Easter 5A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, May 18, 2014

Jesus mosaic at Hagia Sophia church, Istanbul, Turkey (6th century).

Jesus mosaic at Hagia Sophia church, Istanbul, Turkey (6th century).

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60

Today we hear of the death of Stephen, traditionally the first martyr of the church. This reading introduces Saul, a Pharisee who, we learn in the next verse, “approved” of this violent, brutal killing in which every person in an angry crowd took a hand. Later, Saul will undergo a startling conversion to become St. Paul, a great evangelist for Christ. But what did Stephen do to deserve such a horrific death at the hands of his fellow worshippers? According to Acts, written after Jews and Christians had divided amid hard feelings, Stephen stood up in synagogue and declared his fellow Jews “betrayers and murderers” for their role in Jesus’s crucifixion and death.

Psalm: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

“Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Think about this: Both Jesus, dying on the cross, and Stephen, dying under the pounding weight of stones thrown by his community, uttered this same verse from Psalm 31. Even in the painful moment of death by violence, they confessed their faith. The Psalmist, too, seeking refuge and rescue, trusts in God’s fortress-like protection and God’s steadfast love.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10

These verses turn to the Old Testament to find inspiration for the church. Writing for the persecuted church in Asia Minor a few generations after the crucifixion, the author turns to the Psalms and the prophets to find ideas similar to those in today’s reading from John, calling us to proclaim the acts of Jesus and through believing, to try to do the work of Jesus in the world.

Gospel: John 14:1-14

So many of the collects that we recite in church conclude with similar words: “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.” This is where that doxology begins: As told by John in his version of Jesus’ last talk with the apostles at the Last Supper, no one comes to God except through Jesus. Jesus is the Way. To know Jesus is to know God. This is not just a dream of a heavenly life beyond the Pearly Gates; it is a promise that God is with us in God’s Kingdom on Earth.

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