Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Easter 3C

Acts 9:1-6

1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks! Today is the fifteenth day of Easter, the third Sunday of Easter. Easter Day, the festival of resurrection, is the second of our great Trinitarian feasts.

During most of the church's year of grace, our first reading during worship comes from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. For the Sundays of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that provides our scripture readings schedules passages from the Acts of the Apostles for the first reading (lection or lesson). That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the (thoughts and prayers and) activities of the newly birthed church in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, in the wake of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The stories in Acts reveal the shape, mission, witness, power, and faithfulness of the nascent church. In addition, although we're currently in the year of Luke's gospel, during Easter our gospel accounts are from John.

By definition, Christianity is incarnational; Christianity is about God's embodiment/enfleshment in the world, most specifically in Jesus of Nazareth and now in the church (that's us!) as the incarnate body of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. All four canonical gospels affirm this reality early on:

• Mark: the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.
• Matthew: you shall call him Emmanuel, God-with-us.
• Luke: you shall name him Jesus; he will be son of the Most High.
• John: in the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

The same person who compiled the gospel according to Luke put together the Acts of the Apostles. Since the middle of the last century, scholars have affirmed Luke's gospel as volume 1, the book of Acts as volume 2, and frequently refer to the dyad as Luke-Acts. You may recall Luke incorporates most of Mark's gospel, and has other material than may or may not have originated in another written source. Acts follows a similar pattern as it records events Luke experienced and remembered along with events he heard about in conversation and probably read about on scrolls that were circulated in the early Christian communities.

By definition Christianity is incarnational as it celebrates God's embodiment in all creation.

The writer of Luke's gospel ends his account with Jesus before his ascension or return to the Father telling his followers to wait until they are "clothed with power from on high." The disciples then go back to Jerusalem. Luke begins Acts with the disciples asking the resurrected Jesus if he'll now finally restore the kingdom. Jesus essentially informs them their question is wrong, and tells them to wait because they will receive power from on high, because they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. In continuity with Jesus' original followers, we live as God's presence on earth. As the denomination's tagline expresses it, "God's Work – Our Hands."

In Acts 6:36 we read about the first ordination in the New Testament. The early church first ordained or set apart for a particular purpose the servant class of deacons. Historically deacons have looked out on, faced and interacted with the world, while ministers of word and sacrament (pastors, once they're called or appointed to that role) historically have faced and interacted with the church. So to outsiders, the church first looked like people who picked up their towels and basins in service, as Jesus modeled when he washed his disciples' feet in the upper room before his death.

Verse 9:2 of today's passage refers to the church as followers of The Way; that would be the way of Jesus, the road to Jerusalem, the cross, the empty tomb. Later on in Acts 11:26 we read Jesus' followers first were called "Christians" at Antioch.

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