During the Easter Season (Year B) we have a series from Acts of the Apostles for the first reading, and a series from 1John for the second reading -- as well as the usual selection of appearance stories from the Gospels. (The Gospel readings will gradually turn more to a set of texts that focus on the Spirit in anticipation of the feast of Pentecost)
- Acts 4:32-35 and Psalm 133
- 1John 1:1-2:2
- John 20:19-31
Full texts are available at the RCL web site.
These readings are from the RCL list and may vary slightly in denominational lectionaries.
The short excerpt from Acts is a classic summary created by Luke to suggest a golden age at the beginning of the Jerusalem church. It also serves as a very appropriate Easter reading with its combination of "testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" and the quality of communal life.
The ideal of a utopian community has inspired many attempts at common life within Christianity. The underlying vision seems to be a genuine survival of Jesus' own practice, but his followers have struggled to implement his radical insights into inclusive community.
We find similar ideals in Paul's understanding of Christian community as a place where traditional distinctions based on gender, race or social status disappear:
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
there is no longer male and female;
The reading from 1John takes us from the narrative genre of the Gospel tradition (including the text we call "Acts," but was most likely composed as part of the extended document, "Luke-Acts") to the genre of the epistle: not simply the letter (such as we find in Paul or even 2John and 3John) but the self-conscious didactic device of the philosopher seeking to instruct by means of a general discourse on a disputed topic.
Luke-Acts and 1John were written not very far apart in time, but they come from very different contexts and they have very different aims in mind:
- Luke-Acts seeks to portray Christians as acceptable members of the larger society, and to tell the story of Christianity's origins in ways that echo Rome's own myth of origins.
- 1John, on the other hand, addresses internal divisions within the Johannine communities, and will ultimately give first expression to the label "antichrist" to villify the author's opponents.
One text breathes the air of optimism and anticipates integration with the larger society, while the other chokes on the fumes of sectarianism and isolation.
The GJohn story of Jesus' appearance to the disciples on the first Easter night, and of Thomas' refusal to believe their witness unless he could repeat the experience (and add touch to vision) is a staple in the Easter lectionary cycle.
This is one of the Easter appearance stories, and as such it is not surprising to find it linked to the commissioning people for ministry within the early church. Such an interest in leadership authority is a characteristic of the appearance tradition in contrast to the affirmation traditions and the empty tomb traditions.
This Johannine story has several unique features. The most obvious is the dual appearances, a week apart, to the same group of people. "A week later" (vs. 26) makes this an especially suitable reading for use on the Sunday after Easter. In GJohn the story deals with the problem posed by "doubting Thomas," who presumably serves as a cipher for those within the later Johannine community (known as Docetists) who were not convinced that Jesus was more than a phantom.
Read more on Docetism here.
Another of the distinctive Johannine elements is the focus on Jesus displaying his hands and his side to underline his identity as the crucified and risen one. Note how 1John 1 insists on tactile evidence, as well as sight and sound:
We declare to you what was from the beginning,
what we have heard,concerning the word of life.
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked at and touched with our hands,
This detail is not found in any of the other Easter traditions, and again seems especially related to the crisis over docetic teachings. (By contrast, in the famous Emmaus story in Luke 24, the moment of recognition is the breaking of the bread, not seeing the wounds of the crucified one.)
GJohn seems unaware of the (later?) Lukan tradition that the Spirit was given by the ascended Lord fifty days after Easter (at Pentecost). Instead, John has the promised Spirit being given to the disciples when the risen Jesus appears to them on Easter night. This may represent a more primitive tradition than what we find in Luke-Acts, since it also agrees with Paul's formulation in 1 Cor 15:45:
The first Adam became a living being;
the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
The following pages are also relevant to this week's texts:
- 1John - brief introduction to the letter
- LukeActs - Luke-Acts as an early 2C document
- Antichrist Myth - introduction to the Antichrist tradition
- Behind Locked Doors - mapping the Easter appearances tradition
- Easter Tradition - texts and complexes
- Jesus and Thomas - Thomas as neither an Apostle nor a model Believer
- Judas Thomas Didymos - Thomas in early Christian tradition
- Easter2 Sermon - a sermon for a College Eucharist on Easter Tuesday
For texts related to these readings, along with brief notes and commentary, see:
- 018 Revealed to Disciples - vss. 19-21
- 479 The Promised Spirit - vss. 19-22
- 375 Binding and Loosing - vs. 23
- 386 Faith against Sight - vss. 24-29
- 364 These are Written - vss. 30-31
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre: