Easter 5A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for May 10, 2020

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60

We are now midway through the 50 days of Eastertide, and our Sunday readings turn from the resurrection of Jesus to our own hope of new life and resurrection through Christ.

The Stoning of St Stephen

The Stoning of St Stephen (c.1435), fresco by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475). Prato Cathedral, Tuscany, Italy. (Click image to enlarge.)

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear of the death of Stephen, the first martyr of the church, at the hands of an angry mob. This reading also introduces Saul, a Pharisee who, we are told in these verses, approved of this violent, brutal killing. Later in Acts, Saul will undergo a startling conversion experience and become Paul, a great evangelist for Christ. Why did Stephen suffer such a horrific death at the hands of his fellow worshippers? According to Acts (which was written not long after first century Christians and Jews had divided amid hard feelings), Stephen stood up in synagogue and declared his fellow Jews “betrayers and murderers” for their role in Jesus’ death.

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

“Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Both Jesus, dying on the cross, and Stephen, dying under 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 the loving-kindness and protection that comes with placing one’s self in God’s hands. Begging God to hear his call, to be his stronghold, his rock and castle, the Psalmist asks God to listen and to save him.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10

The author of the first letter of Peter turns to the Hebrew Bible to find inspiration for a suffering people. Writing for the persecuted church in Asia Minor a few generations after the crucifixion, the author draws from the Psalms and the prophets: Do not stumble and fall on a stone as Isaiah’s people had done, but to grow into salvation like infants nourished on pure, spiritual milk.

Gospel: John 14:1-14

Have you ever wondered why so many of the collects in the Book of Common Prayer conclude, “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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *