Easter 7, Year A: Acts 1:6-14: Jesus Ascends

Jesus Ascends

Jesus Ascends – Source: iStockphoto.com/KimsCreativeHub. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

In the Acts story, we learn about Christ’s ascension.  It’s a lovely way to end the Easter season and lead up to Pentecost next week.

The apostles were together with Jesus and they asked him if it was now time for him to give the people of Israel a kingdom again.  Jesus told them only the Father knew dates and times and it wasn’t for them to know, but then he promised them the Holy Spirit would come and give them power and that they would carry his message around the world.

Then after he said that, he was lifted up into the sky. As they watched, he went into a cloud and they couldn’t see him anymore.  I think this is a beautiful image of him the risen Lord now rising away from them.  While they stared at the now empty sky, two men in white suddenly appeared and said, “Men from Galilee, why are you standing here looking into the sky? You saw Jesus carried away from you into heaven. He will come back in the same way you saw him go.” They can’t spend life staring at the sky but need to get on with things (I know some people who are so obsessed with Jesus’ return that it seems they are always looking into the sky instead of getting on with things).

The story goes on to say that they went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and were all together with other followers, constantly praying.

As I said above, I think it’s helpful this week to close out the Easter season—review what happened on Good Friday and then on Easter, review the stories of how Jesus visited people for 40 days before ascending to Heaven.  Then next week is Pentecost, when he sent the Holy Spirit to be with his followers and the Spirit continues with us today.  Though he is in Heaven, Jesus is with us all the time and the Holy Spirit guides us (as it says in our creed).

 

Easter 6, Year A: Acts 17:22-31: To an Unknown God

Areopagus Hill

Areopagus Hill – Source: iStockphoto.com/milangonda

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the reading from the book of Acts.

In this story, Paul was in Athens standing in front of the Areopagus. The Areopagus is a rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis. (see the pic above). It was also the site of a governmental body (the Council of the Areopagus), which tried serious crimes like homicide, but apparently met for other matters as well. Earlier in the chapter it reads, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.” I admire their curiosity. Apparently, they were curious about what Paul had been arguing about all over town and brought him to the Areopagus to find out.

Paul noted there that the Athenians had erected an altar with the inscription, “To an Unknown God,” like they were really covering their bases in case they didn’t know about all the gods. Paul uses this as a clever segue with the words, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” to introduce them to God and the story of Jesus.

Paul was probably a very educated man, from all accounts. He was a Jew, but also a Roman citizen, which allowed him some freedoms and privileges other Jews in the Roman empire lacked. You can see him using his education in this sermon at the Areopagus as he quotes Greek poets:

[H]e is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.

He is explaining God as omnipresent creator and disdaining the practice of creating gods formed by human hands. I love the idea of the “unknown god” and the mystery of God who is so beyond understanding. I also love Paul’s passion here. He yearns to bring people to know the God he knows. He is dismayed by the evidence of their many idols, but not condemnatory. He instead reaches out to them to tell them about Jesus and his resurrection. He doesn’t want God to remain unknown to the Athenians. Sharing the love of God is like sharing your love for other people, in some ways—like the way people newly in love can’t help but go on and on about their beloved—so Christians should be about the love of God. Some people laughed when he talked of Jesus’ resurrection, but others wanted to know more. And the same is true today—some will dismiss Christianity but some will embrace it. We must just continue being witnesses in the Jesus Movement.

Easter 2, Year A: John 20: 19-31: Peace and Forgiveness

 

Jesus Christ Answers Doubts of Saint Thomas

Jesus Christ Answers Doubts of Saint Thomas – Source: iStockphoto.com/wynnter

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

The Gospel story this week starts in a locked room where the disciples are hiding away after Jesus’ death.  They were terrified the authorities might come after them next.  They didn’t know what was going to happen next, and they’d heard from the women who’d been to and seen Jesus’ empty tomb.  We can only imagine how scared they must have been.  Did they believe the women? Did they believe Jesus was alive? They certainly didn’t act like it (contrast it to how they act later in the gospels after they’ve seen the risen Christ).  So this is the situation we start with.  Then Jesus appears among them (it seems he just appears in the locked room) and as is typical of his loving attitude, he doesn’t condemn them for hiding nervously in a locked room, he says, “Peace be with you.”  I’m sure peace is probably what they wanted most at that moment and it’s what he gave them.  I love that this is also what we say to one another every Sunday as we pass the peace on.

Now this part I’m going to quote verbatim because I wouldn’t know how to paraphrase it: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Woah.  So here is when he gives them the Holy Spirit to be with them.  And he breathes the Spirit on them.  That’s kind of cool, I think.  I read while studying up on this passage that in their language one word meant breath, wind, and spirit.  Interesting, right?  I also read this online and I like it: “In this short passage Jesus gives the disciples (and us) two Easter gifts (the Holy Spirit and peace) and one Easter task (forgiving others as God has forgiven us).”  (Found here on the Worshiping With Children blog).

Most of us probably know the story of doubting Thomas (poor guy is forever known by that name just because of the one incident).  He’s not there when Jesus visits and he says he won’t believe Jesus is alive until he touches him (and his wounds–bit gory, that). Then again they are in a locked room and Jesus appears among them, and this time Thomas is with him.  Jesus again grants them peace, then allows Thomas to touch him and proves that he is no ghost, but flesh and blood.  He tells Thomas to believe and “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'”

Another bit I love from the link I included above is this:

In describing Thomas, remember that he was the disciple who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (John 14:5).  He really wanted to understand Jesus.  Thomas was also the one who after telling Jesus he was nuts to go to Jerusalem where his enemies were out to get him, replied to Jesus’ insistence that he was going anyway, “Let us go and die with him” (John 11:7-16).  He was that loyal.  Finally, upon seeing Jesus’ wounds after the resurrection, Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!”  That was his statement of faith.

Thomas wasn’t the only confused, questioning disciple after Easter.  List the responses of Mary, Peter, John, and the others as they encounter the risen Christ.  Everyone was so confused that they were frightened.

I love this.  Thomas gets sort of a bad rap for being a doubter, but we can see him instead as someone who just really wanted to know the truth and wanted to understand.  It’s o.k. to ask questions of God. And I really identify with Thomas. I am a big believer in rock solid truth and I like evidence before I believe a story (I’m notorious for being the kind of person who fact checks other people’s Facebook posts–I can hardly help myself).

So I’ve rambled on a lot about this passage. There’s so much to it–forgiveness, peace, doubt, truth, faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit. I’d just like to emphasize again the lovely idea I found on the Worshiping With Children blog (an invaluable resource when I am teaching church school):  “Jesus gives the disciples (and us) two Easter gifts (the Holy Spirit and peace) and one Easter task (forgiving others as God has forgiven us).”  Let us go forth and share the peace and forgiveness of Christ.