It is rare that the liturgical texts still surprise us. But the readings of this Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost are full of unusual terms, which are not from our vocabulary:
“blessed”, “glorify” ... and yet another unknown word in the Acts of the Apostles: “devoted with one accord”. Where can you find people staying together for a few days to figure out what has happened to them? And where are the 12, 70 or even 120, which are of one mind, inspired by a single passion, namely, the passion of Jesus? If a community would assemble in Jerusalem today, just as it was then, the spirit would certainly not hesitate to descend upon them. mim
After Jesus had been taken up to heaven the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away. When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Christians should explicitly answer questions about their faith and life. The author uses the word apology, “Apologia” in Greek.
In doing so, he recalls the most famous apology of antiquity that his readers knew: The Apology of Socrates. Socrates had to defend himself against slander, which ultimately led to his death sentence nevertheless: godlessness and seduction of youth.
The letter of Peter sees Christians in a similar situation. It is not a matter of recovering civic honour, but the truth. For Christians, this means they should not be discouraged by defamations and never hide their own modest truth with shame. Their community is community “in Christ”. Their apology is their togetherness. It is their true way of answering questions. acb
Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.
Made of stones
Peter means “stone”. That is why the “rock”-apostle Peter's remark on what Christianity means sounds particularly striking:
- to be brought to life as a stone,
- to let the heart of stone be replaced by a heart of flesh,
- to be combined with other stones into a structured building,
- to do so on the already placed living cornerstone on the Zion – Jesus Christ,
- thereby become displeasing with him, with the scandalous stone
- thereby also take part in his being rejected
and thereby become one with the “special property” of God, the people of God. tac
Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it says in Scripture: Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame. Therefore, its value is for you who have faith, but for those without faith: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and A stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall. They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
What to do?
In the end, he was denounced and killed as a false Messiah. Only few can see what is invisible: that the wrongly convicted was given justice, he was uplifted to God's right side.
What is visible, is that the ones who have cowardly fled before, now bravely appear before the public as a community. And what is audible, is that they are addressing their brothers, “the whole house of Israel”. Ezekiel saw it as a dead body, but then saw it come to life by the Spirit of God. This is new now, they say, by “this Jesus”. And the listeners? They are confident to those who have already experienced the new. So they ask where their feet shall go, where their hands shall help out: “What shall we do, brothers?” hak
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, What are we to do, my brothers? Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call. He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.
The life of the world to come
Every Sunday, the people gathering for worship confess their faith in an “eternal life”. Secretly, no one would wish that it might come all too soon, because death presupposes it, according to the usual conception.
In the Great Creed it is called “the life of the world to come”. The author of the Epistle of Peter sees the beginning of this new life in the fear of God, which shall distinguish the life of the communities from their surroundings. That's why “eternity” means: to meet the coming world of God and to hope for it. mim
If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one's works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb. He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
In the short Easter story, it's quite surprising how much John emphasises the greeting of the revived Jesus as he enters his disciple's assembly. Jesus repeats the words “Peace be with you!” three times.
The fourth evangelist sees it as much more important than Thomas putting his finger on Jesus' wound, that Jesus puts his finger on his disciple's wounds: There's always discord among them, which obstructs the access to their belief and a new life. Even today Jesus' greeting is used by bishops to start mass: “Peace be with you”. The liturgy has held on to the knowledge that the Easter Miracle means that those who naturally don't fit, or haven't even searched for one another, stay together. Only if they can be put to peace, a revived body can occur today. acb
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
In the Easter sequence we can hear it being sung: “Death and life, they fought.” We know the victorious one, without thinking about it. But do we know which death has been defeated? And if the world sees any of the achievements that resulted from this duel, which the Jewish Messiah has won? Rather not. Instead, the world saw how humans in Syria suffocated from gas that has been thrown from the sky.
But it's not only the biological death that matters. It's quite natural, once our body's energy household has been drained. It's part of our life – but is it horrible? Much more horrible and bringing us to despair is the other DEATH, the one that mankind causes to each other. It comes in many forms of irresponsibilities. The Bible comments on this duel: “We know that we have passed from DEATH to LIFE because we love each other.” (1 John 3.14) The most astonishing thing for the author of the Easter sequence is, that brotherly love can change the world and subsequently means LIFE's victory. bek
Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended
in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus' resurrection;
bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he goes before you.”
Let us believe Mary's words to the deciples.
They saw the Lord, the Risen One.
Christ indeed from death is risen.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning! Amen. Alleluia.
This Latin hymn has been created almost a thousand years ago and is a mixture of poetry and dramatic unfolding. It praises the Paschal Mystery in classical conciseness. The hymn also has an original form: no consistent metre, only syllabic and without a consistent rhyme structure.
What is the crucial point of the New Testament? I mean: The crucial point.
Probably the “Christology”, the statements and doctrine about who the Jewish young man was. Because this is where opinions differ. And this is what breaks the frame of the reasonable. It is embarrassing, maybe even obscene: to say that a man is God. What does the New Testament say about Jesus more precisely? “Son of God”, “Lord”. The latter is the title of God in the Old Testament. Daring, isn't it? What else does the New Testament say about Jesus? A rapidly descending line: from the equality to God to the human body from flesh and blood; from a man to a mocked slave; from a mocked slave to a criminal hanging on the cross. What a career! But that's not all. On top of this there is the claim: the descent was a rise. Paradox – contrary to what we see. Culminating in the name, which is “greater than all names”: “Jesus Christ is the Lord” – he is the Lord of my life, too. bek
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Is there a life before death?”
The Bible is not interested in the immortal soul and a life in the hereafter. Raisings from the dead remain singular phenomena. It is much more about the question of whether the people of God are alive or have already died, whether they are gathered and filled with the Spirit, or are scattered and ‘dried up’. Who would dare to compare the church or a community with a bunch of dead men's bones today?
Ezekiel had this courage, but he also had the belief that God could resurrect his dead people. Rabbi Shalom of Belz had the same original faith in resurrection when he prayed after his wife's death: “Lord of the world! If I had the power to awaken her, wouldn't I have done so already? I cannot. But you, Lord of the world, you have the power, you can do it – why wouldn't you awaken Israel?” mim
Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.
“Post-truth” was voted word of the year in 2016. But as already shown by the evangelist John, the thing is older. Jesus's opponents already argumented post-factually.
They do not disprove the facts but just brush them aside, find pious reasons why what they see, cannot be: A blind man sees again. The healed man stays with the facts: “The only thing I know is that I was blind and can now see.” The man has to repeat himself: “... but yet he opened my eyes.” The faith in the bible is interested in facts, not in the things that we would like to have, imagine and dream about. The facts always speak for themselves but quite often against us: “Are we perhaps also blind?” That would be a question to begin with. A beginning fact-wise. Post-factual in the proper sense. acb
As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him,
"Go wash in the Pool of Siloam" —which means Sent—. So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, "Isn't this the one who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "It is," but others said, "No, he just looks like him." He said, "I am." So they said to him, "How were your eyes opened?" He replied, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' So I went there and washed and was able to see." And they said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I don't know." They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath. So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see." So some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath."
But others said, "How can a sinful man do such signs?" And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, "What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet." Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight. They asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?" His parents answered and said, "We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.
We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ,
he would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, "He is of age; question him." So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, "Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner." He replied, "If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see." So they said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
He answered them, "I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" They ridiculed him and said, "You are that man's disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from." The man answered and said to them, "This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything." They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?" Then they threw him out. When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered and said,
"Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he." He said, "I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind." Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains.