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Sunday, April 17, 2022
Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day)—Easter, Year C
It is traditional to read John’s account of the empty tomb every year (see Easter Day commentary on Year B), but the preacher does also have the option to substitute a Synoptic account.
Opting for the Luke account will give the preacher a view of Luke’s special focus on the “last being first” as the women become the “apostles to the apostles.” Two points are worth making: first this detail speaks to the veracity of the Resurrection, since an invented story would not include untrustworthy news bearers (as women were supposed to be at the time) as eyewitnesses. The second detail is to point out how the lowly are often the first to receive the gospel because of their propensity for faith. The women believe the good news immediately while the other apostles take some time. Peter rushing to the tomb is also an example of this, since he was the disciple who had denied the Lord.
Another springboard for the preacher is the image of the burial linens lying in the tomb. Not only is it another proof of the resurrection (graverobbers would not have stopped to undress the body) but it is a symbol of Jesus’ final victory over death. The image is a callback to Lazarus emerging from the tomb in Luke 16 wrapped in linen cloths, symbolizing how even though he has risen from the dead, the ultimate power of death still lies on him, since he would die again. But Jesus’ resurrection means that death, symbolized by the linens, has been put away forever. Therefore “Christ being raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9).
Sunday, April 24, 2022
Second Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year C
Many paths are open to the preacher in John 20 and it is futile to rank them in order of importance. Jesus’ declaration of peace when he joins the disciples in the room is an opportunity to share that peace always accompanies the presence of Jesus. The church acts, but not randomly; speaks, but not frantically, prophesies, but not chaotically. All is guided by the spirit of peace.
Second, there is Jesus breathing on his church, granting them the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. His church now has his authority to forgive sins and from now on will act in his name. Theological emphases will vary across traditions, but the central fact in the scriptures is that the apostles are made co-laborers with Christ in sanctifying the world, a great responsibility and an exciting mission!
Thomas’ doubts are a supporting story to the above, but have lately become a popular episode to focus the entire sermon on. In attending to Thomas, the preacher should avoid the recent trend of flattering the modern skeptic by lauding Thomas’ high epistemic standard. The story is in John to highlight that the Holy Spirit must be received from Christ in faith. Thomas’ skeptical disposition divides him from his brother apostles—they have put together all of the facts that he refuses to connect: Jesus’s explicit foretelling of his resurrection, the fulfillment of the scriptures in their sight. All this he sets aside until he is given a personal sign, which the Lord graciously grants him. The proper disposition of the believer is to open the eyes of faith and waste no time falling at the feet of Jesus confessing “My Lord, and my God!”
Sunday, May 1, 2022
Third Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year C
John 21:1-19 is a packed passage full of potential focal points that tie up threads begun earlier in John’s Gospel. So, the preacher will be well stocked for future cycles.
The great catch of fish symbolizes the apostolic mission to the world. Numbers are always important in John’s Gospel, and the one hundred and fifty-three fish is, according to Jerome, the total number of species that ancient Greek scientists had, up to that point, identified. The point is that people from every nation would be included in the church, with none left out. Also, the disciples’ need to gather their boats to assist each other in bringing in the great catch presages the episcopacy of the church, where each apostolic see would act as one though independently sent out to the corners of the world.
Verses 9-14 is the second time Jesus serves bread and fish to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee, the first being of course the Feeding of the 5,000—the verbiage in v. 13 is an abbreviation of the fourfold action “took, (blessed, broke), gave” which appears also in the Synoptics’ account of the institution of the Eucharist, and the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24. The action here confirms the link between Eucharist and the apostolic mission. The disciples are now to bring Christ’s resurrected flesh to feed the world (cf. John 6:50-58; Mark 6:37).
Jesus’ three questions to Peter recall his three denials during Jesus’ trial, restoring him. The Gospel is clear that Peter will make good on his professions of love at his martyrdom (v. 19). This passage has helped the church understand that apostasy is not an irreparable sin, provided the sinner returns and repents.
Sunday, May 8, 2022
Fourth Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year C
Looking back on the Lord’s life and teachings in light of his Resurrection reveals more than could be discerned before he rose from the dead. That “the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice” is speaking of the church, who faithfully interpret the words of the Lord, because the Spirit of the Lord is in them. The Jews in the passage, by contrast, are seeking to catch Jesus in a compromising position and use his words against him. The point is that faith is the lens through which we properly hear Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. Even mighty works and miracles cannot convince the one whose heart is set against God (v. 26). How we approach Jesus has everything to do with how we interpret his words and teachings. Faith in his resurrection unlocks the truth. Skeptics will always remain on the outside for however long they keep up the critical attitude, only ever having the experience of challenging and weighing his words and tuning out the call of the Father to his children.
Jesus, wise as a serpent, though innocent as a dove, does not always speak plainly about his status as the Messiah and Son of God to those who work against him. Yet here he does in verse 30. The lesson for Christians in the world is that we, like Jesus, are not bound to always confront the world’s impieties when the timing is unpropitious. However, when directly asked what we believe, we are bound to give a plain confession in order to bear witness to the truth before others, even if it leads to our harm or ostracism. God will provide for our bodily safety (v. 39), or else our eternal rest (v. 28).
Sunday, May 15, 2022
Fifth Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year C
Returning to the mandatum in light of the Resurrection reveals how Jesus perfects merely human religion. Whereas Jesus gives the sage advice of the golden rule in Matthew 7:12, giving the human rule for the treatment of others, in John’s gospel the measure of Christian love from the Lord among his disciples is God’s divine love. No human code of conduct can create such a love in its followers. Only divine aid by the Holy Spirit can put this kind of love in human beings’ hearts. This is the love that brings Jesus to the Cross, referred to here as his “glorification.” Note that loving as God loves is issued as a commandment, not an optional side-quest for the Christian. This sort of love is to be the defining, glorifying feature of the Christian community.
The listener, rightly, will identify that this love is not naturally occurring in themselves. The preacher’s opportunity here is to exhort the believer to call on the aid of the Holy Spirit. The preacher will need to resist the temptation to take a detour into how Christ’s sacrifice justifies us even in our unworthiness. Though true, this passage shows how the Cross is the very model of love, the greatest work of mercy, and if anyone would come after the Lord they must take up that same cross in the spirit of that same love. The expectation of holiness should not be quenched. Rather the Spirit should be invoked to fill the void the congregants will naturally feel, careful to remind that the Lord himself walks with them along the way.
Sunday, May 22, 2022
Sixth Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year C
The preacher has the option of two passages in John. If the John 14 passage is selected, there is the opportunity to prepare the congregation for the Feast of the Ascension and its observance on the following Sunday. “I go away, and I will come to you.” In this passage Jesus promises his presence in two ways. First, by keeping Jesus’ commandments Christians prove their love for Jesus and so open themselves to become a dwelling place for God. Second, by the Holy Spirit who is sent from the Father to teach and “bring to remembrance” these words of Christ—this theme will begin preparing the congregation for Pentecost in two weeks. This last point is an especially comforting truth, since it shows how walking the Christian life in faith is not just a matter of following Christ’s good example or internalizing his teachings. It is a spiritual affair in which God himself reaches down to aid us by the Spirit.
The preacher may want to remark that this mode of Christ’s presence is superior to his presence in the body. The distance even between two familiar friends is closed by the Word in our minds and the Spirit dwelling in our hearts. It is as though in going away, Christ has commingled himself even more closely with us than he did in taking on flesh at the Incarnation. The Ascension is not Jesus’ departure but the beginning of an even more intimate presence which is available to every believer through prayer, meditation on the scriptures, and participating in the sacraments.
Sunday, May 29, 2022
Seventh Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year C
The preacher has two options on the Sunday after the Ascension. The annual reading of John 17 is the conclusion of the high priestly prayer (see commentary in Year B). Electing instead to return to the regularly scheduled Gospel of Year C gives the opportunity to bring before the congregation an important theme in Luke’s gospel: That the Holy Spirit establishes the continuity between the Old and New Testaments.
In an age marked by a method of biblical criticism which regards as “historically responsible” bracketing out the possibility of spiritual readings of the Old Testament, it is important to hear how Jesus refers to the entire Old Testament as writings about him (v. 44) and that understanding them in this way is the illumination of God himself (v. 45). For the church, cataloguing the diversity of sources and drawing attention to the joints and seams whereby they were assembled is not an exercise that reveals the true meaning of the scriptures. The key to receiving God’s word in the Old Testament is to understand it in the light of Jesus’ Resurrection, recognizing the Holy Spirit speaking through it.
Detailing the church’s history of interpretation of the Old Testament is probably better left for a special series of teachings (e.g. 1 Peter 3, 1 Corinthians 10, among others). Sufficient for the day will be to emphasize another way that Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension leaves us better off, even than those who walked with Jesus in his earthly life: with the key to unlock all of the riches of Holy Scripture to edify and aid us as we follow Christ to the Father.
Next week, will observe when this same Spirit that spoke of Christ through the Law and the Prophets will descend on his church in power.
Sunday, June 5, 2022
On the Day of Pentecost, attention naturally turns to the event of Pentecost recounted in Acts, but John is the reliable interpreter of the meaning of that event, so the latter should be used to illuminate the former.
The Spirit’s rushing upon the Apostles is not so much a discrete event as a manifestation of a reality already present. This reality which the Spirit effects is the unity between Son and Father, and us and the Son, and therefore us and the Father. Phillip’s request at the table shows that he does not yet understand this unity. Here, Jesus’ syllogism of unity between people and God comes full circle: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:10) and “abide in me and I in you” (15:4). The miracle of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit effecting this unity of love, and from this union, the unity of all people is realized—even across culture and language barriers—and miracles flow.
How does the preacher exhort the congregation to enter into this mystery of unity? First, it should not be missed that the John passage comes from Jesus’ discourse at the Last Supper, emphasizing how the Eucharist is one of the means by which we today continue to participate in that unity. Secondly, the preacher may point out how the Spirit is no less present today as then, and that whether in dramatic or ordinary ways, the goal is unity with Jesus who shows us the Father. Neither a one-time event in the past or a far-off goal in the future, abiding with Christ by the Spirit is a present reality that the Christian is always caught up in and enjoined to participate in. Pentecost is now.