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Sunday, April 9, 2023
Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day)—Easter, Year A
Matthew’s account of the Resurrection is laced with important details that together express an entire gospel message, not to be missed in the hubbub of a full sanctuary and lunch plans afterwards.
The Resurrection happens on the “dawn of the first day of the week” beginning the new creation promised in Isaiah 65. The women, informed by the brilliant angel, enter the tomb and see with their own eyes that Jesus is not there. The Gospel is based upon witness, not hearsay. Their thoroughness is fulfilled by Jesus himself who meets them on their way to share the news with the disciples. At this point, they “took hold of his feet” proving that Jesus was no vision or ghostly being. Jesus then immediately sends them on mission to share the news with the Apostles.
The proper response is to go and tell the news (hence the women have been referred to as “The Apostles to the Apostles”). Also, Jesus’ promise to appear to his “brothers” indicates in word and deed that he has already forgiven them for their faithlessness at the Cross and thereafter. The gospel means the forgiveness of sins, even for those guilty of the worst offenses (betrayal). These details paint a rich portrait for the preacher to use on this the highest feast day of the Christian year.
Sunday, April 16, 2023
Second Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year A
The appearance to the disciples in John emphasizes the reality of the resurrected body of Christ. His body is tangible but also glorified, capable of more than ordinary human flesh. Here the disciples receive the Holy Spirit for the first time (at Pentecost the gifts of the Spirit manifest), the source of the church’s power as a vessel of Christ’s authority on earth.
Like Thomas, many are apt to doubt the incarnate reality of both Christ and his church. It is easier tolerate Jesus’ resurrection as an ideal but not the body itself. Similarly, it is easier to understand the church as an inspirational institution, rather than a custodian of spiritual realities. Doubt of Jesus’ bodily resurrection is linked to doubt of the church’s authority on earth and vice versa. But both of these together give us hope of our own bodily resurrection at the Last Judgment. In Christ and his church is real hope, not pleasant ideas or ghostly forms.
Sunday, April 23, 2023
Third Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year A
The treasured story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, only found in Luke, reveals the sources of encounter with the risen Christ, which Christians return to weekly in divine service. The two disciples (one is named, recommending the text as a probable eyewitness account) begin their journey disheartened and confused, doubtful of the woman and Apostles’ report of the resurrection.
The two disciples are in the same position in many respects as modern believers living after the time of Christ. When he appears, he begins the encounter by expounding the scriptures of the Old Testament, which are in fact about him. In the same way, divine service since the earliest times has begun by reading and expounding the holy scriptures according to the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Though their “hearts burn within them” they still do not recognize him. Instead, he is “known to them in the breaking of the bread.” That this passage has the Eucharist in view is plain from the use of the telltale four verbs “took, blessed, broke, and gave” a liturgical pattern that recurs at the Last Supper.
In the Word, disciples are instructed, whetting the appetite for the full encounter at the Table. The response, like the women at the tomb, is to go on mission: Finding the others and reporting the good news. So too do believers today respond to what they have received by telling the good news and inviting others to encounter him as well.
Sunday, April 30, 2023
Fourth Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year A
The readings now begin to prepare the congregation for the Ascension and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. In the Gospel reading this Sunday, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for the time of his absence in the flesh and presence by the Spirit.
There is an important distinction between true shepherds of the flock and the “strangers, thieves and bandits,” that lead the sheep into death instead of life. The details of the parable correspond to the situation of believers and leaders in the church. Christ is the gatekeeper; the shepherds are the elders of the church; the sheep are Christ’s elect; the sheepfold is the church; and the thieves, robbers, and bandits are the false teachers that would lead believers astray. The relationship between the Shepherd and his sheep is the thing that allows them to discern shepherds from bandits. Many false teachers would attempt to lead Christians away from the church, but believers only need to listen: Whose voice do they hear from their leaders? That of the gatekeeper or someone strange and novel? Only shepherds who “enter by the gate” are authentic leaders—that is to speak the words of Christ and imitate his example.
In a time where many churchgoers are concerned about poor leadership in churches, this passage can be consulted. Safety from abusive or exploitative leadership does not come from familiarity with the latest insights about trauma and psychological health, but from a deep familiarity with the words and example of Jesus Christ. Only by intimacy with the gatekeeper can the sheep know the shepherds from the wolves.
Sunday, May 7, 2023
Fifth Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year A
As Jesus’ departure approaches, he begins to instruct them on the profound connection that they will enjoy with Jesus and the Father after his departure in the flesh. Jesus is the church’s connection to God the Father. Thomas’ and Philip’s questions both have the same answer: Jesus himself. The way to the Father, and even the Father himself, is to be found in Jesus. Thus, the church’s abiding hope: That Christ’s identity with God welcomes them into eternal life. Through this connection, even the power of God to work miracles is available to his church while on earth.
The preacher should focus on the immanence of the church’s connection with Christ. Jesus is not talking about a far off and delayed hope, but rather an immediately available source of intimacy with God himself. Christ, being God and Man is the bridge which welcomes human beings into the life of God. This is more than a future hope, but a present source of comfort and power.
Sunday, May 14, 2023
Sixth Sunday of Easter—Easter, Year A
In the final Gospel before the Ascension, Jesus explicitly promises the Spirit in John 14. Here he is described as “another Parakletos.” The word’s meaning varies by context: “helper,” “advocate,” or “comforter” are all possible options. The broad semantic range is theologically instructive. The parakletos comes to the aid of another to meet different needs. In verse 26, he is the enlightener who will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance,” Jesus’ words. In 15:26 he is a witness for Christ on our behalf. Note that the Spirit is the second parakletos mentioned in verse 16. The first is Christ himself. In any circumstance we find ourselves in the Spirit is the agent whereby Jesus works in and through us and remains present to us.