Pentecost 3A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for June 25, 2017

Christus Victor, the Warrior Christ

Christus Victor, the Warrior Christ, 6th century Roman mosaic. Basicila San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 21:8-21

We often turn to scripture for reassurance, looking for readings that bring us comfort and joy. Sunday’s readings are not quite like that. They challenge us, jolt our assumptions, and at the end, make us think about how our spirituality works. We begin with a particularly troubling story about Abraham, the patriarch of the chosen people, who followed God’s commands with exemplary faithfulness. Yet here we see Abraham doing something disturbing as he sends his slave, Hagar, and their son, Ishmael, out into the desert to die. Happily, God intervenes, saving Ishmael and promising them a bountiful future parallel to that of Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac. (Indeed, while Jews and Christians recognize Abraham as our patriarch through Isaac, the world’s Muslims trace their Abrahamic line through Ishmael.)

First Reading (Track Two): Jeremiah 20:7-13

The prophet Jeremiah is angry and upset. God has called him to prophesy to the people about the destruction that their failure to be righteous and just will bring upon them, but they will not listen. Worse, they laugh and deride him when he shouts about their impending peril. Anger builds up in his bones like a burning fire, and he cannot hold it in. Even his close friends wait for him to stumble. But Jeremiah knows that it is his persecutors who will stumble, for God is with him like a warrior at his side.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Like Hagar with Ishmael in the desert, the Psalmist suffers in misery. He suffers in spite of his faith and trust in God. Recognizing that God is a God like no other, the God of all nations, who loves us even when we aren’t happy, he cries out his prayer, trusting in a good and forgiving God to answer him and make his heart glad.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20

This Psalm clearly serves as a foil to the Jeremiah reading. Like Jeremiah, the Psalmist spoke for God only to become the subject of scorn and reproach from his own friends and family, and even had songs sung about him by drunkards at the city gate. The Psalmist calls on God to save him from their hatred, to turn to him in compassion and save him from his enemies.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

In baptism, everything changes in our lives. This theme runs strongly throughout Paul’s letter to the Romans. Baptism unites us with Christ so that we share in his death and resurrection. In baptism we symbolically “die” to our old life enslaved by sin. In baptism we are born to a new life, freed from sin through God’s abounding grace. In baptism we become dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39

This is surely one of the most difficult Gospel passages! It seems strange to see Jesus, the Prince of Peace, telling us that he has not come to bring peace but a sword! Family members set against each other, and we have to leave our families behind to follow him? These disturbing verses, continuing Jesus’ stern instructions to the apostles in last Sunday’s Gospel, may reflect the difficult times when the evangelist we know as Matthew was writing his Gospel: The Roman Empire had crushed a Jewish rebellion, leaving Jerusalem shattered and the Temple in ruins; and Jewish Christians were breaking away from Rabbinic Judaism amid angry rivalry. It would have been not only hard but dangerous to follow Jesus’ Way then. Even to this day, Jesus consistently calls us to give, not to take.

Pentecost 2A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for June 18, 2017

The Vocation of the Apostles

The Vocation of the Apostles (1481). Fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)

Through the long stretch of Sundays after Pentecost that has now begun and continues until Advent, churches may choose to follow either of two Lectionary “tracks,” with separate First Readings and Psalms. The First Readings for Track One will take us through the Bible’s story of God’s chosen people, from the patriarch Abraham to Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua. Today we hear the very start of that narrative: God’s assurance, through three mysterious strangers, that Abraham and Sarah will have a son, and that their offspring will inherit the Promised Land. Sarah finds this hilarious because of their great age, but God’s promise is fulfilled in their son, Isaac.

First Reading (Track Two): Exodus 19:2-8a

Through the long stretch of Sundays after Pentecost that has now begun and continues until Advent, churches may choose to follow either of two Lectionary “tracks,” with separate First Readings and Psalms. In Track Two, our First Testament readings are generally chosen to have some relationship with the week’s Gospel in theme or theological point. We begin today with Moses, in a narrative from which we may hear distant echoes in today’s Gospel, taking God’s words to the elders of the people and gaining their agreement to be in lasting covenant with God.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 116:1, 10-17

We heard this same Psalm just a few weeks ago, midway in Eastertide. It is a Psalm of thanksgiving, clearly intended as a grateful prayer thanking God for recovery from illness. In the verses just preceding, it offers a vivid image of the anguish of illness and the fear of death. We are spared those words today, though, moving directly into the verses that sing of the transforming joy that comes with recovery and resurrection. In the joy of restored life, the Psalm offers thanks to God who frees us from the snares of death.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 100

Does this joyful hymn sound familiar? If you’ve worshiped in Morning Prayer, you have probably joined in reciting it as the Jubilate, one of the options available in the “Invitatory and Psalter” near the beginning of the service. It draws its joyous theme from the recognition of the truth that Moses gave the elders: that we are God’s creation, God’s own people, and – using the metaphor that we know and love in Psalm 23 – the sheep of God’s pasture.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8

For the next three months we will be hearing excerpts from Paul’s great letter to the Romans, in which he beautifully works out his evolving theology of Christ, the Spirit and salvation. He is writing at a time when Rome’s Jewish Christians were just returning from exile, while its formerly pagan Christians had faced persecution at home. We begin with another reading that we have heard recently, during this past Lent. Paul encourages the Roman Christians to love each other and heal their differences in spite of their own suffering, reminding them that Jesus suffered and died on the Cross. He urges them to learn endurance in their own suffering, remembering that even though they are sinners, they are justified through faith and saved through the cross.

Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Throughout this long season after Pentecost, our Sunday Gospels will take us through Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and teaching, following Jesus to the eve of his Passion as the liturgical year ends in November and we turn to Advent and Christmastide. Today we hear Jesus, who has been teaching and healing on his own, selecting 12 apostles to help. He gives them power to heal and exorcise, and charges them to go out to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. The rules are strict: Accept no pay. Take only the most basic possessions along. Don’t stay with those who don’t welcome you. Be prepared for persecution and hate, but know that the Son of Man is coming soon.

Trinity Sunday A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for June 11, 2017

The Mourning Trinity (Throne Of God)

The Mourning Trinity (Throne Of God), 1433-1435, tempera on panel by Robert Campin (c. 1380-1444), the Flemish Master of Flémalle. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

In recent weeks we have celebrated Christ’s ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, and the Holy Spirit coming in wind and fire. Now we begin the long season after Pentecost by contemplating Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their mysterious dance, three persons in one triune God, the Holy Trinity. We begin where Scripture begins, hearing the first of the two creation stories that open the book of Genesis, portraying a monotheistic God – Creator, Word and Spirit wind moving over the waters – as a loving creative force at work in the world.

Psalm 8

We hear again this beautiful Psalm of praise that we sang on the first Sunday of this year. We exalt the name of our Creator God, and we sing grateful thanksgiving for all of creation. We remember that, along with our God-given dominion over “the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,” we have a solemn duty to preserve and protect them all, a duty that seems just as significant in our times as it did in ancient ages.

Alternative to the Psalm: Canticle 13

What’s a Canticle? These “little songs,” scripture passages that lend themselves to reading or chanting, are given in the Book of Common Prayer for use in daily prayer and, on occasion, as substitutes for Lectionary Psalms. Canticle 13 is the “Song of the Three Young Men” who sang this joyous hymn of praise to God and all creation as God protected them from death in the fiery furnace to which they had been condemned by an angry king. These final verses, added to this old song in modern Christian times, conclude the Canticle with resounding praise and exaltation to the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

You won’t find many explicit references to the Holy Trinity in the New Testament, as it took the early church nearly 300 years to fully work out basic Trinitarian theology as expressed in the Nicene Creed. We hear two of the most specific foreshadowings, though, in today’s second reading and Gospel. In Paul’s loving farewell at the end of his second letter to the people of Corinth, he urges this often squabbling congregation to sort out their conflicts and love one another as God loves them, asking this in the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.”

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

Each of the Gospels ends in a different way, offering us four contrasting views of the resurrected Christ and his conversations with the disciples who would remain behind. Today we hear Matthew’s narrative. The risen Christ had told the women at the tomb to tell the eleven disciples to go on to Galilee, where he would meet them. Now we watch as they meet on a mountain. Some of them worship him, but others doubt, presumably only briefly. Then, invoking the names of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he commands them to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” a great commission to Christian evangelism.

Pentecost A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for June 4, 2017

The Pentecost, oil painting by Louis Galloche (1670-1761).

The Pentecost, oil painting by Louis Galloche (1670-1761). Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France.

First Reading (or alternate Second Reading): Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost has arrived, and all our readings speak in some way of God’s Spirit moving in the world. In this reading we join the apostles as they gather to celebrate Shavuot, the Jewish spring harvest festival that falls seven weeks after Passover. The resurrected Christ had told them that they would soon be “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” receiving power to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth — and now the Spirit comes in a rush of wind and tongues of fire, inspiring the Apostles to declare the Good News in many languages.As the Prophet Joel foretold, Peter tells the crowd, the Spirit will be poured out for all.

First Reading (alternate): Numbers 11:24-30

At Christmas we remember the birth of Jesus. On Easter we recall Jesus’ resurrection three days after his death on the cross. Now it’s Pentecost, seven weeks after Easter, and we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, who sends us out to take the Gospel to the world in Jesus’ name. This alternative first reading tells how God’s spirit empowered 70 of his elders. The spirit even came to two elders who weren’t present, an event that perturbed Joshua until Moses reassured him. Wherever God’s spirit moves through us, good things can happen.

Psalm 104:25-35

This Psalm of praise exults in all the works of God’s creation, including the charming idea that God may have made some creations, like Leviathan, the giant whale, “for the sport of it,” just for fun. Note well that we thank God not only for making the earth, its seas, and creatures both small and great, but also nurturing them, ensuring that they are fed, and offering them protection. God’s Spirit is sent forth to continue creation and renew the earth, just as she breathed over the face of the waters on the day of creation.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Paul’s beautiful first letter to the people of Corinth clearly spells out his theology of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit we all are all made one in baptism. Nationality, economic status, gender, s;ave or free, none of these things matter. Just as the body is made up of different parts that serve different functions, all of us bring our own special gifts as we work together, guided by the Spirit, for the good of all. We are all moved by the Spirit, each according to our own gifts, but all in one as members of the body of Christ.

Gospel: John 20:19-23

If this Gospel passage seems familiar, you’ve been paying attention: It comes twice in Eastertide, having been read on the first Sunday after Easter and now again on Pentecost. We return to the locked room where the disciples are hiding in fear on the first Easter. The grieving group was startled when Mary Magdalene ran back to tell them that she met a man in white at the empty tomb. She told them, “I have seen the Lord,” but they don’t know what to believe. And then Jesus is suddenly with them! He wishes them peace, shows them his wounds, and breathes on them, empowering them with the Holy Spirit.

Gospel (alternate): John 7:37-39

Pentecost is one of the feast days designated as especially appropriate for baptism. In fact, one of its traditional English names, “Whitsunday,” or “White Sunday,” refers to the white garments that those being baptized wore in ancient times. Whenever we welcome new members into the church, the celebrant reminds them that through Baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Through the living water of baptism our hearts join in pouring out the good news of the Gospel to all the world’s nations.

Easter 7A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for May 28, 2017

Ascension of Christ

Ascension of Christ (c. 1640), oil painting on copper by Giacomo Cavedone (Bologna, Italy, 1577-1660), in the Ahmanson Gallery of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

First Reading: Acts 1:6-14

The fifty days of Eastertide are nearing their end: Pentecost Sunday is next week. In the Sunday readings since Easter we have seen the empty tomb and heard of mysterious appearances of the risen Christ, then listened as Jesus tells the apostles of God’s love and our salvation. Now we arrive at the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Jesus tells the apostles that the Holy Spirit is coming to send them out to the world with the Gospel, a promise that we will hear fulfilled in wind and fire on Pentecost.

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

Many modern Christians are troubled by the angry imagery of fleeing enemies perishing in fire and smoke at the hands of an angry God. But then, invoking the name of God that Jewish tradition considers too holy to speak aloud, the Psalm changes in tone to a gentler hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Those who live righteously and praise our God will receive favor and blessing, just as did God’s people traveling through the desert to the Promised Land.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

The Christian community in Asia Minor (now Turkey) was suffering under a “fiery ordeal” of persecution for their faith when they received this letter in Peter’s name. The writer cannot make their suffering cease, but reminds them that in this suffering they share not only the suffering of their Christian brothers and sisters but even of Christ himself. Stay the course and resist evil, the letter goes on, and know that God is with us and will provide support and strength.

Second Reading: John 17:1-11

Today we hear the third and final excerpt from Jesus’ farewell conversation with the apostles at the Last Supper. We have heard Jesus explain that he must soon leave this world and return to the father, while promising that God will send an Advocate to be with them and help them, a promise that will be fulfilled on the first Pentecost. In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus turns from his friends at the table to address God directly in prayer. Declaring that the hour of his death has come, he prays for the disciples. He praises them for their faith and trust, and asks God to protect them, to keep them united just as Jesus and God are one.

Easter 6A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for May 21, 2017

Saint Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens

Saint Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens (1515), by Raphael (1483-1520). Royal Collection of the United Kingdom.

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31

Even after the resurrected Jesus returns to the Creator. God remains in the world; the Holy Spirit is with us. This is the reassuring message of Sunday’s readings. The God who made us all is with us always, watches over us and hears our prayers. As today’s Collect sums it up, God’s promises exceed all that we can desire. In our first reading we see Paul in Athens, trying to persuade skeptical Greeks that their altar “to an unknown God” actually celebrates our God, who made the world and remains so near to us that in God we live and move and have our being. (In the following verses we learn that some of the crowd remained doubtful, but many became believers and joined Paul.)

Psalm 66:7-18

Sometimes bad things happen, and even God’s presence does not seem to protect us. The Psalm at first seems to suggest that God tests us with these heavy burdens, standing aside when enemies ride over us and we must go through fire and water, a theological idea that we would rather not hear. But then the verses turn back to hope and faith: God does keep watch over all the people and, at the last, ultimately brings us out to a place of refreshment, a spacious place of relief. God hears our prayers and does not reject them; at the end, God’s loving kindness is not withheld.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22

Mirroring the theme of hope amid burdens and difficulties that we heard in Psalm 66, the excerpt from 1 Peter that we read today assures us that when we suffer for doing the right thing we earn blessing, a promise that may have brought some comfort to an early church community facing persecution. Just as Noah and his family endured the flood so that humanity could survive, Jesus suffered on the cross, died and was resurrected to sit at the right hand of God so that we too may be brought to God through baptism.

Gospel: John 14:15-21

Picking up where last Sunday’s Gospel left off, we hear Jesus continuing to reassure the apostles that, while he is leaving soon to return to the Creator, he will not leave them orphaned. Even if the world no longer sees Jesus, they will see him. He promises that God will send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to remain with them forever. And, in words for all people and for all time, Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments … They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 

Easter 5A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for May 14, 2017

Laying the cornerstone: The rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah

Laying the cornerstone: The rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah (1847 drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60

As we pass the midpoint of Eastertide, our readings turn from the resurrection of Jesus to our own hope of new life and resurrection through Christ. Why did Stephen suffer such a horrific death at the hands of his fellow worshippers with the not-yet-converted Saul looking on? Stephen, one of the first deacons, argued with fellow worshipers in the synagogue. They regarded his stories about Jesus as the Messiah foretold by the prophets as blasphemy. When he declares his fellow Jews “betrayers and murderers” for their role in Jesus’s crucifixion and death, their anger overcomes them and they stone him to death. His last words echo the hopeful cry of Psalm 31 that Jesus repeated on the Cross: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

“Our times are in your hand.” These words, familiar from their use in the Birthday Collect in the Book of Common Prayer, express the Psalmist’s strong faith in the loving-kindness and protection to be found by placing one’s self in God’s hands. He asks God for safety from enemies and persecutors; he begs God to listen, to be his stronghold, his rock and castle. He asks God to listen and to save him. But ultimately he puts his faith and trust in God: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10

These verses recall the words that the Prophet Isaiah had used to promise that the Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt on a mighty cornerstone, a living stone that the builders had at first rejected. Now the author of this letter in Peter’s name calls on Christians not to stumble and fall on this stone as Isaiah’s people had done, but to grow into salvation like infants nourished on pure, spiritual milk, to proclaim the mighty acts of Jesus, who called us out of darkness into his light.

Gospel: John 14:1-14

For the last three weeks of Eastertide we will hear excerpts from John’s long account of Jesus’ last talk with the disciples before he is betrayed, arrested and crucified. Jesus tells them that he will go ahead to prepare a place for them. He tries to reassure them, but they are confused. Thomas asks how they will know the way, and Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” To know Jesus is to know God, not only in resurrected life but here and now as we seek God’s kingdom on earth.

Easter 4A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for May 7, 2017

The Young Christ as the Good Shepherd.

The Young Christ as the Good Shepherd. Oil painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47

Every year, the Fourth Sunday of Easter comforts us with the image of God as our Good Shepherd, gathering up all humanity in protective divine love. That metaphor is implicit without being spelled out in Sunday’s first reading. We hear of the evolution of the young church as a caring flock, inspired by the Holy Spirit to become a loving, sharing community, taking care of each other as they gladly and generously share the good news of the Gospel with the world.

Psalm 23

Our Good Shepherd is always with us, comforting us and protecting us not only in the green pastures and still waters of good times, but also when we are fearful and afraid, walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Did you notice that we sang this Psalm just a few weeks ago, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent? Our Lectionary readings return to it often: Five times in every three years we hear its assurance that God’s goodness and mercy are always with us. When you’re feeling lonely and afraid, try sitting quietly with these verses. Breathe deeply and feel the the Shepherd’s comforting presence.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25

Prepare for a troubling surprise if you turn back and look at the verses just before this reading: This passage was written to slaves, demanding that they accept the authority of their masters, even if those masters treated them harshly. Nowadays we struggle with the idea of Bible verses that seem to support slavery; indeed, these and similar verses were once used to justify slavery as acceptable to God. Perhaps it’s best to hear these words as advice to all who suffer: Jesus suffered and died unfairly, even though he did no wrong. Like lost sheep, we suffer, but we know joy when we return to Christ, our shepherd and guardian.

Gospel: John 10:1-10

Hear these familiar verses in context: In the previous chapter, Jesus had been arguing with a group of Pharisees who were angry because he restored a blind man’s sight on the Sabbath. As the new chapter begins, Jesus draws a clear distinction between the good shepherd who cares for the sheep and thieves who break in to steal the sheep. Jesus himself is the gate to the sheepfold itself, he tells them; and the gatekeeper, the protective guardian whose familiar voice reassures the sheep, calling each by name. The gate opens to allow the protected ones to enter, then closes to bar those who would steal, kill, and destroy the beloved sheep. In the next verse after today’s reading, Jesus will declare, “‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Easter 3A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for April 30, 2017

Rembrandt's Supper at Emmaus

Supper at Emmaus (1648). Oil on panel by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669). Musée du Louvre, Paris.

First Reading: Acts 2:14a,36-41

Themes of resurrection continue in our readings for Eastertide. Continuing his first Pentecost sermon, Peter has more harsh words for the Jewish crowd, blaming “the entire house of Israel” for crucifying Jesus, whom God has now made Lord and Messiah. Like the angry references to the Jews in the Passion Gospels, modern Christians should read this only in context. At the time of this writing, there was extreme tension between early Christians and Jews over the status of Jesus as Messiah. We should erase echoes of anti-Judaism and hear in this passage, rather, God’s gracious promise that forgiveness through the gift of the Holy Spirit is available to all.

Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

Our Psalm is heard as a hymn of gratitude for recovery. It vividly describes the anguish of illness and the fear of death. But then through prayer it quickly turns from grief and sorrow to exultation and thanksgiving, reflecting the transforming joy that recovery brings. We can hear an undercurrent of resurrection in escaping the cords of death and the grip of the grave to win the joy of new life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23

This second reading continues with another excerpt from the first letter written in Peter’s name. It gives us some insight into the efforts of the early church to discern the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our lives, working in these verses on the significance of Jesus’ death as ransom for our sins. This theological quest has continued from the early church through the Middle Ages and even to our times. One point, though, remains clear: Through Christ we trust in God; through Christ we love one another, and through Christ we gain life in the enduring word of God.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

Like the apostles fearfully hiding in a locked room who we heard about in John’s Gospel last Sunday, the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s narrative this week seem uncertain and worried. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they told the stranger on the road to Emmaus. They don’t seem very convinced by the women’s report from the tomb, either. But then the mysterious traveler reveals himself as Jesus when he breaks the bread, just as Jesus is present when the bread is broken at our Eucharistic table.

Easter 2A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for April 23, 2017

The incredulity of St. Thomas

The incredulity of St. Thomas (c.1622) Oil painting by Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588–1629). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

First Reading: Acts 2:14a,22-32

Eastertide has now begun, and our readings during the next six Sundays will direct our thoughts toward the meaning of resurrection. We’ll hear of the apostles in the early church following Jesus’ way; mysterious appearances of the resurrected Christ, and Jesus’ own words about God’s promise of eternal life. Our first readings will draw from the Acts of the Apostles, beginning this Sunday as we hear Peter on the day of Pentecost, addressing the amazed crowd with a fluent sermon declaring Jesus the resurrected Messiah promised by the prophets, and then baptizing 3,000 new believers.

Psalm 16

In his talk to the people of Jerusalem in Acts, Peter quoted verses 8 through 11 of this Psalm. Now we chant the full Psalm. Note that these verses are similar, yet not exactly the same, as those Peter read. That’s because Peter – as was the custom in the Near East in those times – used the Greek bible, the Septuagint, not the original Hebrew Psalm, which we have here translated directly into English. Both versions are similar, of course, and they convey the same promise: God teaches us, God watches over us; God protects us, and God gives us joy forever.

First Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Throughout Eastertide we will hear second readings from the First Book of Peter, actually letters written to the church in Asia Minor by later followers in Peter’s name and purportedly reflecting his ideas. Appropriately for the season, this short letter shows us the developing theory of resurrection and salvation in the early church around the end of the first century. Observing that the people are suffering “various trials” – perhaps persecution for their faith – it assures the people that nevertheless, through Christ’s resurrection and life, God offers the faithful the joy of a lasting inheritance of salvation.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

The apostles know that Jesus has risen, but this wonderful news was apparently not enough to keep them from being afraid. They’re hiding in a locked room, yet suddenly Jesus appears among them, twice telling them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus bears the visible scars of his crucifixion but is very much alive. He sends his friends, no longer fearful, out into the world in peace, empowered with the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ breath. Then Thomas, who missed this first meeting, wins his reputation as “Doubting Thomas” by refusing to believe that Jesus had truly risen unless he could touch the wounds. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, and then he blesses all who believe through faith alone.