May 2022 Commentaries

 

The Ascension of Our Lord (10 days before Pentecost)

 

First Lesson: Acts 1: 1-11

 

Dr. Luke had been commissioned by a man named Theophilus to write a history of Jesus’ walk on earth, which constitutes the Gospel of Luke. Now Theophilus would like Dr. Luke to write the history of the acts of the early church. St. Luke begins by noting that Jesus spent an additional 40 days on earth after his resurrection, appearing to his apostles and speaking further about the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he gave them an interesting command. Although they now knew that he had risen from the dead and had a glorified body, and even though Jesus had given them further insight as to their mission after three years of on-the-job training, Jesus tells them not to attempt any missionary work, but rather to stay in Jerusalem, praying, until after they have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, in accordance with Jesus’ characterization by John the Baptist (Luke 3:16).

And it is with good reason, because once when they were gathered around Jesus, the disciples wanted to know whether Jesus was going to restore the Jewish earthly kingdom now. They still hadn’t grasped what Jesus was all about! Jesus responded by telling them it was none of their business what God the Father was going to do. But he does tell them that the Holy Spirit will fall upon them, by which they will receive power to become effective witnesses for Jesus. Consequently, they will start going throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria (the Northern kingdom), and then to the whole world, bringing the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation by believing in Jesus’ sacrifice. And with that, a cloud picks Jesus up and carries him into heaven. 

 

And while the disciples are standing there, gawking up into the sky, suddenly two men in white robes appear and ask them why they are just standing there looking up. Then they note that, in the same way, that Jesus ascended into heaven, so he will descend to the earth on Judgment Day.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 1: 15-23

 

It was at the beginning of St. Paul’s third missionary journey that he preached Christ to the people of Ephesus, a prominent seaport on the west coast of what is now Turkey. In fact, he eventually spent three years there, teaching them the way of Christ. But now St. Paul is in prison in Rome, and despite his imprisonment, he still wants to write a letter of encouragement to the Ephesian Christians whom he loves dearly. In today’s reading, he praises them for their faith and for their love for all people.

But then he tells them that he never stops thanking God for them, and always remembers them in his prayers, especially that God would

—give them all a spirit of wisdom and knowledge of Christ Jesus, —enlighten their eyes to know well their hope in God,

the riches of their glorious inheritance in Christ, and
the immeasurable
greatness of God’s power working for believers.

Then St. Paul expands on the greatness of this power; it is the power that

—worked in Jesus to raise him from the dead,
seated Jesus at God’s right hand in the heavenly, and
is far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, not only in this age but also in the next.

Finally, St. Paul notes that God the Father has placed all things under his (Jesus’) authority, and made him head over all things in the church, which is his body.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 44-53

 

St. Luke records for us the event that took place behind locked doors on the evening of that first Easter. We find Jesus suddenly standing in their midst, bidding them peace, and showing them the marks in His hands and feet in order to convince them that it really is He, not a spirit. Then He asks for food, and eats it in their presence, as additional evidence that He really is the risen Messiah now with a glorified body.

Next, He gives them a lecture on how He has fulfilled all of the prophecies about Him that were recorded in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. He notes in particular that the Messiah would have to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day. Under these circumstances, then, He notes that repentance and forgiveness of sins need to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem, because they, the disciples, were witnesses of all of this. But then Jesus says something unexpected: don’t be a witness of these things yet. Instead, wait until you have been endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father (which occurred for these disciples on the day of Pentecost).

Approximately 40 days later, Jesus leads them out to Bethany, blesses them, and is carried up into heaven. The disciples pause to worship the ascended Christ, then return to Jerusalem, and spend time continually in the temple, blessing God. 

 

St. Philip and St. James, Apostles (1 May)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 30: 18-21

 

Isaiah was God’s messenger for over 50 years to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, surrounding the time in 720 B.C. that the Northern Kingdom was conquered and dispersed throughout Assyria. This should have been a strong message to the Southern Kingdom, but sadly it fell on deaf ears. The messages of the need for repentance from their rebellious ways, and the need to depend on God instead of depending on neighboring nations, followed by God’s grace toward them and the restoration of their glory, mark the major themes of Isaiah.

In the passage immediately preceding today’s reading, God warns the people of Judah about doing things their way instead of God’s way. For example, they put their trust in nations that cannot help them, and demand from God’s prophets to tell them what they want to hear. Such an attitude, God warns, will only lead to sudden destruction. Then, just before our reading begins, God tries a different approach: he tells them that they can be saved if they return to him. There is still time to repent! If they do, the Lord will be kind to them, have compassion on them, and pity them. And through whatever troubles and hardships they may have, the Lord will be there to guide and teach them.

Sounds like something that we can take to heart today!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesian 2: 19-22

 

As St. Paul continues his letter of encouragement to the Christians in Ephesus, he notes that Gentiles, who had been driven away from God by the Jews who practiced a religion of exclusion instead of inclusion, have now been brought to God by the blood sacrifice of that great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus. Furthermore, since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, Gentiles who believe in Jesus have the exact same status as Jews who believed in a coming Messiah in Old Testament days and now believe in Jesus in this New Testament period. So Jesus brought peace with God to the Jews (those who were “near”), and also to the Gentiles (those who are “far off”), making the two 

groups fellow citizens and legitimate children of the same household of God. In addition, with Jesus being the cornerstone, the Old Testament saints based on the foundation of the prophets, and the New Testament saints based on the foundation of the apostles, are being built into a temple, a dwelling place for God Himself. Through the Holy Spirit, we are being built into a place where God lives.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 14: 1-14

 

Approaching the idea from a different perspective that we are the sheep of Jesus’ fold, Jesus now assures his believers that they should not be concerned with present circumstances, but rather steadfastly believe in Him. Jesus then states that he is going back to Heaven so that he can build a room for each one of us, so that he can come back to take us to the house that he has built for us (recall that this sounds just like a Jewish wedding: the bridegroom was not allowed to fetch his bride until his father was satisfied with the room/house that the bridegroom had prepared for his bride).

Thomas appears confused by Jesus’ words and asks what the way is to get to where Jesus will be. Jesus explains that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one gets to the Father except through him. In response to a question from Philip, Jesus emphasizes that whoever has seen Him has seen the Father and that Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus. Furthermore, the words that Jesus speaks and the works that Jesus does are the words and works of the Father done through Jesus.

Then Jesus challenges every believer: He states that whoever believes in Him will also do the works that Jesus is doing, and not only those works but even greater works. And then he challenges us even further by saying that whatever we ask in His name, He will do so that the Father may be glorified. Again, Jesus challenges us: Ask Him anything in His name! 

 

The Visitation (31 May)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 11: 1-5

 

Although Isaiah’s message generally was one of a cry for repentance so that God could restore the Southern Kingdom, today we find him introducing the Messiah as the “root of Jesse,” that is to say, King David’s father. He then describes what it will be like when Jesus reigns in men’s hearts.

He will be characterized by
—the Spirit of
wisdom and understanding,

—the Spirit of counsel and might, and
—the Spirit of
knowledge and fear of the Lord.

 

In addition,
—his delight will be in the fear of the Lord,
—he will not judge with what his eyes see or his ears hear, but

    with righteousness and equity; and

—he will render justice to the wicked.

 

Righteousness and faithfulness will be the key characteristics of this Messiah.

 

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 12: 9-16

 

St. Paul here gives multiple recommendations for the behavior of true Christians, including

—abhorring any kind of evil,
—genuinely loving one another with
brotherly affection,
—serving the Lord
fervently,
—being
patient during tribulation, being constantly in prayer,
—giving your charity to the
needy saints,
—showing
hospitality,
—blessing those who persecute you (how contrary is this to your nature?)

empathizing with others, whether they are rejoicing or weeping,
—living in
harmony with others (especially within your own family!), and

—not being haughty or thinking you are superior. 

 

Even though our reading ends here, St. Paul adds a few additional thoughts, including

—living in peace with others (as far as it depends on you),
—not taking
revenge on others, but leaving that to God, and finally, —not surrendering to evil intent, but instead overcoming evil

    by doing good.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 39-45 (46-56)

 

In the first part of Luke, chapter one, we have the recounting of the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to the priest Zechariah to announce the coming pregnancy of Zechariah’s previously barren wife, Elizabeth, who would bear the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptist. Then we have the recounting of the angel Gabriel, six months later, appearing to Mary to announce that she will be the bearer of the Messiah, which assignment she humbly and obediently accepts. As our reading begins today, we find Mary setting out into the mountains to share this good news with her relative Elizabeth. What is truly amazing is that, as soon as Mary enters the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist, as a six-month-old fetus, recognizes the presence of Jesus in the now pregnant Mary, and leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth. Immediately Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling her to recognize that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God. Elizabeth then praises Mary for believing what the angel told her and notes that Mary will be blessed for participating in the fulfillment of a prophecy made at the time of Adam and Eve.

 

Mary responds to these words with a song of praise which we know as the Magnificat, in which she praises and rejoices in God who chose her, as a humble girl. She then continues to praise God by recognizing his holiness, his mercy, his strength, his justice in humbling the proud but exalting the humble, his providing for the poor and hungry but denying the rich, and his faithfulness in remembering the promise of a messiah that he had made to the fathers, including Abraham and his offspring.

 

What a glorious God we have! 

 

Third Sunday of Easter

 

One of the themes running through the lessons for today is that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the one foretold from the days of Adam and Eve to be the one that would deliver them from their new slave master, sin.

