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Introduction To The Scripture For The Second Sunday of Easter - Year C
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Second Sunday of Easter -  Year C


ACTS 5:27-32             This incident must have taken place relatively
soon after the resurrection.  It became part of the tradition reported by
word of mouth for a generation or more before being written down by Luke,
the presumed author of this book.  It illustrates the opposition to the
preaching of the Gospel by the same religious authorities who had opposed
Jesus.

In disobeying the orders of the Sanhedrin, the high council of Israel's
religious establishment, the apostles claimed to have a higher, divine
authority for what they did.  Christians have always faced such a challenge
to their loyalties and are forced to choose.


PSALM 150                As a fitting doxology to end the Book of Psalms,
in the short space of six verses this liturgical psalm summons us to praise
God eleven times.  It also presents us with answers to four questions:
where, why, how and who is to offer this praise.  A shout of praise,
"Hallelujah!" (in English "Praise the Lord!") frames these exhortations 


REVELATION 1:4-8         This passage forms the address of the whole book,
but more particularly to seven brief letters in 1:9-3:22 to the churches in
the province of Asia (now western Turkey)
 
Seven, the symbol for wholeness, was regarded as a sacred number
representing the Spirit of God in the fullness of God's activity and power.
John may also have had in mind the sevenfold spirit with which Isaiah 11:2
had said the Messiah was to be endowed.  The passage also celebrates the
crucifixion, resurrection and return of Jesus to the messianic community,
the Church.  As such it was intended as a capsule summary of the whole
gospel proclaimed by the apostles.


JOHN 20:19-31            The story of Thomas' doubt about Jesus'
resurrection has a very relevant message for us still.  As vv.30-31
suggest, it probably ended the original Gospel of John.

************

ACTS 5:27-32   At first, the apostolic community regarded itself as a
Jewish sect presenting a new interpretation of the messianic tradition.  As
it had been for Jesus, a great deal of their life followed the customs of
their tradition.  They used Solomon's Portico, an open, columned area
completely surrounding the temple as their center of activity.  There they
proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus.  This gave them maximum exposure to
the general public who came to the temple to worship as they also did.
Undoubtedly this reinforced the hostility the party of the authorities
toward the new sect.  Acts 5:17 reports that the Sadducees, who controlled
the temple, were jealous of the apostles' popularity.

The Sadducees traced their origins to Zadok who had served as high priest
under David and Solomon.  When the reformation under Josiah made the
Jerusalem temple the sole sanctuary in the land, the priesthood claimed
primacy.  The vision of the post-exilic restored community as an ideal
theocracy (Ezekiel 40-48) reinforced their claim.  When the attempt to re-
establish the monarchy under Zerubbabel failed, leadership of the Judean
community fell naturally to the priesthood.  It was during the reign of the
Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE that their power became firmly
established.  With the rise of Herod under the Romans, however, power
shifted to the king who adopted a policy of appointing  puppet high priests
at will.  A procession of high priests appointed from 4 BCE - 66 CE by
successors to Herod the Great and Roman procurators caused great
instability and political machinations during the time of Jesus and the
early Christian era.  Although chosen from the Sadducees party to represent
the divine authority in Israel, the high priest held the office at the whim
of their political masters.  This motivated Caiaphas to conspire with
Pilate and Herod Antipas to bring about Jesus' execution as a rebel against
Rome. 

This reading records how the apostles, having defied the Sanhedrin's order
not to preach the resurrection, were thrown into prison from which the were
miraculously delivered. (5:17-21)  This incident must have taken place
relatively soon after the resurrection.  It became part of the tradition
reported by word of mouth for a generation or more before being written
down by Luke, the presumed author of this book.  It illustrates the
opposition to the preaching of the Gospel by the same religious clique that
had opposed Jesus.  On the other hand, we must beware making this incident
into an anti-Semitic diatribe.
     
In Luke's day, perhaps as long as fifty years after this incident, the
hostility between the Jewish authorities and the Christian community had
reached the point of separation.  The Pharisees had replaced the Sadducees
as the religious establishment among the Diaspora after the destruction of
Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE.  Although the Sadducees had lost most of
their power after the Jewish-Roman War, the enmity between the rival sects
of Judaism remained.  This would have been well-known to Luke's Gentile
audience because of Paul's ministry among them.
     
