full orchestra of wind instruments, brass and percussion, sing and dance: "Let everything that has breath/praise the Lord./Hallelujah!"

Deftly using the traditions of Jewish and neighboring apocalyptic literature, the writer of the Revelation  to John  begins his circular letter to the "seven churches that were in Asia" in the name of the one "who is and who was and who is to come."    This one is further identified as Jesus Christ, "the faithful witness, first-born of the dead, and ruler of the kings of earth."  We on earth join in the heavenly praise because he "loves us"  and "made us a kingdom of priests...."  He will come again and "even those who pierced him will acknowledge him."  The Lord speaks (in language evocative of the Lord's self-revelation to Moses): "I am the Alpha and the Omega...."

Raymond Brown (Risen Christ in Eastertime, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1990) observes about this excerpt appointed for today's gospel:  "Other evangelists mention doubt on the part of the disciples after the resurrection... only John dramatizes that doubt so personally in an individual." (p.78)  Brown then concludes about John's narrative: "The Beloved Disciple  believed when he saw the garments left in the tomb; Mary Magdalene believed when she heard the voice of the risen Jesus call her name; the disciples believed when they saw the risen Jesus and realized it was the Lord; Thomas believed when he challenged by the risen Lord to carryout a disbelieving program of probing.  The final praise for belief, however, is extended by Jesus to those who have believed without seeing garments or bodily presence." (p.79)

In a collection of essays, Counter-Experiences (Kevin Hart, editor),  inspired by the writings of Jean-Luc Marion, Emmanuel Falque makes a contribution that considers specifically John's honoring those who have not seen, but believe.  He notes that Marion regards the resurrection as "miracle par excellence" in his 1989 writing, Communio.  Falque continues: "The true miracle, according to Marion, is in this way 'a miracle of my consciousness,' a lived experience in the conversion of my way of looking at things rather than in the things themselves."  "The miracle is thus not, or more, the 'objective fact' of the resurrection as such-- the sum total of which in the end is only noticed in the actual absence of the body-- but the act by which this resurrection works in me so that I can adhere to it by my consciousness, in this way overflowing all the 'good' reasons that I have to 'not believe' in the Resurrected One without 'having seen' (John 20:29)."  "...[W]e cannot speak of what God is in Godself but only of what God does for us and with us." (pp 192-193)

The church's Easter claims can seem remote, strained even quaint if the assumption is that they are trying to induce belief in some strange event in the past.  On the other hand, they can feel quite thrilling and deeply personal if they bring out of us a strong, new perspective on life-- and even death-- that infuses living with clear purpose and enthusiasm that we recognize has a limitless source outside ourselves; a "superabundance" to use a word so important to Marion!    Never fully understanding God's actions we can gain absolute certainty of "what God does for us and with us."

George Herbert begins his poem "Easter" with these lines:

     Rise heart, thy Lord is risen.  Sing his praise
                                           Without delays,
     Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
                                           With him mayst rise:
     That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
     His life may make thee gold, and more than just.