 

First Lesson: Acts 9: 1-22

 

Following the martyrdom of Stephen and the beginning of the persecution of Christians by the Jews, Saul, the young man with whom the coats of those stoning Stephen to death were left, enthusiastically becomes involved in the movement to arrest and imprison Christians. Today’s reading finds Saul preparing to go to Damascus to find, arrest, and bring to Jerusalem for punishment all those who belong to “the Way,” the name ascribed to those who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and now practiced a religion that moved beyond obedience to the Law. Recognize that Saul thoroughly believes that he is being strictly obedient to the Laws of Moses——wiping out those who turn from following the strict Jewish laws.

 

However, on the way, Saul encounters Jesus in a miraculous manner, and Saul immediately recognizes that the person speaking to him is The Lord; the Lord in turn informs Saul that the name of the Lord is Jesus. This conversion of Saul is so complete and real that, a few days later, Saul is on the streets of Damascus, proving to the Jews from Scripture that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 5: 1-7 (8-14)

 

In order to place ourselves in the right time period for our Epistle Lesson, we have to fast forward to the last days of time. St. John is continuing his letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor, and he now pens a vision that he sees happening in Heaven. The vision centers around a scroll sealed with seven seals, and the question presented is, who is entitled to open the seals of that scroll so that the contents can be read? The answer comes back: the Lamb who was slain, the Messiah, in order to ransom all humanity from its slavery to sin in order to make them priests to God (recall 1 Peter 2:9—“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”). And indeed, thereafter follows praises to God by every creature in heaven and earth! 

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 21: 1-14 (15-19)

 

The gospel reading for today is a continuation of the gospel reading from last week, where Jesus had presented himself to the disciples—who were behind locked doors—to demonstrate that he had indeed risen from the dead. In today’s lesson, Jesus again reveals himself to the disciples, but in a different place and in a unique way. Here we find the disciples in Galilee to fish, but after spending all night on the lake, they had come up with nothing. Just at dawn, they make out a man on the beach, who asks them whether they had caught any fish. When the response is in the negative, the man tells them to throw the nets on the right side of the boat. And sure enough, their net is now full of fish. John immediately recognizes the man as Jesus, so Peter jumps into the water to race to shore, perhaps a strong indication of how much Peter loves the Lord (much as a husband and wife run to each other after a long absence). This, of course, leaves the remaining disciples to drag in the boat with its net full of fish. Once on shore, they find Jesus with a charcoal fire on which is bread and fish, and the disciples are invited to breakfast, courtesy of the Lord. Thereafter Jesus and Peter have that famous discussion where Jesus asks Peter whether he loves (with godly love the first two times, but with brotherly love the last time) Him, and then tells Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep. 

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

 

As we examine the three lessons for this day, it is apparent that God wants to assure us that Jesus came to redeem all mankind, Jews, and Greeks (meaning Gentiles), people of every nation, tribe, race, and language. In addition, there is another theme where, in the first two lessons, we learn that those who follow Jesus can and will be persecuted, perhaps even fiercely. In our Gospel lesson, however, Jesus assures us that no one will be able to tear the believer out of His hand. Why? Recall James 4:7—“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” as well as 1 John 4:4—“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” plus Rom. 8:37-39—No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

First Lesson: Acts 20: 17-35

 

In today’s reading, we find St. Paul on his way to Jerusalem with charitable donations from the saints in Asia Minor for the persecuted saints in Jerusalem, thus ending his third missionary journey. Since he wants to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, he decides to avoid spending time in Ephesus by calling just the elders to meet with him outside of Ephesus. There he reminds them that he preached repentance toward God and faith in Jesus to both Jews and Greeks for 3 years, and warns the elders to be responsible for their flocks because trials and tribulations await them, including some of the elders themselves splitting off from the church, taking some sheep with them, by inviting but twisted doctrines.

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 7: 9-17

 

In today’s reading, St. John has a vision of an exceedingly great crowd of people from every nation, joining the angels in praising God and the Lamb who brought salvation to all of these people. One of the elders then identifies who all these humans are: those who suffered greatly for their faithfulness to Christ while on earth, and who now are taken care of by God himself, so that all the misery to which they were subjected while on earth is no longer a memory, having been replaced by God’s grace and love and provision.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 10: 22-30

 

In today’s reading, we find Jesus in the Temple in yet another discussion with the Jews, this time addressing the issue (to the Jews) of whether Jesus is the Messiah or not. Jesus again confirms that he indeed is the promised Messiah, and points out to them that his miracles, healings, casting out of demons, and teaching about the Kingdom of God all testify to the fact that he is the Son of God, the Messiah. But then he points out that the Jews do not accept his testimony because they are not of Jesus’ flock. Jesus then makes plain that his sheep hear his voice and follow him, and that he knows each of them. Furthermore, Jesus gives them eternal life, and no one will snatch them out of his hand, nor out of the Father’s hand, because, Jesus states emphatically, he and the Father are one. 

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 11: 1-18

 

The first reading for this day reminds us of the lessons from last week, that Jesus died for all mankind, of every nation, tribe, race, and language. But then it goes on to note that this was definitely not the understanding common in the early New Testament church. Immediately preceding this text, we find that St. Peter was summoned by a Roman centurion in Caesarea, to whom an angel had appeared and told him to summon Peter. Peter, along with a contingent of other Jewish Christians, go to his home—but after Peter has had this famous experience of seeing a tablecloth loaded with unclean animals descend out of heaven and God telling him to kill and eat; and when Peter protests, God responses with the words, “What I have made clean, do not call unclean.

With this in mind, Peter preaches to Cornelius as well as his family and friends. And while he is preaching, the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and his household exactly as he did on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Peter and the Jewish Christians are astounded, but then acknowledge that if God has already filled these Gentiles with the Holy Spirit, the least they could do is baptize them with water, which they do. As you might imagine, this did not go over well with some of the saints in Jerusalem, who call Peter in to account for why he preached to the Gentiles. It is then, after they hear his account, that they accept that God also wants Gentiles to be saved.

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 21: 1-7

 

Today’s reading carries on with the lessons of Easter Day, repeating many of the benefits that accrue to the believer in Jesus the Messiah, that left Peter—and us!—marveling. Here we find St. John still recording his vision of events in heaven, noting some of the benefits of being a child of God. These include

—A new heaven and a new earth.
—The New Jerusalem, representing
all believers, coming to be the

    bride of Christ.

—God will live among his people.

—There will be no more tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain. —

    God is making all things new.
—God provides the
water of life freely to all his children.
—For those who are
faithful in their belief in Jesus as their

    savior from sin, God will be their God and they will be his   

    Children.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 16: 12-22

 

Jesus is in a lengthy teaching session with the disciples, telling them to ask the Father for anything in his name; and the Father will grant it so that God may be glorified. He continues by telling them that, while the Holy Spirit is with them now, later he will be in them; and he will teach them and remind them of all spiritual things. Then he reminds them that he, Jesus, is the vine and they are the branches that are expected to bear good fruit, but only if they remain in him.

 

As today’s reading begins, Jesus emphasizes that when the Holy Spirit comes, he will guide them into all spiritual truth, because he will be reminding them of Jesus’ words, thus glorifying Jesus. Then he startles the disciples by saying that in a little while they will no longer see him, but then after a little while, they will see him again—preparing them for his death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus immediately addresses their wondering what he means by telling them that they will experience great sorrow, but just as a woman experiences pain and sorrow in childbirth but which is followed by joy with the birth of the child, so they will also experience sorrow which will be followed by great joy. (See Romans 6:3-7 for more details on this process.)

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Alternative Gospel Lesson: John 13: 31-35

 

It is Maundy Thursday evening (as we know it). To Jesus and the disciples, it is their last Passover celebration together, because Jesus knows that his suffering begins that night. Just prior to our reading, Jesus had announced that one of the apostles was going to betray him. Peter prompts John to privately inquire of Jesus who it will be, and Jesus responds by saying that it is the one to whom he will give a dipped morsel of bread. As soon as he hands it to Judas, Jesus tells Judas to go and do quickly what he intends to do, which Judas does. That part of the story ends with the cryptic comment that it was night. For Judas, it was indeed.

 

But as today’s reading begins, Jesus announces that now he will be glorified by his Father, just as the Father is glorified by the work of the Christ soon to be completed. Then he reminds them that, what he told the Jews earlier—that they would not go where he was going, so also now the disciples could not go where he was going—indicating that the unbelieving Jews would not go to heaven but the believing disciples could not follow Jesus to heaven now as he completes the ultimate sacrifice (see Hebrews 9 for what happened in heaven). But then Jesus gives his disciples an old but new commandment: they are to love each other with godly love, so much so that all people would immediately know that they were his disciples by the obvious love that they had for one another. 

 

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 16: 9-15

 

In the verses immediately preceding this reading for today, we find St. Paul and Silas trying to find their way. Paul had just started his second missionary journey to the Gentiles, but it seemed as if everywhere they thought God wanted them to go, the Holy Spirit shut the door. But in an overnight vision, Paul sees a man from Macedonia calling him to help them. So Paul and Silas head there and end up in Philippi. In the course of their preaching, a woman named Lydia believes in the Lord Jesus and is baptized along with her entire household. In gratitude, she invites the homeless Paul and Silas to stay at her home while they are in Philippi. And subsequently, it is in Philippi that a lively Christian church is founded.