In disobeying the orders of the Sanhedrin, the supreme religious authority
of Israel, the apostles claimed to have a higher, divine authority for what
they did.  Christians have always faced such challenges to their loyalties
and are forced to choose.  Today, with the negligible influence of the
church in society, a similar situation pertains.  In their Easter message
from Jerusalem three years ago, the heads of thirteen traditional Christian
churches spoke boldly of the need for an end to violence, unjustifiable
deaths, and collective punishments in both Israel and the Palestinian
territories.  But will events show that their words were in vain?  Their
message concluded?

     "As all the Churches of Jerusalem celebrate the paschal
     festivities together this first year of the new millennium, they
     also affirm that the experience of Easter is one of liberation. 
     It is a triumph of life over death, of peace over violence.
     Looking at the One God who manifested His power over servitude
     and death, we address all secular and political authorities to
     welcome into their hearts the good will and good faith that
     builds new generations with renewed hope and sustained
     confidence....

     We pray for the good will of Palestinians and Israelis   of Jews,
     Christians and Moslems alike   in actively working for justice
     and peace.  We pray for equality so that one no longer sees the
     neighbour as an enemy but rather as a brother or sister with whom
     to build a new society.  Ours is a message of hope and
     compassion, of reconciliation and joy.  To all, we affirm that
     Easter is the time to become one voice and one heart before the
     Lord so that "we may come to know Him and the power of the
     Resurrection" (Phil 3:10) in a genuine, just and comprehensive
     peace that no longer disparages one God-given life over another. 
     that "we may come to know Him and the power of the Resurrection"
     (Phil 3:10) in a genuine, just and comprehensive peace that no
     longer disparages one God-given life over another.


PSALM 150   As a fitting conclusion to the Psalter, in the short space of
six verses, this liturgical psalm summons us to praise Yahweh eleven times.
It also presents us with answers to four questions about this praise:
Where, why, how and who is it to be offered? 

Because of the liturgical purpose of the pslam, vs.1b says that the
appropriate place for praise is "in his sanctuary" - i.e. the temple.  Why? 
Vs. 2 answers "for his mighty deeds."  The psalmist believed in a three
tiered universe with the dome of the firmament above, the earth beneath and
waters beneath the earth.  Although Yahweh is conceived as living "in his
mighty firmament" (vs. 1c) Yahweh's activity is always located in a
historical context.  According to the Deuteronomists who centralized
worship in Jerusalem, the temple was the only designated place for Yahweh
to meet the holy people Israel. 

Vss.3-5 tell us that Yahweh is to be praised with musical instruments of
all kinds.  One can almost hear the cacophony of celebration as the
instruments are named.  Who is to praise Yahweh in this manner?  Vs.6 says
"Everything that breathes."   Every living creature in its own way joins in
the paen of praise for their Creator.
     
A shout of praise, "Hallelujah!" (in English "Praise the Lord!") frames
these exhortations.  Wherever Hebrew words or names end in *jah,* there is
a reference to Yahweh.  Even more intriguing is the ever increasing
crescendo conveyed by the hymn until the final verse.  There the root word
for "breath" in the Hebrew is *neshamah* which refers to a powerful blast
of wind.  Only under divine control could this become the "breath" of
living creatures and the source of human inspiration.  Perhaps Handel was
onto something with his Hallelujah Chorus.


REVELATION 1:4-8   This passage forms the address of the whole book, but
more particularly to the seven brief letters to the churches in the
province of Asia (now western Turkey) which follow in chs. 2-3.  In another
sense it is also a summary of the teaching of the apostolic church at the
end of the 1st century.

Seven, the symbol for wholeness, was regarded as a sacred number
representing the Spirit of God in the fullness of God's activity and power.
John may also have had in mind the sevenfold spirit with which Isaiah 11:2
had said the Messiah was to be endowed.  Also, in Zechariah 4:2 the prophet
sees a candelabra with seven lamps representing the eyes of Yahweh "which
range through the whole earth."  We readily recognize this symbol today as
the menorah.   According to Exodus 26:35, the menorah stood on the south
side of the tabernacle   The descriptions of it given in Exodus 25:31-40
and 37:17-24 may be quite accurate rather than idealized, as one might
suspect.  The triumphal arch of Titus in Rome built in honor of his victory
over the Jews in 70 CE has a carved sculpture of a large and highly
decorated menorah carried by eight laurel wreathed soldiers. 

Throughout Revelation, John makes extensive use of the OT images which,
according the late Professor George Caird, of McGill and Oxford
Universities, are the keys to his visions.  This passage celebrates the
crucifixion, resurrection and return of Jesus to the messianic community,
the Church.  Vs.5 clarifies this in no uncertain terms.  The greeting of
grace and peace comes not only from the Eternal God "who is and was and is
to come," but from the whole church created by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
and here represented by the seven spirits.  Jesus is called "the faithful
witness" (cf. 1 Timothy 6:13) and "the first born of the dead," two
striking Pauline phrases.  He is also called "the ruler of the kings of the
earth," an adaptation of the messianic phrase of Psalm 89:27.

Once again reference to the crucifixion arises in vs.5 in the loving
sacrifice of the cross which gives freedom to the faithful and creates a
royal priesthood serving God as Israel was intended to be in the covenant
established on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:6)
     
The expectation of the Parousia comes to the fore on vss.7-8.  Many
interpreters assume that when the crucified Jesus returns triumphantly,
those who did not first believe will lament their prospective doom (vs.7).
Professor Caird believed that the lament will not be for themselves, but
for him because they caused his wounds.  His coming will be the coming of
God, the familiar "I am" of both the OT and John's Gospel.  The omnipotence
he will demonstrate will not be "the unlimited power of coercion but the
power of invincible love." Caird, George B. *A Commentary on The Revelation
of St. John the Divine.* London: Adam and Charles Black, 1966.)


JOHN 20:19-31   Despite its many mysterious details, the story of Thomas'
doubt about Jesus' resurrection has a very relevant message for us still.
As vss.30-31 suggest, it probably ended the original Gospel of John. 
Chapter 21 may have been added on after the apostle's death to complete the
unfinished story of Peter, his place in the church and his relationship to
John, from whose teaching the gospel is believed to have originated.

The appearance of Jesus in the room through the locked doors and the
showing of the wounds in his hands and side has been used - perhaps too
much - as evidence of the unusual nature of Jesus' resurrection body.  We
must remember, however, that John was telling this story to a Gentile
community some sixty years after the resurrection.  Like all people of the
ancient Hellenistic culture, they believed in the miraculous and in
permeable boundaries between the spiritual realm and the real world.  The
whole point of the story for John's community is in vs.29.  The many
members of the church in John's community who believed without having seen
the risen Lord had everything for which to be grateful.  They lived in a
community of faith and grace, not one based on observable materialistic
realities.

In vss.21-23, Jesus endows the apostolic community with the Holy Spirit and
appears to give them the authority to forgive sins.  Some commentaries
regard this as a variant of Matthew 18:18 added at a later date.  Others
regard it as the church's mandate ordained by Christ and exercised through
the priesthood.  William Barclay adopts a genuinely Reformed view in his
comment that this sentence gives the Church the duty of conveying
forgiveness to the penitent and warning the impenitent that they are
forfeiting the mercy of God.
     
For many modern church members, Thomas is the great hero of the
resurrection appearances.  Like so many of us fascinated by variations on
the theme of the historical Jesus, Thomas wanted facts, undeniable proof,
not the word of other witnesses.  Such incredulity misses the real point of
this pericope.  When presented with the opportunity, Thomas does not need
the evidence.  Jesus lives for him as Lord and God without observing the
pierced hand or thrusting his hand into Jesus' wounded side.  John drives
the point home by assuring the members of his own community at the end of
the 1st century that those who have not seen, yet believe, are the truly
blessed.

The final words of the original Gospel acknowledge the existence of other
events - "other signs" John calls them, continuing his basic theme to the
end - which he did not report.  Does this also acknowledge his awareness of
other gospels which by that time were beginning to circulate through the
Christian communities, as were the letters of Paul?  He concludes with one
last reference to a fundamental motif of the whole Gospel: faith in Jesus
as the Messiah/Christ gives life to the believer.  As John had said from
the very beginning, this is life in the Spirit, eternal life beginning now
and passing beyond our natural human death.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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