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Once more, with feeling…

In 2011 I produced a video commenting on the gospel text for Low Sunday, the second Sunday in the Easter season. It did not matter what year we are in, because this reading is always the same one, from John’s gospel, telling his story of Jesus’ reappearance to the disciples, this time including Thomas, a week after the Resurrection. My remarks on this text and its dominant position in the RCL’s presentation of the Resurrection within our liturgical cycle expressed some dissatisfaction, not only because John’s account is allowed to eclipse those found in other Gospels (eg, we never get to hear the story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus) but also because some elements in this story of John’s have some rather unsatisfactory elements if we treat them as an uncontested standard for faith. The text does have some very positive features, but I not impressed with the way it normalises the way in which Thomas is depicted as capitulating to the moral pressure exerted by his faith community (but not by Jesus). I have not changed my opinion about this matter, so the video is still unchanged as well. You can hear my comments (once again?) here…

However, hold the horses! I am in the process of producing another video on the other readings and it should appear sometime on Friday (Anzac Day) Sneak preview: two themes that will feature are the vital function of personal testimony in awakening faith in Christ’s resurrection then and now; and a meditation on the “indescribable and glorious joy” that connects us with God through the presence of the risen Christ in our lives.

No, that video is not going to happen this time around, it seems. The best laid plans get disrupted by events that must take priority. So here is a quick summary of what I wanted to say and may do so next time these texts turn up…
1. The theme of personal testimony is central to Peter’s speech to his fellow Israelites on the Day of Pentecost. Firstly, he appeals to their shared knowledge of what God had done through the public ministry of Jesus and of the manner in which he had been put to death. He then goes on give personal testimony to the surprising fact he and the other disciples present have experienced: that God raised Jesus from the dead. Finally, he describes the immediate event that has just happened: the outpouring of the divine Spirit in their midst that has caused the present commotion and brought them to his listeners’ attention. All of this is wrapped within an interpretive context provided by the holy scriptures all Israelites have in common. These three elements, common knowledge of public events, personal testimony to events experienced only by a few, and a common frame of reference shared by all, combine to create a powerful expression of the reality of God’s presence that is convincing to a great number of the hearers. We need to learn how to to something similar in our own day, and it will take a similar outpouring of the Spirit to make it happen, as has been the case over and over again in the Church’s history.
2. The epistle reading, 1 Peter 1:3-9, celebrates the faith of the letter’s recipients who, unlike Peter, have had no direct experience of Jesus earthly career or of his being raised from the dead. What they, and we, do have is an ongoing experience of Jesus’ living presence in our midst in our life as his people. Although our eyes cannot see Him, our faith makes the vital connection that produces “an indescribable and glorious joy” that transforms and saves our souls. That joy then becomes the basis of our testimony to our own world, making it natural for us to share our faith with those around us, and so the fire of God’s love spreads outward to transform our world.
3. The Psalm for the day, Ps.16, combines both these themes (a useful reminder while Acts displaces OT readings as the Lesson during the Easter season, transforming experiences of God’s salvation did not all begin with the Christian era). It speaks of the gladness and joy sustained by a relationships of trust in God in the midst of difficulties, and it makes this a matter of public testimony by turning this very personal experience into a Psalm that becomes part of Israel’s liturgy and literary heritage. Things that go on between God and the writer in the middle of the night are brought into the open to encourage others and instruct us all in the life of faith.

So there you have it, the video on the other readings that didn’t get recorded yet. Carry on enjoying yur Easter season in 2014, as I am. Christ is risen!

Howard Pilgrim

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