Illuminations on Sunday’s Readings – Easter 2A

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for April 23, 2017

The incredulity of St. Thomas

The incredulity of St. Thomas (c.1622) Oil painting by Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588–1629). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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

Eastertide has now begun, and our readings during the next six Sundays will direct our thoughts toward the meaning of resurrection. 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 will draw from the Acts of the Apostles, beginning this Sunday as we hear Peter on the day of Pentecost, addressing the amazed crowd with a fluent sermon declaring Jesus the resurrected Messiah promised by the prophets, and then baptizing 3,000 new believers.

Psalm 16

In his talk to the people of Jerusalem in Acts, Peter quoted verses 8 through 11 of this Psalm. Now we chant the full Psalm. Note that these verses are similar, yet not exactly the same, as those Peter read. That’s because Peter – as was the custom in the Near East in those times – used the Greek bible, the Septuagint, not the original Hebrew Psalm, which we have here translated directly into English. Both versions are similar, of course, and they convey the same promise: God teaches us, God watches over us; God protects us, and God gives us joy forever.

First Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Throughout Eastertide we will hear second readings from the First Book of Peter, actually letters written to the church in Asia Minor by later followers in Peter’s name and purportedly reflecting his ideas. Appropriately for the season, this short letter shows us the developing theory of resurrection and salvation in the early church around the end of the first century. Observing that the people are suffering “various trials” – perhaps persecution for their faith – it assures the people that nevertheless, through Christ’s resurrection and life, God offers the faithful the joy of a lasting inheritance of salvation.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

The apostles know that Jesus has risen, but this wonderful news was apparently not enough to keep them from being afraid. They’re hiding in a locked room, yet suddenly Jesus appears among them, twice telling them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus bears the visible scars of his crucifixion but is very much alive. He sends his friends, no longer fearful, out into the world in peace, empowered with the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ breath. Then Thomas, who missed this first meeting, wins his reputation as “Doubting Thomas” by refusing to believe that Jesus had truly risen unless he could touch the wounds. Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, and then he blesses all who believe through faith alone.

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