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 21: 9-14 and 21-27

 

Continuing the description of his vision which we read about last week, St. John now expands on the nature of the New Jerusalem. In particular, the New Jerusalem is identified as the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. In other words, New Jerusalem is all true believers. And continuing with the picture of all true believers being a walled city, we see that it is made up of believers from both the Old and New Testament periods, as evidenced by the 12 gates bearing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 foundations of the city bearing the names of the 12 apostles of Jesus. Then St. John starts to describe the beauty and character of the city, including,

 

—the 12 gates are made of 12 pearls,
—the
streets of the city are of pure, transparent gold,
—the
temple of the city is God himself,
—there is no need of a sun or moon because of the glory of God

    provides continuous light, and there no longer is night, and

—there is nothing unclean there, only those whose names are

    written in the Book of Life.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 16: 23-33

 

Jesus is in the midst of reassuring his disciples that, after he leaves them, they will still have the Holy Spirit to teach them and remind them of all things. As our reading starts for today, Jesus encourages his disciples to ask for anything in his name that will bring glory to the Father. Then he assures them of how much both he and the Father love those who believe in him. Then Jesus predicts that they will soon all abandon him, speaking of the events of Maundy Thursday. But he notes that although in him they will have peace, nevertheless in the world, believers will have tribulation. However, recalling his words read in the gospel lesson two weeks ago, Jesus states that we should not fuss when we face tribulation because he has already overcome the world. In other words, the trials and tribulations of a believer are a consequence of spiritual forces aiming at us, which forces Jesus has already defeated—and therefore we can too!

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 5: 1-9

 

Jesus has begun his ministry, which has been marked so far by his miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, his cleansing of the temple of the merchants and money changers, his conversation with Nicodemus, a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well, and the healing of the son of an official in Capernaum. In today’s reading, we discover another example of the compassion that Jesus has for those who are suffering. In this case, we find Jesus at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. And although there are many invalids congregated around the pool, waiting to be healed when the water is stirred by an angel, Jesus focuses on one man who is unable to help himself. And by obeying Jesus’ command in faith, he is healed. 

 

 

Seventh Sunday of Easter

 

One way of looking at the lessons for today is to see that they all deal, in one way or another, with making choices.

 

First Lesson: Acts 1: 12-26

 

In our First Lesson, we find the disciples heading back to Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus. There they spend their time in prayer, waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit, which they would receive on the day of Pentecost. During this time of prayer, Peter is inspired to propose that a replacement for Judas be made. He then goes on to explain how Judas made his choices: after being selected by Jesus to participate in his ministry, he chose to be a traitor instead. And with the money that he received to betray Jesus, the chief priests bought a field to bury strangers. In the meantime, Judas had hanged himself, probably referring to an Old Testament method of hanging, that of impaling oneself on a sword.

 

But now the disciples make their choice, first of all selecting two candidates who had been with Jesus throughout his ministry. Then, casting lots (following an Old Testament procedure) for the one to be chosen, they choose Matthias. Much later, as you may recall, St. Paul gives different instructions to Timothy (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) on how to select pastors, a process that we use today. 

 

 

Epistle Lesson: Revelation 22: 1-6 (7-11) 12-20


The Epistle Lesson continues to describe St. John’s vision of Heaven, where we

find an angel initially pointing out

 

—the tree of life, which bears different fruit each month,

—inhabitants of heaven will be able to see God’s face, and

—God will provide the light, so no sun or moon will be needed.

 

Then Jesus makes an appearance, saying that he is coming soon to reward everyone for what he has done! Note that it is by grace through faith that we are saved, but our reward is based on our works (see James; also 1 Corinthians 3). Then an angel apparently interjects with the invitation to make the right choices, saying that the right choice entitles one to eat from the tree of life and drink freely of the water of life, but those who make the wrong choices —the murderers, adulterers, idolaters, sexually immoral, and those who make a practice of lying—will not enter the kingdom of God. Jesus again warns that he is coming soon—which could be either by our death or in his glory. And St. John joyously exclaims, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

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Gospel Lesson: John 17: 20-26

 

Our Gospel lesson is an excerpt from Jesus’ so-called “high priestly prayer,” part of his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, just prior to his betrayal and arrest. In this prayer, Jesus prays not only for his disciples but also for all those who believe in him, from every era. In particular, he prays that all believers may be as one in him as he is one in the Father. And he further prays that all believers may be with him so that they can see his glory, the same glory he had before he became a human being. Finally, he prays that the love with which the Father loved him (Jesus) would be in each of these believers. Left unsaid here is that we have a choice: either to let God’s love grow in us or to center our love on ourselves

 

The Day of Pentecost

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 11: 1-9

 

The lessons for today present a series of contrasts. In our first lesson, we see contrasts in the answer to the question, “Where did languages come from?” If one subscribes to the evolutionary hypothesis, we would agree with Darwin, who said, “I cannot doubt that language owes its origin to the imitation and modification, aided by signs and gestures, of various natural sounds, the voices of other animals, and man’s own instinctive cries.” In other words, language evolved from the gestures of nonhuman primates. Consequently, early language would be simple.

 

In contrast, in our first lesson, God states that it was he who created languages. And I think it would be fair to say that those languages would consist of more than grunts and gestures, in fact, might be rather complex. So which is it? When we search the internet for the oldest languages in the world, we find that they are among the most complex. Apparently, God is right. And this is in response to the idea that man proposes but God disposes of. In this case, we find the people-focused pridefully on themselves, wanting to do something because they wanted to make a name for themselves. 

 

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Epistle Lesson: Acts 2: 1-21

 

Our second reading finds us answering another question: How do we go about solving a problem, especially a societal one? If one has kept up with how society addresses this problem, we see the answer to this one: fund a major study, and then fund a broad-scale educational program. This, of course, will cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. This approach was used to address perceived societal problems that resulted in educational programs in our schools. The question is, how effective was that approach? Can we, by our own reason or strength, solve all of society’s ills? Even some churches believe that the programs they develop will fulfill Christ’s great commission. 

 

The second lesson for today offers us a different perspective. Recall that the disciples have been with Jesus virtually 24/7 for the last three years, where they learned by word and example. Surely that would mean that they are prepared to carry out the great commission! They can depend on their own reason or strength. But what do we find? We see them hiding behind locked doors. And we hear Jesus telling them (in Acts 1, just before his ascension) to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism in the Holy Spirit so that they can receive power to be Jesus’ witnesses. And that is exactly what we discover in our second lesson: The disciples are now fearless witnesses, proclaiming God’s mighty works with such power that 3000 people believe!

A word of caution: many people fixate on a single aspect of this baptism in the Holy Spirit—tongues. In so doing, tongues become a stumbling stone to them, causing them to fail to recognize the real purpose behind this event: becoming a fearless and powerful witness.

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Gospel Lesson: John 14: 23-31

 

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus draws a distinction between those who love him and those who do not: the former keeps his words, the latter does not. But then he speaks of the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit, and tells his disciples that this is important for them because the Holy Spirit will do two things for them:

 

teach them all things
—bring to their
remembrance all that Jesus has said to them.

 

This is in addition and closely related, to their becoming fearless and powerful witnesses, as seen in our epistle lesson for today. 

 

 

 

 

April 2022 Commentaries

 

St. Mark, Evangelist (25 April)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 7-10

 

In the Old Testament period, when kings went to war, they would have designated messengers to send home, some designated to bear good news while others to bear bad news, of how the battle was going. Watchmen on the walls would continually search the surroundings, looking for the messengers. Even at a great distance, they could identify the messenger—and the nature of the message—by how the messenger ran. If good news, the watchmen would shout for joy, causing the people to break out in singing. This is the situation described in today’s reading.

Because of their forsaking God by their idolatry, the people of Judah have been taken into captivity in Babylon. There they gradually realize the error of their ways, and cry out to God for help. In today’s lesson, God not only promises to deliver them out of their physical captivity but also to deliver all nations from their captivity to sin. Then God describes the reaction of the people to his salvation:

—even the feet of the messenger will appear beautiful,
—the messenger will bring peace and the 
good news of happiness,

—the city watchmen will shout for joy when they see the

    messenger approaching,
—the people will break out into
singing, and

—the Lord will comfort and redeem his people.

But perhaps more important to us, the Lord’s salvation will be for all people, even us!

 

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 4: 5-18

Today’s lesson is a continuation of St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He, first of all, encourages Timothy

—to be sober-minded,
— to endure suffering,
—to do the work of an evangelist, and

—to fulfill his ministry.

Then he looks back on his life, noting that his departure is imminent, but knows that he will be with God in heaven because he has kept the faith. Hence he knows that a crown of righteousness awaits him.

He then laments the departure of some of his co-workers: Demas, who returned to his former way of life; and Crescens and Titus, who went to two provinces to continue their ministries there. It turned out that only Dr. Luke was still with him after he sent Tychicus to Ephesus.

He then pleads for Timothy to come to him, bringing his warm coat, some scrolls and parchments (presumably some of the Old Testament scriptures, or some of St. Paul’s writings), and Mark. Who is Mark? Mark, or John Mark, was a young Christian lad, a cousin of Barnabas, who Paul and Barnabas had brought to Antioch from Jerusalem, and who accompanied Paul and Barnabas for a short time on St. Paul’s first missionary journey. Later, when St. Paul started his second missionary journey, he took Silas along with him while Barnabas took Mark with him. Later on, when St. Paul was imprisoned, he wrote to the Colossians that Mark had provided him comfort, and he is sending him to them. (Incidentally, this is the Mark that wrote one of the four Gospels.)

Continuing his letter to Timothy, St. Paul warns him against Alexander the metalworker, who apparently opposed St. Paul and his message, possibly during his hearing in court. In addition, no one else was there to support him, so St. Paul felt abandoned at this point. Yet he expressed faith that the Lord would rescue him.

Our faith also should be as St. Paul’s when he concludes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 16: 14-20

 

St. Mark records for us the last few days of Jesus physically being on earth. He notes that Jesus appeared to the eleven remaining apostles while they were eating, and chastised them for their stubborn unbelief of the women on Easter morning who reported to them that Jesus had risen. Later, St. Mark records Jesus giving his disciples the Great Commission to go into all the world to bring the Good News to everyone. Jesus notes that miraculous signs will follow their evangelism work: demons will be cast out, they will suddenly be able to speak new languages, poisons will not hurt them, and the sick will be healed. Then Jesus ascends into heaven. And sure enough, the disciples’ evangelism is indeed accompanied by miraculous signs! 

 

Second Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 5: 12-20 (21-32)

 

Some time has elapsed since the events that we celebrated last Sunday. In this first lesson, we see the apostles in Jerusalem, going about fulfilling the Great Commission in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the same signs and wonders that Jesus did to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, the apostles were now doing to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was nowhere. That is to say, even Peter’s shadow was bringing about the healing of the sick through the faith of the recipient. And whether they had an illness or were afflicted by evil spirits, the result was the same: all were healed. This, of course, brought about the same response by the religious establishment as it did when Jesus walked on the earth. And in response to the apostles being imprisoned by these religious leaders, God sends an angel to release them from prison. In a subsequent appearance before these religious leaders, the apostles make a statement about their behavior that must regulate both them and us: We must obey God rather than men!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 1: 4-18

 

We now see the results of the apostles carrying out the Great Commission. But it is a “good news, bad news” type of situation. We find St. John imprisoned on the island of Patmos, just off the coast of western modern-day Turkey, for his involvement in spreading the gospel. But he is still at it! He is in the midst of writing letters to the newly formed seven churches in Asia Minor (the good news!) and with the gospel, he includes a warning that Christ will return in judgment. Why is he writing these letters? Because in a vision of the glorified Christ, he is instructed to do so. And the letters begin with a judgment of the seven churches of Asia Minor.

The repeated mentioning of “seven” churches, lampstands, and stars probably indicates that, although the Christian churches in these seven cities are mentioned by name, the letters are intended for all churches of all time (i.e., the ‘complete’ church). Also, the “two-edged sword” may represent the two aspects of God’s Word: law and gospel.

 

Gospel Lesson: John 20: 19-31

 

Today’s reading is a continuation of last week’s story. You may recall that first Mary and then Peter & John found the tomb empty on that first Easter morning, and then Mary subsequently saw two angels and then encountered Jesus himself. Today’s lesson initially occurs the evening of that first day, with the disciples gathered together, but behind closed and locked doors because they feared for their lives, worrying that they could suffer the same fate as Jesus at the hands of the Jews. Suddenly Jesus stands in their midst, wishes them peace, and then tells them that he is now sending them out as witnesses, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, he is giving his disciples the authority to forgive sins. But because Thomas was missing that night, Jesus returns a week later, again suddenly appearing in the midst of the disciples despite the doors being closed and locked, to repeat this episode. Jesus concludes his appearance here with the words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That, folks, would be you and me.

St. John concludes this section with the statement that his gospel is written to include just a sampling of the signs that Jesus did, so that we may believe. 

 

Third Sunday of Easter

 

One of the themes running through the lessons for today is that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the one foretold from the days of Adam and Eve to be the one that would deliver them from their new slave master, sin.

First Lesson: Acts 9: 1-22

Following the martyrdom of Stephen and the beginning of the persecution of Christians by the Jews, Saul, the young man with whom the coats of those stoning Stephen to death were left, enthusiastically becomes involved in the movement to arrest and imprison Christians. Today’s reading finds Saul preparing to go to Damascus to find, arrest, and bring to Jerusalem for punishment all those who belong to “the Way,” the name ascribed to those who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and now practiced a religion that moved beyond obedience to the Law. Recognize that Saul thoroughly believes that he is being strictly obedient to the Laws of Moses——wiping out those who turn from following the strict Jewish laws.

However, on the way, Saul encounters Jesus in a miraculous manner, and Saul immediately recognizes that the person speaking to him is The Lord; and the Lord, in turn, informs Saul that the name of the Lord is Jesus. This conversion of Saul is so complete and real that, a few days later, Saul is on the streets of Damascus, proving to the Jews from Scripture that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 5: 1-7 (8-14)

 

In order to place ourselves in the right time period for our Epistle Lesson, we have to fast forward to the last days of time. St. John is continuing his letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor, and he now pens a vision that he sees happening in Heaven. The vision centers around a scroll sealed with seven seals, and the question presented is, who is entitled to open the seals of that scroll so that the contents can be read? The answer comes back: the Lamb who was slain, the Messiah, in order to ransom all humanity from its slavery to sin in order to make them priests to God (recall 1 Peter 2:9—“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”). And indeed, thereafter follows praises to God by every creature in heaven and earth!

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Gospel Lesson: John 21: 1-14 (15-19)

 

The gospel reading for today is a continuation of the gospel reading from last week, where Jesus had presented himself to the disciples—who were behind locked doors—to demonstrate that he had indeed risen from the dead. In today’s lesson, Jesus again reveals himself to the disciples, but in a different place and in a unique way. Here we find the disciples in Galilee to fish, but after spending all night on the lake, they had come up with nothing. Just at dawn, they make out a man on the beach, who asks them whether they had caught any fish. When the response is in the negative, the man tells them to throw the nets on the right side of the boat. And sure enough, their net is now full of fish. John immediately recognizes the man as Jesus, so Peter jumps into the water to race to shore, perhaps a strong indication of how much Peter loves the Lord (much as a husband and wife run to each other after a long absence). This, of course, leaves the remaining disciples to drag in the boat with its net full of fish. Once on shore, they find Jesus with a charcoal fire on which is bread and fish, and the disciples are invited to breakfast, courtesy of the Lord. Thereafter Jesus and Peter have that famous discussion where Jesus asks Peter whether he loves (with godly love the first two times, but with brotherly love the last time) Him, and then tells Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep. 

 

Fifth Sunday in Lent

 

A common theme for the readings for this day might be summarized by St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinth. 5:17)

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 43: 16-21

Isaiah, as we will recall, was God’s messenger to Judah, the Southern Kingdom for about 40 years, starting around 740 B.C. His messages called for repentance, punishment for the lack of repentance, and restoration for those who repented. In today’s reading, we find God pleading with the Children of Israel, pointing out that he is their Savior, loving them despite their sins. Then he goes on to say something to the effect, “If you thought that I did miraculous wonders in the past, wait to see what I am going to do now!” And then He points out that even wild animals will honor Him because He will provide water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Similarly, God points out that He gives water to His children so that they may declare His praise for the new life they now have in Him.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Philippians 3: 4b-7 (8-14)

 

In our Epistle Lesson for this day, St. Paul is trying to convince the reader that he has been changed by God from the old to something new and better (in today’s language, “new and improved”). He starts out by comparing justification under the Law to justification under the Gospel. Under the Law, St. Paul makes a list of those things that most people would consider as qualities that would justify St. Paul being granted entrance to heaven: from infant to adulthood, St. Paul’s life has been a paragon of righteousness under the Law. But St. Paul states that all of this human effort is rubbish, garbage, trash, compared to the righteousness that one gains by faith in the redeeming work of Christ Jesus. Does that mean that all one needs is faith? In so many words, St. Paul states that his faith now has to be demonstrated by what he does. Recognizing that he still is sinful and makes mistakes, he then says that he forgets all that, leaving it behind in the cleansing blood of Christ, and continues to forge on toward heaven by obeying his calling in Christ.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 20: 9-20

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus in the temple courtyard, telling the people the good news. While he is teaching, the scribes, chief priests, and the elders confront Jesus, demanding to know by whose authority he is teaching in the temple. After silencing them, Jesus turns back to the people to paint a disturbing picture of the Jewish leaders, who believed that God intended for only Jewish people to enjoy God’s blessings, both temporally and eternally.

In this parable, we have the following cast of characters:
—the
original tenants are the Jewish people,
—the
vineyard represents all the people of the world

—to whom the tenants were supposed to minister,

—the owner’s son

—as well as the stone rejected by the builders

—is none other than Jesus himself,

—and the new tenants are the Gentiles.

To hear that they, the elite Jews, had been rejected by God brings about a response of murderous intent on the part of the scribes and Pharisees. But because the people adored Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees had to come up with a different strategy. So they planted spies among the people, pretending to be faithful seekers of the truth, but really there to see whether there was some way to twist Jesus’ words in order to get him in trouble legally.

The world has not changed, has it? 

 

Easter Day

 

As recorded by Dr. Luke in our Gospel Lesson for today, we can only marvel with St. Peter at all that God has wrought in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. And what has God wrought?

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 65: 17-25

We begin with our Old Testament Lesson, where Isaiah lists the following wonders, all ours because of faith in Jesus as the Messiah:

—We will be in a new (and better) heaven and earth.
—We will
not remember all of our former griefs.
—Our lot in life will be joy and gladness.
—There will be no reason to weep, and there will be no distress.

All the tragedies afflicting the true Children of Israel will be gone,

including early death, or not enjoying the fruit of your labors.

—We will be blessed by the Lord.
—Man and animals will live
together in peace.
—God himself will always be with us to hear and defend us.

We marvel indeed!

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 19-26

 

St. Paul continues his discussion of the marvels accruing to us through Christ’s death and resurrection. He contrasts Adam with Christ: by his sin, Adam sold all of us into slavery to sin. But by his death and resurrection, Jesus bought all of us back out of slavery into freedom. But not just any freedom. The glorified Jesus is the first fruit, representing the very first of the millions who believe in him who will have a new body just like his. All believers will be given that body when Christ returns in victory after defeating—as he reigns now!all those who oppose him and after destroying death (at least for those who believe in him).

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 1-12

 

It is the first day of the week, and a group of women who had, on late Friday afternoon, observed where Jesus was laid, now go to the tomb to apply the traditional burial spices. There they encounter not the dead Jesus but instead two angels, who tell them that he is risen, just as he said he would. When the women return to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples, they are met with unbelief. Except for Peter (and John), who run to the tomb to see for themselves. And Dr. Luke records St. Peter returning to Jerusalem, marveling. 

 

Good Friday

 

See commentaries in the Feasts and Festivals book. 

 

 

Holy (Maundy) Thursday (Thursday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

 

Jeremiah was God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, toward the end of its life before it went into Babylonian Captivity. For over forty years, he decried the breaking of God’s covenant with the Children of Israel, inscribed on the two tablets of stone, made at Mt. Sinai, where God considered Himself their husband and they His wife. The apostasy of the Children of Israel was then rightly considered as spiritual adultery.

In today’s reading, God states that a time is coming when He will institute a new covenant with those who believe in Him, unlike the covenant that He had made with the Children of Israel. In this new covenant, God will not write His laws on two tablets of stone, but instead on the hearts of His Children. The consequence of this: His Children will know Him, and He will forgive their iniquities and no longer remember their sins. And that is the covenant that we have today with God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 10: 15-25

 

Here again, the author of Hebrews compares the Old Testament priests with Jesus our high priest, noting that the Old Testament priest had to make sacrifice after sacrifice since those sacrifices had no capability to take away sins. In contrast, the sacrifice of Jesus needed to be made only once, since it took away sins for all time from those who believe in Jesus’ substitutionary death. With that sacrifice, God made a new covenant with his people: God would put His laws in the hearts and minds of his children, and he would remember their sins no more. In other words, since their sins are forgiven, there is no further need for a sacrifice.

The net effect of Jesus’ sacrifice is that he opened for us a direct line to God the Father. In addition, Jesus serves as our high priest. Given this, there is no reason why we cannot go directly to God in full faith and with a cleansed conscience, holding tightly (i.e., through thick and thin) to the hope that we

have in Christ Jesus. In addition, we should be sure to meet together regularly with other believers, not only to worship our wonderful God but also to encourage each other to do acts of love and good works. And we should do this even more zealously as we see that the Last Day is approaching rapidly.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 22: 7-20

 

It is Maundy Thursday (as we know it today), or, Passover at the time of Jesus. Jesus has sent Peter and John into the city to engage a room and prepare the Passover feast. At the celebration itself, Jesus announces that he will not be celebrating this feast again until the kingdom of God has come. He then institutes what we know as the Lord’s Supper. He spoke a prayer, then broke the bread and gave it to the remaining disciples, telling them that this was his body given up for them and that they were to do this to remember him. Then he took the cup of wine and told them that this wine that is being poured out for them is the new covenant in his blood

 

Alternate readings for

Holy (Maundy) Thursday (Thursday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 12: 1-14

 

The ninth plague, of thick darkness, has ended, and God has warned Egypt of the last plague to come. But first, he must arrange to save His people from that plague, the death of the firstborn of both humans and animals. He then proceeds to give Moses instructions on how this is to be done. First of all, a one-year-old lamb or goat without blemish must be chosen. The families that eat the animal must be of such size that all the roasted meat must be consumed that evening. The blood from the killing of the animal must be splashed on the doorposts and mantle of the doorway of the house. The meal must be accompanied by bitter herbs and unleavened (made without yeast—hence flat) bread. And the entire family must be dressed for travel, ready to move out at a moment’s notice. Thus as God and the destroying angel passed through the houses, any home with the blood on the doorposts will be passed over, thus sparing any first-born there.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-32

 

St. Paul is giving the Corinthian Christians instruction on how to conduct their worship services in a way pleasing to God. In our reading for this evening, he gives instruction regarding the celebration of the Lord’s supper, noting that Jesus identified the bread as his body given for them, and the wine as his blood shed for them for the forgiveness of sins. And this meal is meant to help Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice.

But then St. Paul points out that this is not just an ordinary meal. It requires the participant to examine him/herself, recognize and acknowledge his/her sins, and truly repent of his/her behavior. In other words, we are to judge ourselves so that God does not have to judge us. Then St. Paul points out that a number of the Corinthian Christians are weak, sick, or dead because they had not discerned the significance of this covenant meal.

Something for us to think about.

 

Gospel Lesson: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

 

It is Maundy Thursday evening (as we know it). To Jesus and the disciples, it is their last Passover celebration together, because Jesus knows that his suffering begins that night. Just prior to the meal, Jesus gets a basin of water, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes the disciples' feet. What’s this all about? Well, back in those days, there were no paved pathways, and people wore sandals. So whenever people entered a home, it was traditional for the very lowest servant to wash the peoples’ feet. Since this was a borrowed facility, and there were no servants to wash the disciples' feet, Jesus took up the chore. Peter apparently was the only one to grasp some of the significance of what was happening. If anything, one of the disciples should have washed the feet, and Peter recognized that he was one of those disciples. Hence he objected when Jesus was about to wash his feet. After an exchange of words, Peter submits. But then Jesus explains the significance of what he did. He held the highest rank, so to speak, of those in the room, yet he assumed the duties of the person lowest in rank. Thus this was an example of how God credits things: Those who are willing to be the lowest servant will be among the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, on this earth, pride has no place in the life of a Christian, only love and service.

Later that evening, Jesus announces that now he will be glorified by his Father, just as the Father will be glorified by the work of Christ soon to be completed. Then he reminds them that, what he told the Jews earlier

—that they would not go where he was going, so also now the disciples could not go where he was going

—indicating that the unbelieving Jews would not go to heaven but the believing disciples could not follow Jesus to heaven now as he completes the ultimate sacrifice (see Hebrews 9 for what happened in heaven). But then Jesus gives his disciples an old but new commandment: they are to love each other with godly love, so much so that all people would immediately know that they were his disciples by the obvious love that they had for one another. 

 

Monday in Holy Week

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 50: 5-10

 

Isaiah, God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, continues in today’s reading God’s message of restoration to those who repent. But the approach today is a bit different. Instead of focusing on the restoration of homes and lands, it is a spiritual restoration, or salvation, wrought by someone who suffers and dies for mankind. As our reading begins, we find that the words are from the one who is bringing that salvation, namely Jesus. But it is a prophecy, recorded around 700 years before the Messiah came and thought those thoughts and uttered those words. As we hear these words, recall the physical brutality that Jesus endured under the hand of Pilate (Matthew 27:26-30), how Jesus endured disgrace and opposition and mocking (Matthew 27:39-44), how Jesus was accused and judged unjustly (Luke 23:22-25), how he set his face like a flint to Jerusalem—knowing the torture that he would have to endure (Luke 18:31-33). And as Jesus trusted in his Father, so we are told to trust in the God who brings us out of darkness into light, life, and salvation.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 9: 11-15

 

The author of Hebrews now reveals to us the mechanism by which our redemption was secured. We all remember that the prescribed sacrifices of the Children of Israel in the Old Testament were a picture of how our sins would be washed away by that perfect sacrifice. The problem has been that Jesus’ death on the cross just didn’t seem to fit the picture of the Old Testament sacrifice. But that is because we had the wrong picture. Here it is revealed that when Jesus shed his blood on the cross, he went into heaven with that blood and entered the original tabernacle, the one not made by human hands, sprinkling his blood on the altar as an indication that the blood of the perfect lamb of God, Jesus, made final and total satisfaction for not only the taking away of sins but also the purifying of our consciences.

That is why Jesus is the bringer of a new covenant, one that replaces the old covenant made with the Children of Israel. That first covenant also required the shedding of blood, but of calves and goats, which purified those who made the sacrifice. But those sacrifices of bulls and goats could not take away sins. That could only be done by the blood of the perfect lamb of God, Jesus.

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 26: 1 - 27: 66

 

This reading reports many of the events that transpired as Jesus experienced what we now call Holy Week. Some key events include the following

—Jesus predicts to his disciples that within a few days he will be crucified.

—The Jewish religious and secular leaders plot to kill Jesus.
—Jesus is
anointed for his burial with very expensive perfume by a woman in Bethany, and Jesus has to defend her action.

—Judas negotiates the betrayal of Jesus with the chief priests.
—During the celebration of the Passover, Jesus identifies
Judas as the one who would betray him.
—Jesus
institutes the Lord’s Supper.
—Jesus predicts that Peter will
deny him.
—Jesus spends his last free hours in
prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
—Judas
betrays Jesus, who is arrested and brought for trial before the Jewish Council, during which Jesus testifies that he is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. On this basis, the Jews declare Jesus
guilty of
blasphemy (claiming to be God) and announce that he is
guilty of death.
—Peter denies Jesus, then leaves the Council courtyard crying in bitterness.
—Judas has remorse for betraying Jesus but
kills himself.
—Jesus is brought before Pilate, accused of being the
King of the Jews, to which Jesus readily admits is true.
—The Jews belligerently insist that Jesus needs to be crucified while the murderer Barabbas should be set free, to which Pilate relents.
—Jesus is crucified with two robbers, who along with the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the Jewish people,
mock and deride Jesus by stating that if he really were the Son of God, then he should be able to come off of the cross and save himself from death.

—From noon until 3 pm, there is darkness over all the land, at the end of which Jesus indicates that he has experienced the impact of the second death by asking why God the Father has forsaken him. —Immediately after this, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Jesus yields his spirit to God the Father.
—The
curtain of the temple, a symbol of the separation of mankind from God, is torn in two from top to bottom, indicating that God had

caused the rent because Jesus’ death had appeased God the Father for the sins of mankind.
—This event is accompanied by a mighty
earthquake as well as the raising from the dead of saints, who went into Jerusalem and appeared to many after Jesus’ resurrection.

—The sequence of events causes even the Centurion and others to exclaim that Jesus must indeed have been the Son of God.
—Joseph of Arimathea procures the body of Jesus from Pilate so that it can be entombed
before the onset of the Sabbath Day.

—The next day the chief priests and the Pharisees implore Pilate to seal and guard the tomb of Jesus because they knew exactly what he meant when he had said earlier that if they destroyed this temple
(
i.e., Jesus’ body), he would raise it in 3 days.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 12: 1-23

 

Jesus and his disciples are headed to Jerusalem where, as Jesus has warned his disciples three times, he is to be arrested, tortured, and crucified. But on the way, they stop in Bethany, where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead just recently, to have a dinner served by Lazarus’ sister Martha, a role for which she is known (Luke 10: 38-42). During dinner, everyone is surprised when Mary, Martha’s sister, in a very loving gesture, pours a bottle of nard on Jesus’ feet and dries the feet with her hair. Judas Iscariot raises an objection to this apparent waste of money, saying that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. This would seem like a legitimate objection since such a bottle of nard would cost in the neighborhood of a year’s wages in those days. However, Jesus sets the record straight by noting that she has anointed him for his burial. Furthermore, they always will have poor with them, but they will not always have Him (Jesus), a reference to his impending death. Oh yes, incidentally, Judas was the treasurer for the disciples, holding the money bag from which he helped himself as he felt the need.

We then learn that many Jews came to Bethany when they learned that Jesus was there, not only to see him but also Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead. That miracle was causing many Jews to believe in Jesus. As a consequence, the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. And when Jesus enters Jerusalem the next day, riding on a donkey, more people come to meet the miracle worker, laying palm branches on the path and calling Jesus the King of Israel. Even Greeks (i.e. gentiles) were wanting to see this Jesus, to which Jesus exclaimed that now he was going to be glorified because he would soon be made a sacrifice for the sins of all people. 

 

Tuesday in Holy Week

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 49: 1-7

 

In today’s lesson, God speaks a prophecy through Isaiah, his prophet to the Southern Kingdom around the time of the Northern Kingdom’s dispersion into the rest of the world. In this case, the voice is not that of the Father, but of the pre-incarnate Jesus, who calls out to all of the people of the world. He notes that God the Father called Isaiah to his ministry and named him while he was still in the womb, gave him a sharp sword for a mouth (a similar description of Jesus is found throughout the book of Revelation (e.g. Revelation 1:16), and in Hebrews 4:12, and which means that his Word will be victorious), and appointed him to accomplish what the Children of Israel failed to do—carry God’s message of salvation to the rest of the world. But then the Messiah laments that Isaiah’s work to bring the nation of Israel back to God has resulted in a rejection by these people; nevertheless, he notes that despite this, God will reward Isaiah.

But now the Messiah notes that God honors and strengthens him by saying that his mission to restore the Children of Israel was too small of a mission. Rather, his mission is to be a Savior to all the peoples of the world. And despite the Messiah being despised by his own people, even kings and princes from the rest of the world will acknowledge him as Lord and Savior because he has been chosen by God the Father to be the Savior of every man.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25 (26-31)

 

In today’s lesson, St. Paul continues to develop the thought that the simplicity of the Gospel message can be taken as foolishness by some, but to others, it is the power and grace of God to save us from our own foolishness. He then provides examples of where God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of man:

—we are saved through faith, not through man’s wisdom and understanding,
—God provides a
crucified Christ for salvation, whereas Jews demand some kind of sign while Gentiles depend on their own knowledge,

—man looks to the professors of knowledge and wisdom to achieve utopia whereas God provides the preaching of a simple message,

—man lauds those who are strong, while God honors the weak,
—man looks up to the elite, rich and famous for pearls of wisdom while God honors the politically incorrect for their faith.

Why? So man’s salvation is not dependent on anything a man can do but depends solely on what God gives to us by grace through faith. That faith in God gives us his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption so that the only boasting that man can do is to boast about what God has done for us.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 14: 1 - 15: 47

 

As we continue to read St. Mark’s account of the ministry of Jesus, we find today’s lesson centered around Jesus’ last hours of life as a lowly human being. After succeeding in getting false witnesses to condemn Jesus, the Jewish leaders now take Jesus to Pilate in order to convince him to put Jesus to death for them. In the course of Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus, Jesus admits that He truly is the King of the Jews. But nobody can bring any evidence that Jesus is the leader of an insurrection against the Romans. So the Jewish leaders devise another scheme to get what they want. They stir up the common people to demand that Pilate release the insurrectionist and murderer, Barabbas, and crucify Jesus instead. (The release of a Jewish prisoner became a custom of the Romans in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover to reduce local friction), The people, not appreciating the significance of what they were conned into doing, become blindly obedient mob led by the Jewish leaders. And the scheme works.

The torture and crucifixion of Jesus then follow. The only comment one can make is that the abuse that was involved appears to be the bar to which certain people in this world today still try to reach as they use, abuse, and torture their fellow man. The demons of hell are still around.

The crucifixion is notable for the many prophecies that were fulfilled, and the gracious and compassionate conduct that Jesus exhibited to his fellow man despite his agony. Notable is one of the last statements of Jesus, asking His Father why He has forsaken Him, thus indicating that Jesus had somehow suffered the eternal separation from God that we should have received in eternal death. In any case, the centurion in charge of the crucifixion was so impressed by what he saw and heard that he acknowledged that Jesus certainly must have been the Son of God.

Since this was a Friday, the day before the Sabbath, there was insufficient time left in the day to anoint the body for burial. There was only time to place the body in a tomb before sunset.

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Alternative Gospel Lesson: John 12: 23 - 50

 

Jesus has had a very eventful series of weeks, marked by the raising of Lazarus from the dead, with the subsequent decision by the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus because they feared for their jobs with the Romans; the anointing of Jesus by Mary, the sister of Lazarus; and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is at this point that our reading for today begins. Some Greeks (in other words, Gentiles) who had come for the Passover wanted to see Jesus, causing Jesus to exclaim that, like a seed when planted dies to become something greater and more fruitful, so his dying would result in a fruitful life for many others. Similarly, Jesus notes, whoever wants to serve him must be willing to lose his life, because by losing his life he will receive greater life.

When Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name, the Father responds by speaking from heaven. Jesus explains that this indicates that the hour is at hand when the current ruler of the world will be deposed as Jesus is lifted up on the cross. This prompts the crowd to start quibbling with Jesus, saying that Christ lives forever, so how can Jesus say that Christ must die on a cross? Frustrated by their response and their refusal to believe him, Jesus warns that he, as the light of the world (John 1: 4-5, 9-13; 8: 12; Ephesian 5: 8-14; 1 John 1: 5-10), would soon no longer be with them, bringing to remembrance the words of the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied that these people would not believe what was revealed to them and that they could not believe because they had hardened their hearts, like Pharaoh.

Interestingly, John makes a comment about the hypocrisy of some of the authorities who, although they believed in Jesus nevertheless would not admit to it because they did not want to be excommunicated from the synagogue, meaning that the accolades of men were more important to them than the accolades of God.

Then Jesus announces that whoever believes in Him (Jesus) believes also in the One who sent Him (the Father). Jesus also repeats that He is the Light of the World (John 8:12) and that whoever believes in Him (Jesus) will not remain in darkness, but those who do not believe in Him will have His (Jesus’) words judge him on the last day. Finally, Jesus emphasizes that whatever He says is what the Father has told Him to say and that His words result in eternal life

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Evening/Easter Monday

 

The Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 15: 1 - 18

 

After the Lord punished Egypt with the ten plagues, He had Moses lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, across the Sinai Peninsula. Arriving at the Red Sea, God divided the Red Sea to allow the Children of Israel to cross while on dry ground. But when Pharaoh and his army tried to follow them across the Red Sea, God allowed the waters of the Red Sea to return together, drowning the army in the sight of Moses and the Children of Israel. This prompts Moses to break out in song, our reading for today. In the first part of this song, Moses enumerates all the wonders that the Lord has just performed on behalf of the Children of Israel, concluding this section by expressing amazement of and praise to God.

In the concluding section of his song, he praises God for what he is going to do on their behalf, including driving out the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Then he observes that God is going to plant his redeemed people on his holy mountain, heaven itself, where he will reign as king forever.

Alternate Old Testament Lesson: Daniel 12: 1c - 3

Daniel, in captivity in Babylon, was prompted to fast and pray for three whole weeks, at the end of which an angel appeared to Daniel to describe to him the events that will happen in the known inhabited world during the conclusion of the pre-Christian era. As our reading for today begins, the angel now gives Daniel a glimpse of the very end times, the conclusion of the Christian era. The angel notes that this period will be marked by a time of exceedingly great distress unlike any experienced previously. In fact, it will require Michael, the archangel responsible for believers, to rescue believers. Then there will be a raising of all the dead, some to everlasting life but the others to eternal shame. And those who were wise enough to believe in Jesus will shine like the heavens, and those who brought others to faith will shine like the stars.

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Epistle Lesson: Acts 10: 34 - 43

 

Today’s reading finds us in the major seaport of Caesarea, a port built by Herod the Great and named after Caesar. There lived a Roman army officer, Cornelius, a Centurion, who was devout, who respected God, prayed, and was known for his gifts to poor Jewish people. As a consequence, God sent an angel to him one afternoon, instructing him to send for Peter, in nearby Joppa (about 30 miles away, a good day’s journey). The next day, in Joppa, as Cornelius’ delegation approached, we find Peter on the rooftop (remember, roofs were flat) waiting for lunch and praying, when suddenly he sees a large tablecloth lowered from heaven on which were all sorts of unclean animals, and God telling Peter to kill and eat. When Peter objects, God tells him not to call unclean what He has made clean. This vision is repeated twice more, so that when the delegation from Cornelius arrives, Peter is getting the drift of God’s vision to him, that Gentiles were no longer to be considered unclean.

Consequently, the delegation is invited into the house, and the next day, at the home of Cornelius, Peter enters his house, neither of which any devout Jew would ever consider doing. When Peter is told why he has been invited to the home of Cornelius, he realizes that God’s hand was involved in every step. So he gives a brief history of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and why it had to take place.

 

Alternate Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 5: 6b - 8

 

Toward the end of his second missionary trip to Asia Minor, Paul found himself in Corinth, where he initially discussed the Scriptures with the Jews in their synagogue. But because the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue to share the Good News with the Gentiles, staying with a man named Titius Justus. His next-door neighbor was Crispus, the synagogue leader, who believed in the Lord, along with his entire family. After the Lord gave St. Paul encouragement one night in a vision, St. Paul stayed in Corinth for over a year and a half before he left to make an initial visit to Ephesus before returning to Antioch.

The church in Corinth had many growing pains, as we have noted previously, requiring St. Paul to write two letters to the Corinthians. In today’s reading, St. Paul has to deal with sexual immorality as well as greed, dishonesty, worshipping of false gods, use of abusive language, getting drunk, or being dishonest among the Corinthian Christians. St. Paul advises them neither to associate or eat with such people. Using the making of bread with yeast as a comparison with trying to grow spiritually in the midst of sin, St Paul points out

that, just as a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough, so a little sin contaminates the entire church. Therefore they needed to rid their community of this sin, but instead celebrate the resurrection of Christ with the unleavened bread of righteousness, sincerity, and truth.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 13 - 35 (36 - 49)

 

Today’s reading takes us back to the late afternoon of Easter Sunday. Two disciples are returning to Emmaus from Jerusalem in animated discussion when they encounter a man who asks them what they are discussing. They answer that they are talking about Jesus, whom they presumed to be God’s prophet, how he had been crucified by the Jewish religious and secular leaders, and how there were reports of his now rising from the dead. The man then rebukes them for being so slow to believe the prophets, and launches into an interpretation of

all the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament scriptures (wouldn’t you have liked to have been there to hear that?). When the trio arrives in Emmaus, the disciples ask the man to stay with them for a meal. But as the man breaks the bread in prayer, the disciples suddenly recognize him as Jesus, who instantly disappears. So the disciples decide to return to Jerusalem immediately to tell the other disciples that Jesus has risen indeed!

But while they are describing their experience, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst, bidding them peace, and showing them the marks in His hands and feet in order to convince them that it is really He, not a spirit. Then He asks for food, and eats it in their presence, as additional evidence that He really is the risen Messiah, not some spirit.

Next, He gives them a lecture on how He has fulfilled all of the prophecies about Him that were recorded in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. He notes in particular that the Messiah would have to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day. Under these circumstances, then, He notes that repentance and forgiveness of sins need to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem, because they, the disciples, were witnesses of all of this. But then Jesus says something unexpected: don’t be a witness of these things yet. Instead, wait until you have been endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father (which occurred for these disciples on the day of Pentecost). 

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Tuesday

 

Old Testament Lesson: Daniel 3: 8 - 28

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were among the young Israelite men of the royal family or nobility who were captured by King Nebuchadnezzar when Judah was conquered and carried off into Babylonian Captivity. These men were to be trained for three years and then placed in the king’s service. These three were eventually appointed to govern the province of Babylon. The fact that these three foreigners held such positions apparently irritated some of the local folk. And when King Nebuchadnezzar came up with the idea that he should make a 90-foot golden statue that everyone was supposed to worship when they heard the sound of rams’ horns, flutes, lyres, harps, and three-stringed instruments, certain native astrologers were quick to head to King Nebuchadnezzar to inform him of these non-conforming foreigners.

Incensed, King Nebuchadnezzar orders the three Jews to appear before him to give them one more chance to worship his idol, threatening them with a fiery furnace if they didn’t comply. The three reply that God can save them from the fiery furnace. But even if he chooses not to, they still were not going to worship his statue. Flushed with anger at this insolence, the king orders the furnace to be stoked to seven-times hotter than normal, and the three to be tied up and thrown into the furnace. But now there is a problem: the king’s men who threw the three into the furnace were themselves killed by the heat, but the three were walking around inside the furnace, untied, untouched by the flames, accompanied by someone who looked like a son of the gods. Astonished and now subdued, King Nebuchadnezzar called for the three to come out of the furnace. And when they did, they were found to be completely untouched by the flames: nothing was burned, and they didn’t even smell like smoke. As a consequence, King Nebuchadnezzar praised the God of the three who had risked their lives rather than worship any god but their own.

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Epistle Lesson: Acts 13: 26 - 33

 

St. Paul is on his first missionary journey, accompanied by Barnabas. Our reading finds them in the city of Antioch in Asia Minor, where they head to the synagogue to worship and to share the Good News when they are invited to raise Jesus from the dead. St. Paul concludes that he and Barnabas were now bringing this message of salvation to them, that God had fulfilled his promise to them by bringing Jesus back to life, thus indicating that atonement for sin was complete.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 36 - 49

 

St. Luke records for us the event that took place behind locked doors on the evening of that first Easter. Again we find Jesus suddenly standing in their midst, bidding them peace, and showing them the marks in His hands and feet in order to convince them that it is really He, not a spirit. Then He asks for food, and eats it in their presence, as additional evidence that He really is the risen Messiah, not some spirit.

Next, He gives them a lecture on how He has fulfilled all of the prophecies about Him that were recorded in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. He notes in particular that the Messiah would have to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day. Under these circumstances, then, He notes that repentance and forgiveness of sins need to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem, because they, the disciples, were witnesses of all of this. But then Jesus says something unexpected: don’t be a witness of these things yet. Instead, wait until you have been endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father (which occurred for these disciples on the day of Pentecost). 

 

Easter Sunrise

 

Old Testament Lesson: Job 19: 23 - 27

 

You will recall the story of Job, a righteous man whom Satan accused of being righteous only because God blessed him. So God allowed Satan to take away everything that Job had except his wife and his life. Job is now sitting on an ash heap, covered with boils, and he has been joined by three “friends” who accuse him of every kind of sin because of his current status. At one point, Job responds to an accusation by saying that he wished the words that followed were written in a book or inscribed in stone: I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last day he will stand upon the earth. And even though my body is decayed, yet in my flesh, with my own eyes, I will see God. What a confession of faith in the midst of severe trial!

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 51 - 57

 

Toward the end of his second missionary trip to Asia Minor, Paul found himself in Corinth, where he initially discussed the Scriptures with the Jews in their synagogue. But because the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue to share the Good News with the Gentiles, staying with a man named Titius Justus. His next-door neighbor was Crispus, the synagogue leader, who believed in the Lord, along with his entire family. After the Lord gave St. Paul encouragement one night in a vision, St. Paul stayed in Corinth for over a year and a half before he left to make an initial visit to Ephesus before returning to Antioch.

The church in Corinth had many growing pains, as we have noted previously, requiring St. Paul to write two letters to the Corinthians. In today’s reading, St. Paul is addressing the Corinthians’ confusion about the resurrection of the body on the last day. He points out that Christians will not sleep forever; instead, they will all be changed, instantly. Because when that last trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised with an imperishable body, having immortality. Thus the sting of death, which is sin, and death itself are swallowed up in victory because of Christ’s triumph over sin and death.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 20: 1 - 18

 

Mary Magdalene is a follower of Jesus who, during Jesus’ ministry, had seven demons cast out of her. She consequently becomes one of Jesus’ devotees and supporters, even staying with him to the end at the foot of the cross. Today’s reading finds her returning to the tomb on Sunday morning, to complete the burial process that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had started Friday evening. Upon arriving, she sees that the stone covering the mouth of the tomb had been moved, so she turns around to report to Peter and John her assumption that Jesus’ body had been removed. Peter and John verify that Jesus’ body is no longer there, and return to their homes. But Mary tarries, crying. And when she stoops to look through the opening to the tomb, perhaps to convince herself that Jesus’ body is no longer there, she is startled to see two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had lain. In response to their question of why she is weeping, Mary expresses her puzzlement of where Jesus’ body has gone, turns, and seeing a supposed gardener, asks him where Jesus’ body is. The supposed gardener, Jesus, simply speaks Mary’s name and she immediately recognizes him as her teacher and clings to him in joy. Noting that he still needs to ascend to the Father, Jesus asks Mary not to cling to him but rather go to his disciples to tell them the Good News, which she does. 

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Wednesday

 

First Lesson: Acts 3: 13 - 15, 17 - 19

 

As our reading begins, we learn that Peter and John, while going into the temple to pray, see a man who has been a congenital cripple begging for money. Instead of money, they give the man a restored body in the name of Jesus. The man, first of all, rejoices by walking and leaping and praising God, then clinging onto Peter and John in gratitude. Since the lame man had been well known to all temple visitors, the event draws a crowd. Peter seized this opportunity to explain to them that this man was healed in the name of Jesus, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the author of life, whom they killed by asking the Roman authorities to release the murderer Barabbas but instead to crucify Jesus in his place.

Peter then says that their behavior might be excused because they didn’t really know what they were doing. But now that they know what they have done, they need to repent so that God can forgive their sins. And they need to believe in the crucified Jesus, about whom the prophets had spoken long ago.

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Epistle Lesson: Colossians 3: 1 - 7

 

In our epistle lesson, St. Paul addresses our attitude toward earthly things in a rather blunt way. As Christians, we are to be focused on furthering God’s kingdom rather than seeking earthly pleasures and treasures, which St. Paul identifies as covetousness—in other words, idolatry! St. Paul even goes on to say that common human failures, like anger, slander, obscene talk, and even lying, must no longer be a part of our life because we are now being renewed into the image of our Creator. So St. Paul is admonishing us to examine our attitudes much more carefully to ensure that we have indeed put off our old self and replaced it with our new self in Christ.

 

Alternative Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 11: 23 - 26

 

St. Paul is giving the Corinthian Christians instruction on how to conduct their worship services in a way pleasing to God. In our reading for this evening, he gives instruction regarding the celebration of the Lord’s supper, noting that Jesus identified the bread as his body given for them, and the wine as his blood shed for them for the forgiveness of sins. And this meal is meant to help Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice.

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Gospel Lesson: John 21: 1 - 14

 

It has been several weeks since Easter Sunday, during which Jesus had presented himself to the disciples—who were behind locked doors—to demonstrate that he had indeed risen from the dead. In today’s lesson, Jesus again reveals himself to the disciples, but in a different place and in a unique way. Here we find the disciples in Galilee to fish, but after spending all night on the lake, they had come up with nothing. Just at dawn, they make out a man on the beach, who asks them whether they had caught any fish. When the response is in the negative, the man tells them to throw the nets on the right side of the boat. And sure enough, their net is now full of fish. John immediately recognizes the man as Jesus, so Peter jumps into the water to race to shore, perhaps a strong indication of how much Peter loves the Lord (much as a husband and wife run to each other after a long absence). This, of course, leaves the remaining disciples to drag in the boat with its net full of fish. Once on shore, they find Jesus with a charcoal fire on which is bread and fish, and the disciples are invited to breakfast, courtesy of the Lord. 

 

Wednesday in Holy Week

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 62: 11 - 63: 7

 

Isaiah was one of the prophets that God chose to speak to the peoples of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, over the time period preceding and following the collapse and disappearance of the Northern Kingdom, from around 740 to 695 B.C. His ministry was to call the people to repentance and to assure them of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise to give to them—and all mankind—a savior. But in today’s reading, Isaiah is telling the people that God is going to announce to all people, even at the ends of the earth, the arrival of their Savior. He will be bringing these people ahead of Him to Zion, the City of God. Consequently, these people will be called “the Holy People,” the “Redeemed of the Lord,” those who will be called the “Sought Out,” because they will be entering a “City Not Forsaken,” heaven itself.

Then Isaiah describes the appearance of this Savior, coming out of Bozrah in Edom (the capital of Edom, an idolatrous nation to the southeast of Israel, here representing evil). His clothes are stained red as if He were trampling grapes, believed to be a euphemism for judgment. The Savior then answers Isaiah, saying that he looked for a savior but found none. So He attacked evil, trampling it and making it taste the consequences of itself. Isaiah concludes by praising the Lord for all the good things that He has done for Israel because of His compassion and mercy.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 5: 6 - 11

 

St. Paul is in the midst of a treatise on faith. Earlier in this chapter, St. Paul explained that the grace of God that saves us is accessed through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Then he notes that we should rejoice in our current suffering because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame before God. Today’s lesson then picks up with the observation that God demonstrated his unfathomable love for us by dying for us when we were an abomination in His sight. Consequently, St. Paul assures us, God will continue to love us even more now that we are reconciled to Him.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 22: 1 - 23: 56

 

It is Maundy Thursday (as we know it today), or, Passover at the time of Jesus. Judas has already made an agreement with the chief priests to betray Jesus, so he is looking for the opportunity. Jesus has sent Peter and John into the city to engage a room and prepare the Passover feast. At the celebration itself, Jesus announces that he will not be celebrating this feast again until the kingdom of God has come. He then institutes what we know as the Lord’s Supper, and indicates that one of his disciples will betray him. Oddly enough, this prompts the disciples to start arguing among themselves as to which one is the greatest. Jesus ends the argument by noting that in God’s Kingdom, the greatest will be the one who is the most humble servant. Then he warns Peter that Peter is going to betray him. Peter objects, saying that he will die rather than betray him. But then Jesus predicts that Peter will deny that he knows Jesus three times that night before the rooster crows.

Jesus then retreats to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prays to the Father to find another way, if possible, to redeem mankind. But he remains obedient to the Father as he is made aware that there is no other way. Even an angel had to minister to Jesus in order to prepare him for the ordeal. But then Judas comes and betrays Jesus, Jesus is arrested, and Peter follows the crowd to the courtyard of the chief priest’s house, where the trial of Jesus begins before the Jewish leaders. It is there that Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, and immediately has remorse for what he has just done. In the meantime, Jesus declares before the Jewish leaders that he really is the Messiah, so they condemn him to death for blasphemy (claiming to be God when he is not—in their mind).

(As we continue this lesson, St. Luke gives us a picture of the depth of Christ’s humility, allowing himself—God incarnate—to be lied about, slandered, tortured, mocked, and crucified. To appreciate the psychological depth of Christ’s humility and suffering, remember that the people who are doing this to him are his chosen people.)

It is now the morning after the Passover, at which celebration Jesus had instituted the Lord’s Supper. But since that supper, Judas had betrayed Jesus, Jesus had been arrested and brought before the Jewish Council overnight and condemned to death for admitting that he was indeed the promised Messiah. Problem: the Jews had no authority under the Romans to administer the death penalty. So they had to come up with a scheme by which the Romans would do that for them. Therefore the Jews bring Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, accusing him of being the King of the Jews, hoping that that accusation would cause Pilate to think that Jesus was an insurrectionist against Caesar. When Pilate does ask Jesus whether he is the King of the Jews, he must have been surprised that he answered that yes he was! (But elsewhere it is recorded that Jesus clarifies for Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. John 18:36)

Amazingly, Pilate accepts that answer and sees through the Jews’ scheme. So now he has to devise a way to save Jesus. He first tries sending him to King Herod Antipas, who just happened to be in town. Herod, in turn, was expecting Jesus to perform some miracles in his presence, but when that doesn’t happen, he sends Jesus back to Pilate. Pilate then simply tells the chief priests and the rulers and the people that he finds no fault in Jesus, so he is going to release him. The Jewish leaders, however, are already prepared for this eventuality, having prompted the crowd to become boisterous, and demanding the release of Barabbas, a murderer, to the point that Pilate feared that a riot might develop, which would cause the Romans to question his ability to keep the Jews under control.

Thus Pilate releases Jesus into the crucifixion process, which starts out with a brutal whipping, mocking, and torture by the Roman soldiers, and crucifixion. As Jesus is led out for the crucifixion itself, women along the streets start weeping for him. But Jesus tells them to weep for themselves, because if this is being done to a green tree (a sinless person), what will happen to a dry tree (a sinful person). At the crucifixion site, the soldiers divide up Jesus’ clothes, and the Jews triumphantly mock Jesus repeatedly. But Jesus asks his Father to forgive all those involved because they really did not know what they were actually doing. Then Jesus becomes involved in a discussion with the two criminals crucified with him, one of whom confesses faith in him as the Messiah. Jesus responds by telling him that today he will be with him in paradise, truly a death- bed confession.

But after three hours, everything becomes pitch black, and after three more hours of this, Jesus commits his spirit to the Father, and the curtain in the temple dividing the Most Holy Place where God dwells from the Holy Place where priests make intercession is torn from top to bottom, indicating that the sin separating man from God has been removed. In addition, the centurion in charge of the crucifixion exclaims that Jesus truly was the Son of God.

But now, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Council who was a disciple of Jesus, asks Pilate for the body of Jesus. He then places the body in his own new tomb and closes it with a large stone. The women who followed Jesus observe the entire process, then go back to the city to prepare Jesus’ body with spices after the Sabbath Day ends.

 

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Alternative Gospel Lesson: John 13: 16 - 38

 

It is the day before the Passover festival, and Jesus and his disciples are at supper. Jesus is already aware that the devil has put into Judas’ head the idea of betraying Jesus. Jesus has proceeded to get up during the supper to wash the disciples’ feet, a job usually delegated to the lowest ranking servant, to remove the dust acquired from walking along dirt roads and paths, a process that left the person feeling clean from the head to toe. As our reading for this day begins, we find Jesus explaining why he did this: If he, being their teacher, is humble enough to take on the role of the lowest ranking servant, then they should also be humble enough to serve each other, whatever the need. Then, speaking to Judas without the other disciples realizing it, he announces that someone at the table is going to betray him—perhaps a warning as well as a plea for Judas to reconsider what he is going to do—and its consequence for himself.

The rest of the disciples are dumbfounded that someone would betray Jesus. Peter prompts John, who is next to Jesus, to ask who it might be. Jesus indicates that it is the person to whom he is handing a piece of bread dipped in the sauce. As soon as Jesus hands it to Judas, Satan enters Judas—a frightful statement. When Jesus tells Judas to do what he has to do, Judas gets up and leaves the assembly perhaps—the others thought, to donate to the poor or buy something. The next statement, that it was night, is perhaps a predictor of the darkness that will soon envelop Jesus and Judas—although in different ways — over the next twenty-four hours. Jesus then announces that the Father is now going to glorify him, but warns the disciples that in a little while he will no longer be with them, but that they should love each other since that is how others will know that they are Jesus’ disciples. When Peter asks where Jesus is going to go, Jesus responds that he can’t follow him now, but will later. When Peter grandly states that he will go with Jesus now, even if it costs him his life, Jesus notes that rather he will deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows this night.