2 April | 5th Sunday in Lent | John 11: 1-45 | The Raising of Lazarus
By returning to Judea to raise Lazarus (Eleazar means ‘God helps’) to life, Jesus goes to his own death. He who is ‘the resurrection and the life’ goes to unbind those who are in the grip of sin and death. Lazarus’s raising is the direct cause of Jesus’ own death for it provokes the Sanhedrin meeting that votes to give death to the one who gave live. Jesus continues his Father’s work of giving life, even on the Sabbath. Death has the double meaning of physical death and spiritual death, the heritage of those who refuse belief in the Son of God. For those who do believe, such as Martha’s triple faith confession in ‘the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world,’ Jesus is both light and life.
This is the greatest sign so far in John. It is the one that has grasped the Christian imagination down through the centuries. Our basic human concern is how to bear the end of life – our own and that of our loved ones. What begins as kindness to friends becomes the ‘last straw’ for Jesus’ enemies. It is a hinge passage that brings to an end the Book of Signs (chs.1-12) and opens into the Book of Glory (chs.13-21), foreshadowing Jesus’ own death and resurrection.
9 April | 6th Sunday in Lent - Palm Sunday | Matthew 21:1-11 | The Entry into Jerusalem
The Babylonian Talmud states: “If Israel is worthy, the Messiah will come in might upon the clouds of heaven (Dan 7); if it is not, he will come riding upon an ass.” The prophetic text is from Zechariah and is a parallelism; there is only one animal, referred to twice. Matthew wishes the prophesy to be fulfilled literally, hence the two animals. The crowds announce salvation to ‘the daughter Zion’ (Jerusalem) by their crying out. Apart from prophecy and fulfillment, we have command and obedience on the part of disciples. The acclamation, ‘Hosanna’ means ‘Save us, we beseech you’, so appropriate to the beginning of Holy Week.
This is an entry that is clearly Messianic and is understood as such by the crowds. Jesus chooses to enter not on a white charger horse like a conquering king, but on a donkey, a symbol of peace and humility. The heart of Jerusalem is its Temple. Following his festal entry Jesus enters it to assert his authority in his Father’s house.
16 April | Easter Sunday | John 20:1-18 | The Resurrection
All the Gospels mention Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection, and the role she takes on as apostle (witness) to the apostles. She features in two stories in John, coming in the dark when the sun (Son?) has not yet risen. She takes the news of the empty tomb to Peter and the Beloved Disciple who run to the tomb to verify the truth for themselves. The Beloved Disciple arrives first; his love not only gets him there first but leads him to faith in the risen Christ on the evidence of the burial cloths lying collapsed in shape. The Beloved Disciple is the model of faith and the foundation figure for the community that gave us the Gospel of John, a more significant figure for them than Peter who displays no faith yet until the meeting on the shore in chapter 21.
In the second story a weeping Mary Magdalene thinks that the risen Jesus is the gardener. Like all the disciples she shares in the difficulty of recognising the risen Christ in his transformed humanity. Earlier, Jesus had spoken as the Good Shepherd, calling his sheep by name, and here Mary responds to the voice of the Risen Shepherd. She is then called on to not cling to her old way of knowing Jesus in the flesh but to look forward to a new relationship in faith and in the Spirit.
23 April | 2nd Sunday of Easter | John 20:19-31 | Jesus appears to his Disciples and Thomas
This story is not about passing through locked doors. The risen Jesus can make himself present at any time and place. Always present, he brings his peace to anxious and frightened disciples. Our resurrection faith does not rest on an empty tomb but on the power of the risen Christ who took a band of terrified apostles and changed them into a group of brave and committed proclaimers of the resurrected Christ. The showing of his hands and feet prove he is more than a ghost. (Luke does this by having him eat a piece of fish!). He breathes on them as God did in giving life to Adam in the original creation. They are now a new creation, gifted with peace and empowered by the Spirit.
Again we have a second story, that of Thomas, who highlights the struggle we all have with faith. He refuses to accept the testimony of the other disciples and demands tangible, touchable, proof. He gives at the end his great acclamation of faith, “My Lord and my God.” This brings the whole Gospel to its original conclusion, a Gospel that began with “In the beginning… and the Word was God,” now has Thomas acknowledge that great truth of Jesus’ identity, God who was among us and is among us in his Word and Sacrament, and believers.
30 April | 3rd Sunday of Easter | Luke 24:13-25 | The Journey to Emmaus
The two travellers had read the prophets all their lives but not recognized the fulfillment in the necessary suffering and death of Jesus (according to God’s plan). The cross preceded the glory. This will be the pattern for his disciples (Acts 14:22). The disciples are struck by what Jesus has said and ask him to stay with them. The word “stay” or “abide” here may have richer overtones, as in John’s Gospel (John 14:17; 15:4–10). Jesus shares a meal with them, which is described so as to recall the multiplication of the loaves (Lk 9:16) and the Last Supper (Lk 22:19). In this “breaking of the bread” (an early name for the Eucharist: Acts Lk 2:42, 46) they recognise him; immediately he disappears from their physical sight. They remember that their hearts were “burning” without their knowing why when he was explaining the Scriptures to them. Now they know that it was his risen presence they were experiencing. Luke’s readers know that the same experience is available in the church in the Eucharist and in the reading of the Scriptures.
Luke’s gospel highlights the virtue of hospitality. In the context of an invitation to a meal at the inn, the travellers insist that the third traveller stay with them. Luke’s gospel contains ten meals, and these become the venue for teaching and feeding. In this meal the guest becomes the host as Jesus breaks bread, blesses it and gives it to them. He who is receiving their hospitality, provides them with the hospitality of God. The community of faith grows in the context of its meals.
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