Writer Mark Ellingsen
Mark Ellingsen, author of Lectionary Scripture Notes, is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and a professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated magna cum laude from Gettysburg College and has received four degrees from Yale University. He has authored many titles, most recently Lectionary Preaching Workbook for CSS Publishing Company….read more
Easter 2, Cycle A
THEME OF THE DAY
Christ and the resurrection have their way with us. Historically, this was the first Sunday during which newly baptized members (since baptisms occurred only on Easter in the first centuries) would be admitted into the fellowship as full members of the church, and so this theme of how Christ, his Resurrection, and Baptism have or can change us is most appropriate (Justification and Sanctification by Grace).
This is a song of trust in God’s power to save, attributed to David. We have previously noted the scholarly consensus that David is not likely the author or even the collector of the Psalms attributed to him. The editorial rationale for attributing this and the other Psalms to him is to make clear to the original audience that because he was king, David represents Israel, and so his Psalms were about them (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, pp. 512, 521).
The psalmist begins with a prayer for deliverance from trouble (v. 1). To Yahweh is proclaimed that there is no good apart from him (v. 2). The Lord in turn proclaims delight in the holy ones in the land, but as for those who choose another god, their names are forgotten (vv. 3-4).
The psalmist adds that Yahweh is his chosen portion [manah] (v. 5). He claims to have a godly heritage and will bless the Lord who gives him counsel and instruction (vv. 6-7). It is obvious that the psalmist has received many material blessings from the Lord. This has led some interpreters to conclude that the psalmist was a Levite, who had no land and so lived only from the Lord providing the offerings given to him by other tribes. Other Old Testament texts speak of the Levites like this one, of the Lord being their portion (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:9).
A pledge is made to keep the Lord always before him. The psalmist proceeds to express confidence in God. He sings that his heart is glad and he rejoices, for he does not give him up to Sheol (the place of death) (vv. 8-10). This song is quoted by Peter in the First Lesson. Yahweh shows us the path of life, and in his presence there is joy [simchah] (v. 11).
Application: On this Sunday when the church remembers the doubts of Doubting Thomas, a sermon on this text, after acknowledging the gospel story, might focus on the joy that comes with reveling in God’s presence and heritage (what he has done) and in the assurance that we have been given up to death (Sanctification and Eschatology).
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
We continue to consider the second half of the two-part early history of the church attributed to Paul’s Gentile associate Luke (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Its main emphasis is the universal mission of the church and to vindicate Paul’s ministry. But as Paul did not negate the Jewish inheritances of the faith, so in this lesson we hear part of Peter’s address to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost, a word that seeks to link Jesus’ Resurrection to the earlier Hebraic faith.
Peter is reported as addressing the Israelites concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God with deeds of power and wonders that God did through him. Jesus was handed to them in accord with the Lord’s predetermined counsel and foreknowledge. (This is a consistent theme in the book.) But, Peter notes, the Israelites have crucified him by the hands of those outside the law (vv. 22-23). Peter then proceeds to note that God raised Jesus from the dead, which could not hold him in its power (v. 24). David (Psalm 16:8-11) is quoted (though as we have noted above he was not likely the author of this Psalm). This citation speaks of the Lord always before [enopion] the psalmist so he can never be shaken. This it is said makes for gladness and hope, for the Lord will not abandon our souls to Hades or let the holy one be corrupt (vv. 25-28).
Continuing to address Israelites, Peter adds that their ancestor David was a prophet who knew God had promised that one of his descendants would sit on his throne (vv. 29-30). Peter cites Psalm 16:10 and its reference to God not giving us up to Hades, claiming this refers to the Resurrection of the Messiah (v. 31). God has in fact raised up Jesus; Peter and the disciples are witnesses, he proclaims (v. 32).
Application: Several possible directions are suggested by the text. One could focus on Peter’s observation that all that transpired in Jesus was part of God’s eternal plan. We can revel in the confidence that God is in control of our lives (Providence). Another related option is to focus on Peter’s and the cited Psalm’s claim that the risen Lord is always before us — always in our presence, traveling with us. The comfort of this insight can be analyzed and celebrated (Providence and Sanctification).
1 Peter 1:3-9
Probably written between 70 AD and 90 AD, this book is a pastoral exhortation (circular letter) written by an elder in Rome claiming to be Peter to a Gentile church at the lower levels of the socio-economic spectrum in Turkey. The latter date and high-quality Greek make it unlikely to have been a work of the apostle. The text is a discourse on rejoicing in salvation. The long blessing that precedes the lesson takes the place of an opening thanksgiving. Reference is made to the faithful having been chosen and destined [prognosin] by God, sanctified by the Spirit, and sprinkled by Christ’s blood (vv. 1-2).
After blessing God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ it is noted that by his great mercy through Christ’s Resurrection we have been given a new birth into a living hope and into an imperishable inheritance kept in heaven for us (vv. 3-4). We are said to be protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the end (v. 5).
The writer calls for rejoicing, even though for a little while we must suffer trials, so that the genuineness of faith may be found to result in praise and honor when Christ revealed (vv. 6-7). Although his hearers have not seen Christ, the author notes that they love him, and while not seeking him, they believe and rejoice in him (v. 8). For the recipients of the letter receive the outcome of their faith, the salvation of the soul (v. 9).
Application: The text affords an opportunity to reflect on the difference the Resurrection can and has made in our daily lives (Sanctification). Because of what Jesus has done we have been chosen by God (Predestination and Providence) to live lives as people born again, living in hope, and protected by God.
Again we receive a lesson from the last gospel to be written (probably in the last decade of the first century), and so not written by John the son of Zebedee, but perhaps by a disciple of his in order to address a community of Jewish Christians who had been expelled from Jewish society. These verses, accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection and the story of Doubting Thomas, embody the gospel’s primary concern with testifying that Jesus is Messiah, but also its characteristic emphasis on faith. (The word “believe” [pisteuo] appears far more in John than in any of the gospels.)
The text begins by reporting on a gathering of disciples on the first Easter, locked in a house for fear of the Jews. The risen Jesus enters and gives them a peace greeting. The disciples rejoice (vv. 19-20). He came to those with weak faith. Jesus is then said to commission the disciples, giving them the Holy Spirit as well as the power to forgive and retain sins. A reference is made to Jesus “breathing on” [enephusao] his followers, the same phrase used to describe the communication of natural life (Genesis 2:7). The author thereby expresses that what the risen Jesus does is to give new life (vv. 20-23). Thomas was not present and expresses doubts about accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection (vv. 24-25).
In a gathering the following week, Jesus is reported again to appear and has Thomas feel his body. Thomas then confesses his faith (vv. 26-28). Jesus asks him if he only has believed because he saw him. The Lord adds his blessing for those who have not seen him but yet believe (v. 29). The author then reports that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples that have not been reported in the gospel (v. 30). The ones reported are provided, he writes, so that readers may believe Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God, and through believing have life in his name (v. 31). This last verse is understood as the gospel of John’s statement of purpose.
Application: This is a text that makes clear that if we are to affirm that Jesus is the Son of God we need to believe he has risen from the dead! But that does not come easily. Help parishioners identify with Thomas, coming to appreciate that like him we have our doubts (Sin). When the risen Christ comes to us he “breathes on” us and gives us new life. (See discussion in the second paragraph above.) We are born again, given a new start (Realized Eschatology). With the fresh start Easter gives us, the old destructive doubts begin to wither away (Justification by Grace). And as we get freed from the destructive past and the doubts, it is a little easier to believe he has risen, and we have a fresh start after all.