THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER (LOW SUNDAY)
`Unless I see the marks of the nails on his hands, unless I put my finger into the place where the nails were, and my hand into his side, I will never believe it.’
John 20. 25.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Cycle A: Acts 2. 42 - 7; Psalm 118. 2 – 4, 13 – 15, 19 - 20; I Peter 1. 3 - 9; John 20.19 - 31.
Cycle B: Acts 4. 32 - 5; Psalm 118. 2 - 4; 16 - 18, 19 - 20; I John 5. 1 - 6; John 20. 19 – 31.
Cycle C: Acts 5. 12 – 16; Psalm 118. 2 – 4, 22 – 27; Revelations 1. 9 – 13, 17 – 19; John 20. 19 - 31.
How often are we a doubting Thomas? So often wanting a sign of God’s presence or some assurance that we are doing His will, or a nudge to let us know He indeed exists. Sometimes we mistrust God because our prayers for a very ill friend have not been answered as we demanded, or we disown Him because an innocent child has been killed by a speeding motorist. Like Thomas we have not understood His discourse, “I am the true vine” and we “are the branches”, meaning that He abides in us and we in Him always (Jn. 15. 1ff). He has readily assured us that if we live in Him and His word dwells within us, we may “ask whatever [we] want, and [we] shall have it” (Jn. 15. 70).
Oh, how little is our faith, no more than Thomas’ who demanded visible proof before he would believe that Christ had risen. We know from today’s Gospel that Thomas was given his proof. Perhaps we may think Thomas lucky; “Christ has never appeared before me”, we murmur. Yet if we pause for a moment, and not be so hasty in our judgment, we might catch a glance of Him. He may be in the person for whom we prayed to be healed physically if we but look; He may be quite evident in the next person we encounter, and He may unveil something of Himself next time we give time to listen to Him.
Not many of us have encounters like St. Thomas or St. Paul or St. Francis of Assisi, and other saints but that does not say we do not have encounters of Him. If we look back through our lives we should be able to recall many, many encounters, some very little and some much bigger when we know for sure that the Master’s hand was evident. And if we but ponder long enough we shall see how they have been part of shaping our lives. Many of us have experienced situations where decisions have been taken out of our hands, or we have ended up doing something quite differently from what we planned, and sometimes find we cannot explain why. Are not these our encounters with God?
Furthermore not many of us will be granted an apparition of Christ during our earthly pilgrimage, but haven’t we been able to behold him often through our spiritual senses? This is the point that Andrewes made in his 1613 Nativity sermon when he asserted that Abraham in Mamre through faith beheld the Christ Child just as real as Simeon did in His arms. In our times of quietness, stillness, and as we go about our everyday living His presence can be very real, so much so, that we want to turn and touch Him.
Yet in this whole episode with Thomas, I don’t really believe that the crucial point is in Thomas’ disbelief or belief, but in what our Lord says to Thomas. Firstly, He directs him to feel His wounds in order to believe in Him. What our Lord is telling Thomas here and us too, that we can never be His disciple without the Cross. Secondly, Jesus instructs Thomas in the essence of believing: “Because you have seen me you have found faith. Happy are they who find faith without seeing me.” (Jn. 20. 29) Our Lord is also saying these words to us. Our very relationship with God is built on faith; and that is why we so often pray, “increase my faith”. As our faith becomes more and more real and meaningfully, so does God and our seeing and hearing of Him. I think all of us are familiar with the Breastplate of St. Patrick, but I would like us to reflect once again on it because it is the epitome of faith:
Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me;
Christ under me,
Christ over me,
Christ to the right of me,
Christ to the left of me;
Christ in lying down;
Christ in sitting,
Christ in rising up;
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me;
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me;
Christ in every eye who sees me;
Christ in every ear who hears me.
Pray that each day or whenever we are sceptical, and I am sure it will restore our faith and our being able to see Christ in our lives, in others and in His world. Then we shall have some understanding of the faith that Peter, John and the other disciples had after Pentecost that enabled them to work “many miracles and signs” amongst the people, so much so that many came to believe (Acts 2. 43).
Of course there is nothing wrong with having doubts, or even disbelieving at times as they can be times of growth. As we read the lives of many of the saints we know that they experienced doubts, mistrusts, and even loss of faith. Indeed there are some like St. John of the Cross who believed that the soul needed to experience these forms of darkness in order to purify the soul in its quest for union with God. So never panic when we do have moments of doubts, only panic if we do not see them as a means of strengthening our faith and out trust in the risen Lord with His promise of fullness of life in the Spirit.
Let us sing our Te Deum at the end of this Easter Octave believing that Jesus is our Lord and God.
Dear Lord, let me stretch forth my hand in faith, knowing that you are always there, even in those times when all seems dark and dismal. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
If the world hates you, remember it hated me first.
John 15. 18.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Revelations 12. 10 – 12; Psalm 126; John 15. 18 – 21 or 1 – 8 (for England).
Revelations 21. 5 – 7; Psalm 126; Luke 9. 23 – 26.
Forget about George being another Michael and slaying the mighty dragon as we see in the famous Novgorod icon! That legend only became known and popular during the time of the crusades. Indeed it was the crusaders who introduced George’s popularity to England, and replaced Edward the Confessor as the patron saint. During the Hundred Years War, for example, St. George’s battle cry lifted to the heavens to fight for the English against the French.
So who is the historical George? He was a martyr during the persecution under Diocletian, not too many years before Constantine’s vision and his legalising of Christianity. George was born in Lydia in the last quarter of the third century to Christian parents. Lydia had been one of the first centres of the Christian faith (Acts 10. 32). His father was an officer in the Roman army, and George followed in his footsteps.
Once both his parents had died, he came to Nicomedia, the imperial capital, and became an imperial guard and trusted friend of Diocletian. Before long another persecution edict was issued against Christians. Holding the position he had put George in the spotlight. Yet he did not flinch from his duty to his Lord and Master. He boldly proclaimed that he was a Christian. After all Jesus had warned His followers that they would face persecution just as He had done, and as He is the vine, the branches will gain their strength from it.
Diocletian being reluctant to kill George offered all kinds of bribes for his apostasy. This Christian soldier refused to budge. Like so many others during the Diocletian persecution he stood firm. How could he betray the One who died for mankind and in His resurrection gave eternal life? What was this earthly life in comparison with the heavenly anyway? “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy” the psalm reminds us today, and perhaps psalms like this may have been on George’s lips as he endured that agonising torture before being beheaded.
The historian, Eusebius, told of a church being built in Lydia during the time of Constantine. This church was dedicated to “a man of highest distinction” and has always been taken to mean George. This church was destroyed and rebuilt by the Crusades in the twelfth century and of course it was dedicated to St. George but it did not stand for a century before it was destroyed by the forces of Saladin. There it lay in ruins until the mid nineteen hundreds.
Returning to the fourth century, veneration of the martyred George swiftly travelled from Palestine to Syria and thence to the east part of the Roman Empire, and by the next century to Rome itself where George was canonised by Gelasius I as one whose name is “justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to [God].”
Today George is patron saint of England, Russia and other nations as well. He is especially venerated in the Orthodox tradition. Even without the dragon legend, he is certainly a saint for us to emulate.
Dear Lord, I am thankful for those who have followed faithfully in your footsteps such as your martyr, George; give me similar courage in our secular world to be loyal to you. Amen.
MONDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
`And now, O Lord, mark their threats, and enable those who serve you to speak your word with all boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and cause signs and portants to be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.’
Acts 4. 29 - 30.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 4. 23 - 31; Psalm 3. 1 - 9; John 3. 1 - 8.
One of the very first signs of the risen Lord being manifested in the Apostolic Christian community was in the healing ministry. No sooner had the Twelve received the Spirit than its power was manifested in the healing of the crippled man outside the temple gate, and the sick brought to them.
We know from our Lord’s own ministry that healing was at the very centre of it, both physically and spiritually. As it was in Christ’s time and those early days of the Way, so it should be in ours. Jesus came to give wholeness to all, and the Church exists to continue His ministry. Therefore healing must form a central part, otherwise it is not fulfilling Christ’s example. This world is full of people crying out for healing - the broken hearted, the down trodden, the frightened, the rejected, and any enslaved by drugs and alcohol. They and we too need to know the power of Jesus in their and our lives. It is only that power that heals, mends and makes anew.
Each Christian is called to a ministry of reconciliation; indeed it is the one ministry we all share in common. In a world so divided over so many issues and circumstances, Christians must endeavour to be the reconciler. There is no room in the life of a Christian for such attitudes as: ‘I really cannot get on with that person’, or ‘it’s not my responsibility to look after him or her.’ Granted we may find some people difficult or not sharing similar outlooks, but that has nothing to do with being Christ in this world and recognising the Christ in these people and so caring for them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore if there is division within families and/or parish communities we do something positive about these situations by acting as a bridge by endeavouring through prayer and loving listening and action to heal the faction. Often this is no easy task, as many factions are caused by long seated fears, prejudices and dislikes. Yet if we genuinely believe in the effectiveness of prayer and that God desires so much that each person be freed of any kind of slavery, then we shall persevere.
Most kinds of brokenness stem from a sense of sin and guilt. For healing to take place in any torn community or individual, there must be penitence and contrition for sin and a confession of them. Only then can the healing grace of God penetrate and make whole.
Of course much of the brokenness in this world is not on our doorstep. That does not say we cannot get involved. Included in our daily petitions should be a fervent offering up to God of all the hatred, bitterness, brutality, torture, unforgiveness and retaliation in this broken world. Our Lord’s body was broken on the cross in order to heal this broken world, and we must never forget that. I am sure if more Christians genuinely prayed for reconciliation amongst all peoples each day, then this would happen. Recall what Peter said to the crippled, “I have no silver or gold; but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk” (Acts 3. 6).
Obviously we cannot be a healing agent, if we ourselves are not whole persons; and if we are still enslaved by any guilt, fears, uncertainties, hatred, revenge, anger and so on. This means that to be open to the healing work of the Spirit, we must constantly examine our lives and repent of our sins and strive with God’s grace to overcome them once we have received forgiveness. This freeing gives room for the Spirit, and the manifestations of it such as love, patience, perseverance, and hope which are so necessary in the ministry of healing. So important is the forgiveness of sin in healing that one of Our Lord’s first charges to the disciples on that first Easter was to give them authority in His name to forgive or retain sin. We have to learn to live positively!
Healing as to-day’s Gospel indicates is part of the process of our rebirth in the life of the Spirit. This begins in the waters of Baptism. The affirming of our baptismal vows a week ago at the Easter Vigil should still be fresh in our minds. Although the inclusion of baptism as one of the essential parts of the Easter Vigil Liturgy does not today have the same impact as it did in the early church when the catechumens underwent a long preparation, and at Easter descended the waters of baptism on one side and ascended on the other, signifying a new beginning, nevertheless baptism should mean new life as symbolised in the white garment. Does this not manifest the putting on Christ’s robe and fighting against all the powers of darkness in this world, and being blessed by His gifts? In baptism we are healed as the sacred water removes all stains of sin and we are made whole persons. “Risen with healing in His wings,” is surely one of the great messages of Easter.
Dear Lord, You died on the cross to heal all brokenness within this world. Grant me grace to be an instrument of healing wherever there is faction. Amen.
TUESDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
BARNABAS AND COMMUNISM
Not one of them claimed any of his possessions as his own; everything was held in common. ... There was never a needy person among them, because those who had property ... would sell it, bring the proceeds of the sale, ... to be distributed to any who were in need.
Acts 4. 32, 34 - 5.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 4. 32 - 7; Psalm 92: 1 - 2, 5; John 3. 7 - 15.
Communism as a way of living in the western world has always been treated rather contemptuously especially in modern times because of its association with obvious corruption and cruelty as expressed under certain regimes. George Orwell certainly exposed this in his satiric novel Animal Farm as well Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. The iron curtain across Europe after World War II was certainly no myth!
Yet in reality communism lived out is the Christian gospel, because it is a system by which all members of a community work for the common good and benefit, and share what ever they have with their fellow members. It is this system which the early Christians seemed to encourage, and so in today’s lesson we see how Barnabas and fellow Christians sold all their possessions in order that wealth could be shared amongst them all. Nothing was held back because no possession was considered to be mine. Hence these early Christians were “united in heart and soul”; there was no division of any kind as all are bonded in this one desire to bear “witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4. 32 – 7).
Yet how often today do we hear adults and children squabbling or worse still fighting because something or some person is regarded as mine. Possession, possessions and more possessions of worldly goods are pursued with such greed and speed by so many. Yet what does it achieve? Happiness! No, because we are never satisfied with what we have; we want more and more of these worldly goods. Health, there is no guarantee, even of that, as wealth is not an insurance policy against sickness. Security, even that is uncertain as the present economic climate is a grim reminder. So what I believe is mine by right is not right after all. So the next time you go to grab and say “that is mine,” think again.
What is right? The Gospel tells us to-day that we have to “be born again” in the Spirit (Jn. 3. 7 - 8). Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night was perplexed by what He meant when told that one had to be born again. Could one possibly enter the womb again? No Nicodemus. That new birth comes from water and the Spirit. By this kind of baptism Nicodemus and all the baptised become subjects of Christ’s kingdom, and thereby live according to the laws of that kingdom. Within that kingdom there is no such thing as mine, but there is such a thing as ours. All that we have is a gift from God; we don’t really possess anything. Newman expressed this rather wonderfully when he preached our “worldly lot and worldly goods are a sort of accident of ... existence, and that [we] really have no property.” All is for communal use. That is why we cannot be a Christian in isolation; we belong to a community bonded in the death and resurrection of Christ. Within that community we share, and gladly share what we have of property, talent, wealth, time and energy with others. As we receive so much from others every day of our lives, we thank God daily for meeting our needs. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing [praises] to your name, Most High” (Ps. 92.1). As we try to live in this communal way we realise too just how much we are dependent on others, and how much more our lives are enriched by them. Communal living makes us learn how to receive gladly as well as giving cheerfully.
Communism as expressed in countries dominated by Lenin and his successors failed eventually because it can only really work where all are in one accord and one mind in Christ. It is Christ who makes all things communal, not man. Thus one has to live in Christ and with Christ for communism to be effective. It is His living Spirit within which unites all in loving sharing and concern. When He is not present it does not work as we discover when we continue to read on in Acts. Hence in Chapter Five we see the results of the conniving of Ananias and Sapphira. If we follow the example of this husband and wife, we are no longer living within the kingdom of God, and we become victims of this world with all its ugly manifestations.
Thus if we truly want to be Easter people, we must learn to be part of Christ’s community, and live accordingly. You will discover riches and freedom you have never dreamed of because you are no longer enslaved by anything. Christ’s death and resurrection have set you free. You are a free person in Christ which means you can be the person God wants you to be.
Dear Saviour, you came to liberate us from possessiveness that enslaves. As a member of your kingdom let me cheerfully share all the gifts you have given me. Ame
PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS
Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary the devil… walks about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith.
I Peter 5. 8 – 9.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
I Peter 5. 5 – 14; Psalm 89. 2 – 3, 6 – 7, 16 – 17; Mark 16. 15 – 20.
Being an Australian the 25th April immediately means Anzac Day, that day when young Australians and New Zealanders landed on the beach at Gallipoli, in 1915. My grandfather was amongst those brave lads, many of whom were killed before putting a foot on shore.
On this day the Church celebrates St. Mark. The only Mark we know from the New Testament is John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas who with Paul set out on what we know as the first missionary journey. However, after a brief time he left them at Pamphylia and returned to Jerusalem where his mother lived (Acts 13. 13). When it was time to retrace their steps, Paul and Barnabas parted, the excuse being over John Mark, but perhaps the real reason is seen in Galatians 2. 13 when Barnabas sided with Peter over kosher (Acts. 15. 36 – 40). It was also claimed by the early church that this Mark was a companion of Peter and hence the first reading, who wrote down what he had learnt from the first of the Twelve and became the work known as “The Gospel of Mark”.
Today most biblical scholars do not accept this. The evangelist leaves no identification of himself in his writing. So presumably the reason for keeping this feast is because the early church saw John Mark as the evangelist. What has always puzzled me too about this day, that the Gospel reading appointed at Mass is not part of the authentic Markan Gospel.
As we know hardly anything of an historic Mark of the first century, let us concentrate on the Gospel left behind bearing the name of Mark. Written probably after Nero’s persecution and the fall of Jerusalem, it is a very stark gospel. It begins by proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, and then launches into His baptism. Events follow quickly on top of one another and before we know it Jesus has been crucified. Yet it is in the wake of that crucifixion that for the very first time since the opening verse we have someone, a centurion, who actually acknowledges Jesus as that very Son of God.
On the cross the Markan Jesus is abandoned by His Father. He died absolutely alone. There is no comfort, no words of triumph as in the Johannine tradition, or exchange of words with the penitent thief as in Luke. There is just utter desolation as the day becomes night. What follows is almost as dark and dismal. The last verse of the authentic gospel (16. 8) has the women fleeing from the sepulchre as they were afraid.
It is because of this account that the Markan Gospel has always been described as the one for those who are suffering as they can identify with it so easily. If Jesus was absolutely abandoned in death and felt the depth of pain and anguish then they can too. Even in lesser things that can be a good test. I have always hated going to the dentist especially when I was a child. I would sit in that chair and try to imagine Christ on the cross with His sufferings. I would tell myself “anything I suffer now won’t be anything like my Lord’s suffering.” It was a great encouragement for me then and still is whenever I know I am faced with a painful experience. So the Markan Gospel has left us with a tradition that strengthens Christians in adversity, knowing that our Lord has already been there.
Heavenly Father, in my times of adversities let me recall the Markan Jesus to give me strength and encouragement. Amen.
WEDNESDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
During the night, an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, led them out, and said, `Go, stand in the temple and tell the people all about this new life.’
Acts 5. 19 - 20.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 5.17 - 26; Psalm 34. 2 - 9; John 3.16 - 21.
The apostles had been arrested and imprisoned because of the impact of their preaching. All manifestations of healings and newness of life were being done in the name of Jesus the Christ and so the religious authorities had become alarmed and frightened. Their answer was to lock the apostles in gaol, hoping to put an end to it all, but the work of God cannot be put away as we do a new dress or suit for a special occasion. The authorities had also underestimated the unswerving trust the apostles had in their Lord. This trust enabled them to be free of all selfish desires and needs, with only a humble desire to do God’s will. Thus they knew that God would not desert nor fail them as His power within them was all too real.
When the angel led them outside the prison doors in the depth of night, it was as if the apostles expected it. This certainty was cemented when the angel instructed them to continue their preaching on “this new life”. So where do we find them at dawn? In the temple! What are they doing? Preaching! What are they preaching? We have to look no further than the Gospel for today to know what they preached. God sent His Son into the world to give eternal life to those who believed in Him. As He is also the Truth they who follow Him will know that “God is in all they do.” And those like the religious leaders of Jerusalem will never know Truth as they prefer to live in their own darkness rather than the light of Christ (Jn.3. 21).
The apostles knew that although imprisoned they were free through the risen and ascended Lord. I cannot stress enough how one of the important messages of Easter is freedom. Like the apostles, we too are free people. Christ’s resurrection sets us free from everything which may try to separate us from Him. Oh, how so many of us are weighed down and enslaved by the values of this world. When shall we realize they are nothing in comparison with “His service which is perfect freedom.”
Why do you think Christ died for us, and such an agonizing death into the bargain, if it were not for us to be free? He did not die for us to continue living in a slavish way unto sin and self but to be a living soul. He absorbed sin as He died at Golgotha, and in His resurrection released us from this old bondage. “There is a new creation: the old order has gone; a new order has already begun,” taught Paul (II Cor. 5. 17).
With this freedom we can begin to live with the same expectations as the apostles had. Once we realize it is only God who is our Master, and for Him we live then we expect great things to happen in our Christian living. Just as the apostles were freed from imprisonment so our chattels are severed. We discover riches and blessings that hitherto we never dreamed were possible. Allowing ourselves to be free in the Lord’s service each day brings a new dimension to our everyday experiences. There is always something wonderful and enriching in each day. Of course being free in the Lord does not mean we sit and wait for these wonderful experiences to happen; what it does mean is that by being prepared to spend and be spent we never end up losing; there is always something we are given in return. The angels guide our footsteps too, don’t forget.
That is another lesson we learn from to-day’s reading, the reality of this spiritual world. How prominent are the angels during this Eastertide! They guard the tomb; they greet the women with the most wonderful news of Christ’s Resurrection, they open the prison gate for the apostles, and later on will do the same for Peter. They are indeed God’s messengers. So it should not be with tongue in cheek that each night we pray for the angels to guard over us during the silent hours of the night as well as during the day. As we grow in our life of freedom in Christ, these beings of the spiritual world will become very real. We are indeed surrounded and protected “from the arrow that flies by day” and “for any terror by night” (Ps. 91. 5).
This Easter we are being told that nothing must hinder us in our witnessing for Christ by telling of His redeeming, renewing, refreshing life to others as lived out in ours. We are free people walking in the light as all the works of darkness have been dismantled for ever at Golgotha.
Dear Lord, in your resurrection you have set me free from all slavery to sin, self and darkness. Let me respond to your light and truth by walking freely and lovingly in your service. Amen.
THURSDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
OBEDIENCE TO GOD
`We gave you explicit orders’, he (i.e. the high priest) said, `to stop teaching in that name; and what has happened? You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching ... .’ Peter replied for the apostles: `We must obey God rather than men.’
Acts 5. 28 - 9.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 5. 27 - 33; Psalm 34. 2. 9, 17 - 20; John 3. 31 - 6.
Peter and the apostles had no hesitation in obeying God’s command to preach the Good News that eternal life is here now in Jesus the Christ to all who repent and seek forgiveness, despite being forbidden to do so by the religious authorities. As we are seeing in the Easter readings the apostles were boldly witnessing to the truth of the risen Jesus who had been crucified. They were fast realising that the only true joys to be had were in fulfilling the will of God, or as expressed in to-day’s Gospel, “Whoever puts his faith in the Son has eternal life” (Jn. 3. 36). Eternal life with Jesus was more precious than any worldly treasure, and more powerful than any order by man. This is also the underlining message of the Johannine Gospel.
What Peter and the apostles teach us was their willingness to surrender all to God, not only their goods as we read about a couple of days ago but also their wills. They were learning very quickly what total self-surrender to their Saviour was all about. After all obedience to God is the result of self surrender.
Have we ever seriously contemplated that when we pray to obey God’s will in our lives, what we are in actual fact doing? We are committing a total self-surrender of ourselves to God. This has always been the ultimate aim for all the saints as they strive for that life of complete unity and perfection in Jesus. Yet it should not be the goal only for them but for all of us who are baptised into the death of Christ and rise with Him in paschal glory. We know, don’t we, that by virtue of our baptism we are made saints in the making.
Obedience to God through our self-surrender is our very vocation, just as it has always been for the saints, known and unknown. Thus the prayer “Lord what will you have me do?” becomes our daily prayer; as we surrender our whole being to our God. We are made aware we are learning to surrender ourselves to His wondrous love when we spend more time thinking about God and much less on ourselves; when we do not press our own rights or opinions; when we can say willingly at the beginning of each day, “I commend myself into your hands, O Lord”, or do what You will with me. When we pray in this manner we are in the process of forgetting ourselves and following the Lord.
The Gospel today outlines God sending His Son in this world to bear witness to the Truth so that all who hear and obey Him will have eternal life. But those who do not obey “the Son will not see that life” (Jn. 3. 36). They are unequivocal words. So was Peter’s reply to the high priest? “We must obey God rather than men.”
If we are honest with ourselves we know during each day there are countless times when we have to choose between God’s way and man’s. And we realise, sometimes painfully, how many times we opt for the worldly solution rather than the divine will. This season of Easter with its freshness and newness all around us, challenges us to abandon ourselves into the arms of the risen Lord and to accept His assurance that all things are made new in Him. Indeed St. Paul reminds us that “as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might set out on a new life” (Rom. 6. 4). The glory of Easter as we are seeing is that we are freed from our self-imprisonment through sin. Like the apostles we have the potential to be free people, content to live for Him in accordance to His will and to “obey God rather than men.” But only those who live within His kingdom know and possess this, while millions of others squabble and indeed fight one another for the so called freedom of possessing. Don’t let us be allured from the freedom which Christ’s resurrection gives! Remember it was brought at a price.
Heavenly Father, what will you have me to do? Guide me in surrendering my will completely to you. Amen.
FRIDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
The apostles went out from the Council rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer humiliation for the sake of the name. And every day they went steadily on with their teaching in the temple and in private houses, telling the good news of Jesus the Messiah.
Acts 5. 41 - 2.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 5. 34 - 42; Psalm 27. 1 - 4, 13 - 14; John 6. 1 - 15.
It is not hard to imagine that the opening verse of today’s set psalm, “the Lord is my light and my salvation”, would not have been far from the lips of the apostles as they faced and endued the flogging imposed on them by the Sanhedrin Council for their continual preaching. As “the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom then should I go in dread?”
There was absolutely nothing to fear even from a beating because they knew God would give them all the strength they needed in witnessing for Him. Furthermore they could rejoice in being privileged to suffer for their Saviour. They knew that “death’s mightiest powers have done their worst,” and that “Jesus had his foes dispersed,” and therefore they could outburst with “shouts of praise and joy.”
“Rejoice” and “again I say rejoice” we sing in the refrain of a well known hymn that was based on Paul’s teaching by Charles Wesley. Rejoicing these days has tended to be associated with the celebration of some great occasion or event within a family or nation. Yet here, in today’s lesson, what a far different reason we see for a celebration. The apostles were rejoicing in something the world would consider debasing, a flogging. There were no flinching, no shouts, no shrieking cries of anguish and pain, but patiently enduring it all in the joy of being able to suffer for their Lord. Their joy, their rejoicing, although spontaneous, as all real joy is, is embedded in their longing to serve their Master and spread the wonderful news of this new life in Him. This joy overflows in their fervency to continue their teaching not only in the temple but also in private homes.
We know the rejoicing experienced by the apostles in this situation became the noticeable characteristic of the early Christians. Thus a Christian could easily be discerned in those days simply through his or her joie de vivre in Christ. They preached the good news gladly; they suffered torture gleefully; they ran to their martyrs’ deaths, thinking it but joy to be able to suffer for Him who had suffered so much for them. So many come to mind quickly in the pre-Constantine church, such as Blandina, Felicity and Perpetua, Agnes, Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch. The last begged his fellow Christians in Rome not to prevent his being thrown to the wild beasts, as he believed, “God’s wheat I am, and by the teeth of wild beasts I am to be ground that I may prove Christ’s pure bread. ... Then only shall I be a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ when the world will not see even my body.” He passionately wrote:
May nothing `seen or unseen’, fascinate me, so that I may happily make my way to Jesus Christ! Fire, cross, struggles with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crunching of the whole body, cruel tortures inflicted by the devil - let them come upon me, provided only I make my way to Jesus Christ.
If these saints were asked why, I am sure they would have answered something like this. In what else or who else should we rejoice? In Jesus Christ only is “the way, the life and the truth.” As He is also the living Bread, there is nothing else to hunger after. All their needs were met in and by Him.
As we meditate on the Gospel reading for to-day there would have been also much joy and rejoicing by those who followed Jesus to a lonely place in order to hear more of His teaching. By the shores of Galilee (Tiberius) as the day lengthened and their hunger intensified Jesus saw their needs, and looked after this by providing bread, ample bread, for them. Joy comes at unexpected moments on very simple occasions as we see here. We need to discover that we do not have to wait for what we consider are the right occasions for rejoicing because the right occasion is always now for the Christian as we live in the perpetual spring of Easter. However during these great Fifty Days our rejoicing should be almost tumultuous. That living Bread is ever within us, and therefore our lives are or should be overflowing with celebration and joy. Of course our Easter hymns are full of these, but some express it more realistically, as in this eighth century hymn by St. John Damascene:
The day of Resurrection!
Earth, tell it out abroad;
The Passover of gladness,
The Passover of God!
From death to life eternal,
From earth unto the sky,
Our Christ has brought us over
With hymns of victory.
Now let the heavens be joyful,
And earth her song begin,
The round world keep high triumph,
And all that is therein;
Let all things seen and unseen
Their notes of gladness blend,
For Christ the Lord hath risen,
Our joy that has no end.
One other point before closing, when we can truly rejoice in the Lord, I am sure it helps us to understand more of the suffering, loneliness, unhappiness and dejection of so many people. A Christian is able to do this because rejoicing is a spontaneous act, taking oneself out of oneself. In other words one becomes absorbed in the reason for such joy. For a Christian this is Christ. The more we focus on Christ, the more aware we are of our fellow brothers and sisters. Like the apostles we want them to share in Christ’s healing life too. Two of our daily prayers should be for the healing of Christ’s body and unity amongst all Christians, and peace within nations, families and individuals. As we give more and more of ourselves to others in our daily living this too becomes a source for rejoicing.
Dear Lord, your resurrection is a constant source of joy and rejoicing. Let my heart always overflow with joyful thanksgiving for my salvation. Amen.
SATURDAY AFTER THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
The Twelve called the whole company of disciples together and said, `It would not be fitting for us to neglect the word of God in order to assist in the distribution. Therefore, friends, pick seven men of good repute from your number, men full of the Spirit and of wisdom, and we will appoint them for this duty.’
Acts 6. 2 - 3.
READINGS FOR THE DAY:
Acts 6.1 - 7; Psalm 33. 1 - 2, 4 - 5, 18 - 19; John 6. 16 – 21.
On Tuesday this week we saw how the very early Christians lived communally. As their members grew it became impossible for the Twelve to distribute amongst the very needy, and also to preach the Word of God. Indeed today’s lesson suggests that the Hellenist widows were already feeling the effect of neglect. To meet this crisis the Twelve advised the appointment of seven men to serve the widows and others in need. When these seven, Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas, all bearing Greek names, were appointed as fulfilling the conditions of the Twelve, that is to be “full of the Spirit and wisdom”, the Twelve “laid their hands on them” after prayer for the work of diakonia, meaning service of both word and table. However the seven were not called diakonia from which the English word deacon is derived. (By the way the term diakonia is also used for Martha in Luke 10. 40). It would be some time before deacons as we know that ministry were appointed. These Greek Christians were thus to provide a special ministry, quite distinct from that of the apostles. Theirs was one of serving the Christian community in what we would call to-day works of charity.
When St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote about deacons in the early second century we see the beginnings of a structured ministry. So when he wrote about them being “the dispensers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ” we must not confuse their ministry with that of the Hellenists in today’s reading. Deacons in Ignatius’s time “should win approval of all in every way; for they are not dispensers of food and drink but ministers of [the] Church of God. Hence they must be on their guard against criticism, as against fire.”
However these seven Hellenists did not simply serve widows as we see in the lives of Stephen and Phillip as both preached the gospel as powerfully as the apostles. Luke described Stephen as being “full of grace and power”, illustrating how prayer and service are intertwined in living for Christ. From him we can learn a lot about living out the Gospel. We must spend time in public worship, private prayer and meditation, but it does not stop there if we are to fulfil our Lord’s commandments. One of the good features about the revised Liturgies in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches is that almost immediately after receiving our Lord in the Sacrament the congregations are dismissed and sent out into the world. The Liturgy is directing us that once we have received the Blessed Sacrament we must take Christ out with us to do His work in His world. Like Stephen our lives must be full of charitable acts for our brothers and sisters. The Caroline divine, Arthur Lake preached:
God who is Charity, gives unto man the gift of charity. But when we have received the gift of God, we must employ it, `we must not receive the grace of God in vain’. As in nature, so in grace we have our abilities for action, and the parable will tell us what will be our doom, if we hide our talent.
He insisted we must not do what “is contrary unto charity.”
These acts of mercy, as they are also known, begin with those with whom we have the most contact. For most of us that will be members of our families and fellow employees. We must never think that acts of charity are given only to those we hardly know, such as children in an orphanage. Don’t forget that an act of charity is something done with love and in Love’s name. Members of our own family often need help desperately, but how often do we neglect them? I think one of the saddest thing in life is to see a church group raising money for missionary work in some part of the world, when in their midst there are many crying out for love, care and provisions. One of our duties as a Christian is to become sensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters living in our neighbourhood. Those “who are in charity bear one another’s burdens and partake each of the others comforts.” Lake insisted that “when God says, you will love, no man has any excuse to plead, but the malignity of his own nature, yes no man comes to heaven who did not love.” This means that “a poor man may love as well as a rich, an ignorant as a wise, [and] a weak as a strong.”
The example of these early Christians illustrated that we must be a doing Christian. We shall be judged on how much or how little we have loved. If we want to “die well and happily” it means that we must “exercise charity” as much as we are capable of. A contemporary of Lake, Jeremy Taylor explained in his Holy Dying that as “religion is the life of the soul” so is “charity ... the life of religion”, and “the great channel through which God passes all His mercy upon mankind.” Taylor believed “that God cannot ... reject a charitable man in His greatest needs and in his most passionate prayers.” After all “God Himself is love, and every degree of charity that dwells in us is the participation of the divine nature.”
Charity as performed by the Church sometimes has become much maligned. Has this happened because it has no longer been an act of love, but rather a means of relieving one’s conscience in respect of the poor and destitute by giving money? This we know is not Christ’s meaning of charity, but what man has made it. As Christians we should remember that “when charity fills the heart of a man, and stretches forth his hand, then he takes a higher place, the place of God, is his ambassador and steward.”
At Easter we are given the greatest gift of all, let us share this in our giving lovingly and caringly to our brothers and sisters.
Dear Lord, like the Hellenists of the early church I am also called to be a servant of Christ, help me to meet the spiritual and bodily needs of others by my loving acts and words in your name. Amen.