Easter 6A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for May 14, 2023 (Easter 6A)

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31

Here 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.

Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens

Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens (1877), wall painting by Anton Dietrich (1833-1904), in the auditorium of the Christian-Weise-Gymnasium in Zittau, Saxony, Germany. (Click image to enlarge)

Even after the resurrected Jesus has gone back to the Creator, God remains in the world through the Holy Spirit. As today’s Collect sums up, God’s promises exceed all that we can desire. Our first reading from Acts tells us about Paul in Athens. He tells a crowd of skeptical Greeks that their altar to an unknown God actually celebrates our God, who made the world and is the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

Psalm: Psalm 66:7-18

Sometimes when bad things happen, it may feel as if even God’s presence has failed to protect us. This portion of Psalm 66 at first seems to suggest that God tests us with heavy burdens, standing aside when enemies ride over us and we must go through fire and water. This is a theological idea that we would rather not hear. But then the verses turn back to hope and faith: God hears our prayers and does not reject them. God keeps watch over all the people and, at the last, brings us out to a place of refreshment, a spacious place of relief.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22

This passage from the first letter written in the name of Peter offers fascinating glimpses of the early church working out its theology at a time when many Christians faced persecution. Echoing the hope of Psalm 66, these verses assure us that we earn blessing when we suffer for doing the right thing: Just as Noah and his family endured the flood so that humanity could survive, our baptism – which Noah’s flood prefigured with salvation through water – now saves us.

Gospel: John 14:15-21

Jesus’s Farewell Discourse continues. In this week’s passage Jesus continues to assure 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, the apostles will see him. Jesus promises that God will send an Advocate – the Holy Spirit – to remain with them forever. And, in memorable words that remain a favorite quote from John’s Gospel, Jesus concludes this passage: “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

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for May 7, 2023 (Easter 5A)

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60

The resurrected Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life, we hear in John’s Gospel on Sunday. No one comes to the Father except through him.

The Stoning of St Stephen

The Stoning of St Stephen (1520), tempera painting on canvas by Vittore Carpaccio (c.1460-c.1525). Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany. (Click image to enlarge)

These deeply held ideas make it all too easy for Christians to imagine that we are the chosen ones, who alone reap the benefits of salvation. Whenever Scripture makes us feel this way, it’s time to dig into the details for a clearer understanding. In Sunday’s first reading we hear of the death of Stephen, traditionally the first martyr of the church. Stephen, one of the first Christian deacons, argued with fellow worshipers in the synagogue. They regarded his talk of Jesus as the Messiah foretold by the prophets as blasphemy. When Stephen declared his fellow Jews “betrayers and murderers” for their role in Jesus’s crucifixion and death, their anger overcame them and they stoned him to death. Stephen’s last words echo the hopeful cry of Psalm 31 that Jesus repeated on the Cross: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

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 steadfast love. 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.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10

Writing for the persecuted church in Asia Minor a few generations after the crucifixion, the writer of the first letter of Peter turns to the Psalms and the prophets to find ideas similar to those in Sunday’s Gospel reading from John. 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. He 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. In Sunday’s passage, Jesus tells them that he is going to go ahead to prepare a place for them. He tries to reassure them, telling them not to let their hearts be troubled; but they worry all the same, fearful because he is leaving and confused about what he means. Thomas asks how they will know the way, and Jesus responds with these familiar words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is Jesus’s comforting word to his fearful disciples. Jesus himself is all they need; there is no need to be afraid. To know Jesus is to know God, right now and right here as we seek God’s kingdom on earth.

Easter 4A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for April 30, 2023 (Easter 4A)

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47

Every year, the Fourth Sunday of the Easter season comforts us with the image of God as our Good Shepherd, gathering up all humanity in protective divine love.

El Buen Pastor, The Young Christ as the Good Shepherd

El Buen Pastor, The Young Christ as the Good Shepherd (1660-1665), oil painting on canvas by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (Click image to enlarge)

That metaphor is implicit without being named in Sunday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the early church as told by the Evangelist we know as Luke. 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 pool their resources while sharing the good news of the Gospel with the world.

Psalm: 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 Shepherd’s comforting presence.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25

The Lectionary spares us a disturbing surprise by passing over the verses that precede this reading, but in these times we might do well to face that reality: The writer advises readers to honor the Roman emperor; then issues a startling directive to those who are slaves: “Accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” The passage we read today goes on to evoke Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, reminding the early Christians suffering persecution that Jesus suffered and died unfairly, having done no wrong. Like lost sheep, we go astray and suffer, the writer says; but we know joy when we return to Christ, our shepherd and guardian.

Gospel: John 10:1-10

John the Evangelist expands on the shepherd image here as Jesus continues his argument with a group of Pharisees. Jesus calls himself the gatekeeper for the sheepfold, the protective guardian whose familiar voice reassures the sheep. Jesus is further portrayed as the knowing sheepfold gate that opens to allow those protected to enter, while closing to keep out those who would steal, kill and destroy his beloved sheep. Then, in the following verse that we do not read this Sunday, Jesus declares, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Easter 3A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for April 23, 2023 (Easter 3A)

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

“O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work.” These words in Sunday’s Collect highlight ideas of resurrection and redemption that carry through our Lectionary readings for the day.

Christ on the Road to Emmaus

Christ on the Road to Emmaus (c.1725-1730), American 18th Century oil painting on canvas by an anonymous artist. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Click image to enlarge)

Let’s approach the first reading from Acts with careful attention, though. Peter’s words as told by Luke stem from a time of tension between post-Temple Judaism and early Christians who were hurt and angry over being expelled from the synagogues for their belief in Jesus as Messiah. But hearing Peter blame “the entire house of Israel” for Jesus’ crucifixion could lead Christians down the hate-filled path of anti-Judaism. It’s better to hear this reading as God’s gracious promise that the gift of the Holy Spirit is open to everyone.

Psalm: Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

Sunday’s 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 the Psalmist’s thoughts quickly turn from grief and sorrow to exultation and thanksgiving, reflecting the transforming joy that recovery brings. Listen closely and you’ll hear an undercurrent of resurrection as the Psalm tells us of 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

Our second readings in Eastertide feature passages from this letter written in Peter’s name. This week’s excerpt 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 its significance 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 remains clear throughout: 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

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus who we meet in Luke’s narrative this week seem uncertain and worried, much like the apostles fearfully hiding in a locked room who we heard about in John’s Gospel last Sunday. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” the two regretfully told the stranger on the road to Emmaus. They don’t seem to have been convinced by the women’s report about Jesus’s rising, either. But then they stopped to eat, and the mysterious traveler revealed himself as Jesus when he broke the bread. We remember this every Sunday in the Eucharist when the celebrant holds up and breaks the bread with an audible snap as we conclude the Eucharistic Prayer.

Easter 2A

\Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for April 16, 2023 (Easter 2A)

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

The Great Fifty Days of Eastertide have now begun, and our readings for the next six Sundays will direct our thoughts toward the meaning of resurrection.

The incredulity of St. Thomas

The incredulity of St. Thomas (c.1622), oil painting by Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588–1629). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.(Click image to enlarge)

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 through the period will draw from the Acts of the Apostles. That begins on Sunday as we hear Peter on the day of the first Pentecost, addressing an amazed crowd. In a fluent sermon Peter declares Jesus the resurrected Messiah promised by the prophets. Then he baptizes 3,000 new Christians made believers by the amazing events of the day.

Psalm: Psalm 16

In his talk to the people of Jerusalem in the first reading from Acts, Peter quoted verses 8 through 11 of Psalm 16. Now we chant the full Psalm, and it conveys the same broad promise in slightly different words that may be summarized as: God teaches us, God watches over us; God protects us, and God gives us joy forever.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

The two short epistles of Peter offer us fascinating glimpses into the developing ideas of Christ, resurrection and hope for salvation in the early church. They were probably written in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) around the end of the first century. Perhaps writing to reassure a persecuted community suffering “various trials,” the author reminds them that through Christ’s resurrection and life, God offers us the joy of a lasting inheritance and salvation earned through our faith.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

What do the disciples do in response to Mary Magdalene’s joyous announcement that Jesus has risen from the dead? They hide in fear in a locked room, doubting the woman’s declaration. Then Jesus suddenly appears among them! He shows his rejoicing friends his wounds, then sends them into the world in peace, with the breath of the Holy Spirit, to declare the Good News. Then comes Thomas, who wanted to see and touch Jesus’s wounds before believing that he had truly risen. Yes, the wounds are real. This is no ghostly spirit! “Have you believed because you have seen me,” John tells us that Jesus asks. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Easter Sunday A – Principal Service

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for April 9, 2023 (Easter Sunday A – Principal Service)

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:1-6

It is Easter Day! Faith in Jesus’s resurrection on Sunday, the third day after his crucifixion, is at the very heart of Christian belief.

Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb

Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb (1638), oil painting on panel by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669). Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace, London. (Click image to enlarge)

We shout “alleluia” – literally “praise God” – on Easter Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection and its promise of victory over death. All of the Easter Sunday readings speak of renewed life and joy. In this first reading, the Prophet Jeremiah celebrates the people’s return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. The prophet imagines a joyful scene of dance and music, and looks forward to re-planting the land in new vineyards that will bear delicious fruit.

First Reading or alternate Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43

Happy Easter! Alleluia! We move forward with joy into the 50 days of Eastertide, a liturgical season that continues through Pentecost Sunday. Throughout the Easter season, our first readings will be taken from The Acts of the Apostles, the apostle Luke’s stories of the early church and how it grew. In this passage, which may be used alternatively as either the first or second reading for Easter, we see Peter touched by the Holy Spirit. He addresses an amazed crowd with a fluent sermon declaring the resurrected Christ as Messiah, fulfilling the prophecy attributed to King David in Psalm 16, and assuring us of our hope for eternal life through Jesus.

Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

If this Psalm portion sounds familiar, it should: It shares more than half of its verses with the Psalm we read last week for Palm Sunday. A celebration of the first Passover as the people fled Egypt ahead of Pharaoh’s wrath, it sings of joy and gratitude. Like the ancient Israelites, we are overjoyed at our salvation; we are delighted at this victory over death; and we are grateful for God’s goodness and mercy. God has heard our prayers and responded, laying a new cornerstone for a just world. This is the day that the Lord has made: Let us rejoice and be glad!

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Even in difficult times, Christ is with us, this short letter assures the persecuted Christians of Colossae in Asia Minor, the land now known as Turkey. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, Christians are connected in baptism and raised through life in Christ, the author of this letter assures the people. The following verses urge the people to endure their difficulties with patience and the strength that comes from God’s glorious power expressed through Jesus – not in a long distant second coming but here and now.

Gospel: John 20:1-18

As important as the story of the empty tomb and the resurrection are to our Christian faith, each of the four Gospels nevertheless tells it in slightly different ways, much as eyewitnesses to any amazing event may remember different highlights. But one point is consistent in all four Gospels: Mary Magdalene was there. In this version from John, one of the two Gospels that may be read on this Easter Day, Mary is portrayed in beautifully tender verses as the only one who stayed at the empty tomb after everyone else left. There, to her joy and delight, she meets Jesus.

Alternate Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10

Just as multiple witnesses to any remarkable event often recall the details in conflicting stories, each of the four evangelists brings different details to their account of Jesus’s friends finding the empty tomb. In Matthew’s version, two women – Mary Magdalene and Mary – go to t the tomb alone. They find it empty, meet an angel in white and then encounter the risen Christ, who sends them to tell the other disciples the good news. The other synoptic Gospels, Mark and Luke, show them frightened, uncertain, running away in fear or running back to get the men. Only in Matthew’s Gospel do the women do it all, in fear and great joy.

Easter 7C

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for May 29, 2022 (Easter 7C)

First Reading: Acts 16:16-34

Still in the Greek city of Philippi, Paul and Silas encounter an enslaved woman who at first seems to be proclaiming their mission with loud, prophetic sounding shouts.

The Liberation of St. Paul

The Liberation of St. Paul (early 1640s), oil painting on canvas by Antonio de Bellis (1616-c.1656). The Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin. (Click image to enlarge.)

It quickly becomes clear, though, that she is possessed by a particularly annoying demon. Things get out of control when a frustrated Paul casts the demon out. This angers her owners, who profited by presenting her as a fortune teller. The argument attracts the authorities, who flog Paul and Silas and throw them in jail. But all ends well when a surely God-sent earthquake breaks them out of jail, and even the frightened but amazed jail keeper converts to Christianity.

Psalm: Psalm 97

This ancient song of praise envisions God as a mighty king who commands clouds and darkness, lightning and fire; a ruler so powerful that the earth itself is afraid. Recalling the history of the chosen people in warlike terms, it proclaims a righteous Lord who defeats the false gods of graven images, bringing joy to the cities and people of Judah. Looking past the psalm’s warlike context, we find good advice for all ages: Practice righteousness. Insist on justice for the weak, not just the strong. Resist evil, and give thanks that God loves us.

Second Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

We come now to the closing verses of Revelation. Many in the early church were quite certain that the Lamb – Jesus – would return very soon, perhaps during their own lifetimes. It would be many generations before the early church would accept, as we still do, that the ideas of life and eternity and God’s kingdom aren’t that simple. Nevertheless, the closing message of the Lamb remains one of hope: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. … Come, Lord Jesus!”

Gospel: John 17:20-26

Jesus’ long final conversation with his apostles at the Last Supper as told by John now concludes. It began four chapters earlier as Jesus washed their feet and they began their final supper. Now, just before Judas and the soldiers come to take Jesus away for trial and crucifixion, Jesus’ words as told by John become so poetic that it may seem hard to follow them at first. A deep connection of love unites the Father and Son, Jesus says. And, Jesus prays, that love is given also to the people of God: As Jesus and the Father are one, so will we all be one in God. Jesus has told us to love one another as he has loved us; now in this final discourse he asks the Father to love us as the Father has loved Jesus.

Easter 6C

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for May 22, 2022 (Easter 6C)

First Reading: Acts 16:9-15

Our readings this Sunday continue a theme of Eastertide: God’s love is for everyone, for all Earth’s nations and all Earth’s people. The way of Jesus is open to all, not just a few.

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles (1308-1311), tempera painting on wood by Duccio di Buoninsegna: Maestà (1255-1319). Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena, Italy. (Click image to enlarge.)

Our first reading continues following Paul’s evangelical journey as told in the Acts of the Apostles, where we find Paul moving westward from Asia Minor, taking Jesus’ message into pagan Greece for the first time. He has seen a man in a vision who asks Paul to come there and help them. When he arrives in the Greek region, he encounters a woman, Lydia, a wealthy and influential member of her community. Baptizing Lydia and her household, Paul begins the community that will become the church at Philippi.

Psalm: Psalm 67

Just as Paul opened the doors of the church to everyone, this short but exuberant Psalm calls all the nations of Earth and all their people to sing together in peace and praise. God has blessed us, the Psalmist sings; and through God the earth has given forth its bounty. Read these verses with care and discern that we’re not called to praise God only to give thanks for our personal gains. We are called to make God’s grace and blessings known to all people, all nations.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:10,22-22:5

Sunday’s second reading, the concluding verses of Revelation, depicts in vivid images the New Jerusalem. The final judgement has come. Now heaven is coming down to Earth with its crystal stream and tree of life. It is a city so brilliant in the graceful glow of the Lamb that it needs no other light. All earthly kings will worship at God’s throne, it promises, in words politically radical for their time. The city’s pure waters and luscious fruit will nourish all nations and everyone.

Gospel: John 14:23-29

John’s account of Jesus’ Last Supper with his apostles extends through five full chapters of the fourth Gospel. Jesus tells his companions that must leave them soon. He urges them not to be afraid, assuring them that God the Father will come to them and Father and Son will be with them even when Jesus has gone away. As we hear these words that Jesus uttered just before his passion and crucifixion, they resonate with us again as the Ascension and Pentecost draw near: Jesus is going back to the Father, but the Father will send the Advocate – the Holy Spirit – to guide the people in Jesus’ name.

Alternate Gospel: John 5:1-9

Jesus, visiting Jerusalem for a festival, stops by a pool called Bethsaida where many people hope to be healed in its waters. Seeing a disabled man who has been waiting there for 38 years, Jesus asks him if he would like to be made well. Rather than responding at once, the man complains that he hasn’t been able to get into the healing water during all those years because no one would help him. Without further discussion, Jesus told the man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk,” and so he does, walking away without a word of thanks. The passage laconically concludes, “Now that day was a sabbath.” The following verses, however, make clear that this Sabbath healing outraged the Temple authorities, who began making plans to have Jesus killed.

Easter 5C

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for May 15, 2022 (Easter 5C)

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18

You have probably noticed by now that our first readings during Eastertide have turned to the Acts of the Apostles. Acts tells the story of the early church, written by the evangelist known as Luke as a sort of continuation of his Gospel after the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Christ.

Peter's vision of a sheet with animals

Peter’s vision of a sheet with animals (c.1619), oil painting on poplar wood by Domenico Fetti (1589-c.1623/4). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. (Click image to enlarge.)

Sunday’s Acts passage marks a critical turning point in its narrative, as Peter and the apostles recognize that the message of Jesus was not intended only for their faith, Judaism, but for all humankind. We’ll hear echoes of this generous message reverberating through Sunday’s readings.

Psalm: Psalm 148

Like a symphony with a resounding final coda, the Psalms end in a series of hymns of praise that shout out God’s glory with ringing exultation. In this Psalm we behold all creation praising God. All the angels and the universe, the sun and moon, stars and heavens, all praise the Lord, as do fire and hail, snow and fog; domestic animals, wild animals – even sea monsters! All humanity, too, praises the Lord, old and young people, kings and their subjects, men and women: God’s glory is universal, and God gives us all strength.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

In the remaining weeks of Eastertide we move to the closing chapters of Revelation. Heaven and Earth have passed away in this apocalyptic vision. Everything has changed! Earth and sea and all creation as we knew it is no more. Now God is coming to Earth to live with mortals, as Jesus Christ had done; all humanity will be God’s people, and God will be with them in a world where all things are new. God will wipe away tears and banish mourning, crying and pain; God will quench all thirst with the water of life. Death will be no more!

Gospel: John 13:31-35

Sunday’s Gospel takes us back in time after we have celebrated the crucifixion and resurrection. In this passage we remember Jesus and the apostles as they gathered for the Last Supper. Judas has just sneaked out to go betray Jesus, so we know that Jesus’ passion and death lie just ahead. Yet Jesus begins his last words to his friends by reminding them all to love. In loving one another, loving our neighbors, loving even our enemies, Jesus provides clear instructions to love all of God’s people, and through this abundant, universal love to show the world how Jesus loves us all.

Easter 4C

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for May 8, 2022 (Easter 4C)

First Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Sunday’s Collect sets the scene for the day’s Lectionary readings with these words: “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.”

Adoration of the lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece

Adoration of the lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece (1432) by Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441). Bode Museum, Germany. Click image to enlarge.)

Even in the midst of difficulty, we always have hope in God, who protects us, feeds us, washes away our tears and offers us life. In our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the sudden death of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas in Greek. This disciple’s death must have hit the infant church hard, as this hard-working disciple was known for her works of charity and made clothes for the group. Then comes Peter, filled with the Spirit. He brings her back to life with a prayer and a command, just as Jesus had done with Lazarus and others.

Psalm: Psalm 23

The familiar comforting verses of the 23rd Psalm express our trust in God as a kindly, protecting shepherd, an image that Christians eagerly adopt for Jesus, the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Its words offer us confident hope even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Although it turns darker momentarily as we envision our joy at dining sumptuously at God’s table while our enemies must only stand by and watch, it ends as full of hope as it began, accompanied by God’s goodness and mercy as we reside with God forever.

Second Reading: Revelation 7:9-17

Since last week’s reading the Lectionary has skipped over a chapter filled with striking, frightening symbols and allegories. The mysterious seals have come open and the four fearful horses of the Apocalypse have appeared. Now we stand again among a vast crowd dressed in white, representing all nations, races and people; all united in worshiping the Lamb, Christ, our King. These are the ones who have come through the great ordeal, facing persecution for Jesus’ sake. Now they know joy with the Lamb, who has become their Shepherd, who gives them the water of life, protects them and wipes away their tears.

Gospel: John 10:22-30

Is Jesus the Messiah? In the verses of John’s Gospel just before this, Jesus has declared himself the Good Shepherd. Now the group of Pharisees that has been quizzing Jesus becomes insistent, demanding that he end the suspense and tell them plainly if this is his claim. Jesus tells them not to ask for his words but to look at his works, the things that he has done in the name of God, his Father. His followers – his sheep – follow him willingly, he says; and through their faith they will gain eternal life.