Reading Acts at this time of year

We saw a few weeks ago how the book of Acts has a prominent place in the modern Communion lectionary through Easter week.  We’ve seen that the book of Acts may be read from in place of the Old Testament lesson through Easter season.  Now it’s time to look at why Acts shows up at this time of year, in the Communion lectionary, and at none other time.

The book of Acts holds a unique position in the canon of Scripture.  It is not an Epistle, nor is it a Gospel.  It’s like the Epistles in that it’s looking at the life of the Church after Jesus ascended; it’s like the Gospels in that it’s a collection of narratives.  Its very introduction makes it out to be a sort of sequel to the Gospel according to Saint Luke.  Ultimately its literary contribution to the Bible is much more like the historical books of the Old Testament – showing us the power and presence of God in the world through his people.  That likeness, perhaps, is why the book of Acts is almost always provided in place of the Old Testament lesson in the Communion lectionary.

As for the time of year… Acts has a particular focus on the life of the Church immediately after the Gospel work of Christ Jesus.  It re-tells the story of his ascension, it tells the story of the Day of Pentecost, and provides first-hand insight into the immediate history of a few of the apostles, as well as some of the missionary and church-planting ministry of St. Paul and others.  As the great feast of Easter (due in part to the ancient custom of holding baptisms at the Easter Vigil) has a particular liturgical emphasis on new life in Christ, it was only natural that the book of Acts came to be a go-to book in the season following.  Let’s take a look at how the book of Acts is read in the ACNA Sunday Communion lectionary:

Year A

Easter II – 2:14a, 22-32 – Peter preaching Christ from the Old Testament
Easter III – 2:14a, 36-47 – Peter preaching repentance unto faith in Christ
Easter IV – 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60 – diaconate established, Stephen martyred
Easter V – 17:1-15 – Paul is attacked for preaching the Gospel to Greeks as well as Jews
Easter VI – 17:22-34 – Paul preaches to the Gentiles
after Ascension – 1:1-14 – the ascension of Jesus

Year B

Easter II – 3:12a, 13-15, 17-26 – Peter preaching repentance unto faith in Christ
Easter III – 4:5-14 – Peter and John examined by the Jews for healing in the name of Jesus
Easter IV – 4:23-37 – the church rejoices and grows in generosity
Easter V – 8:26-40 – Philip preaches to and baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch
Easter VI – 11:19-30 – the church grows among Gentiles and is generous abroad
after Ascension – 1:15-26 – the replacement of Judas with Matthias

Year C

Easter II – 5:12, 17-22, 25-29 – the apostles are arrested for preaching Christ
Easter III – 9:1-19a – Saul (to be Paul) converts on the road to Damascus
Easter IV – 13:14b-16, 26-29 – Paul preaches Christ mostly from the Old Testament
Easter V – 13:44-52 – Paul is abused for his conviction to preach to the Gentiles
Easter VI – 14:8-18 – Paul and Barnabas heal a cripple
after Ascension – 16:16-34 – Paul exorcises a demon, is imprisoned, and preaches to his jailer

Noting the Patterns

If you just look at the chapter and verse numbers, it’s hard to see there’s any rhyme or reason to these tours through Acts.  But when you note what those readings contain, similar contours can be traced in each of the three years of the lectionary cycle.  The first three Sundays mostly follow a pattern of preachingresistancetriumph & growth.  Easter V and VI then deal with the spread of the Gospel among the Gentiles, typically to the chagrin and anger of the Jewish synagogue members.

The odd Sunday in this sequence is the Sunday after the Ascension.  In Year A it just repeats the Acts 1 lesson from Ascension Day; in Year B it (sensibly) deals with something that occurred between the ascension and Pentecost.  But in Year C it seems to be rolled into the Eastertide progression of readings from Acts, noting some of Paul’s ministry (and abuse) among the Gentiles.

Advice

When preparing for Eastertide and the Sunday after Ascension, the preacher(s) ought to make a decision: either commit to using the Acts readings each Sunday along the way, or commit to using none of them during this period.  These readings are not paired with the Gospel or Epistle, much less the Collect of the Day, but form a sequence of five or six Sundays exploring the spread of the Gospel from the apostles to the Jews to the Gentiles.  Whether they are the preaching focus or not, they form a sequence that ought to be carried through from start to finish, if they are to be used at all.

In my case, I was committed this year to preaching the “Epistle” texts from Revelation, so I opted not to use the Acts lessons, preferring to have OT lessons that would match the Gospels so there’d be more unity to the liturgy on a given day.

Whatever you decide is appropriate, be sure you stick with it through the season to maximize the liturgical benefit, one way or the other!

A Canticle for Eastertide

We’ve already looked at the Pascha Nostrum, but there are other ways to distinguish the Easter season in the Daily Office!  Among our Supplemental Canticles provided at the end of the Daily Office section of the Prayer Book are four that are labeled as appropriate for the Easter season.

#1 Magna et mirabilia (Song of the Redeemed, Rev. 15)

The rubrics indicate this canticle is appropriate both for Advent and for Easter.  Since Advent has fewer options, this Customary recommends this canticle serve as the first canticle during Advent, rather than Easter.

#5 Cantemus Domino (Song of Moses, Ex. 15)

This canticle is a prime choice for the Easter Vigil as a response to the reading of the crossing of the Red Sea.  And it’s also great for the Daily Office – consider making use of it as an alternative to the Te Deum on weekdays throughout the season!

#6 Dignus es (Song to the Lamb, Rev. 4 & 5)

This canticle is indicated as being appropriate both for Eastertide and Ascensiontide.  This customary appoints Canticle 6 in place of the Te Deum in Morning Prayer for the weekdays starting on Ascension Day through Pentecost Week.

#7 Cantate domino (Sing unto the Lord, Ps. 98)

Historically, this canticle was appointed as the alternative for the Magnificat, presumably for the days on which that text, the Song of Mary, was appointed to be read in the New Testament lesson.  That is how this Customary recommends Canticle 7 continue to be used, and thus not have a particularly Easter-related role.

Reading 1 John in Eastertide

This evening we begin reading the epistle 1 John at Evening Prayer, and will go through it over the course of the whole week.  As I noted with 1 Peter a little while ago, this is an appropriate daily lectionary experience because it matches up with the Sunday Communion lectionary on one of the three years of its rotation.  It doesn’t match up perfectly in real time, of course, but the idea of reading 1 John in Eastertide is achieved both in Year B on Sundays and in the middle of May in daily Evening Prayer.

What makes 1 John an Easter-appropriate epistle such that it got assigned to this season in one year of the Communion lectionary?  In part, it’s an echo of the historic lectionary for Eastertide, which features 1 John and 1 Peter and James as the Epistle lessons through the season.  Digging deeper, the style of 1 John is very similar to the Gospel of St. John, which also gets heavy coverage in Eastertide and other major festal seasons and occasions throughout the year.  1 John has emphases on community, belonging, love, and release from sin, which all connect easily with the tradition of reading Acts in Eastertide, and the more general “result of the resurrection” frame of mind that this season is all about.

The opening prologue to 1 John also betray the unusual status of this book.  It is billed as an epistle of John but its writing style is much more like a homily or address.  Thus it makes for great reading and hearing but a far more difficult study than a more orderly epistle like those of St. Paul (at least in my opinion).  Despite the general challenge of making sense of how this book is structured and organized, the opening verses are one of my personal favorite passages of Scripture.

If you’d like a homily to accompany you in Evening Prayer today, here you go:

Hymn: At the lamb’s high feast

Easter is one of those holidays, like Christmas, that has some really famous, really well-loved, really satisfying hymns to sing.  Jesus Christ is ris’n today or its twin, Christ the Lord is ris’n today, are so classic I’m tempted to say “Easter just wouldn’t be Easter without singing that song!”  There are, of course, many other Easter hymns of lesser fame that are quite fantastic for the holiday, and one of my favorites in that middle category is At the lamb’s high feast we sing.  Set to the tune SALZBURG, it bears a grandeur both lyric and melodic that deserves higher praise than it usually seems to get.

At the lamb’s high feast we sing
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him, whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the victim Christ the priest.

That first stanza sets us firmly in the Easter celebration, makes a baptismal reference (as is traditional in the Easter celebrations), and then moves seamlessly to a eucharistic reference.  I especially appreciate how his sacrifice is described in the active sense: he gives his blood and body; he’s not just Christ the victim, but also Christ the priest!  This is, in my opinion, an emphasis that we often lack when discussing the atonement.

The second stanza continues:

Where the Psachal blood is poured,
Death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
Thro’ the wave that drowns the foe.
Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal victim, Paschal bread;
With sincerity and love
Eat we manna from above.

The baptismal and eucharistic references remain, but are couched in more overtly Old Testament imagery, invoking the Passover and the Crossing of the Red Sea as the foreshadowings or prototypes of these two Sacraments of the Gospel.  It even manages (in the last two lines of this stanza) to reference the Easter Anthem (The Pascha Nostrum) and invoke the context of the teachings of 1 Corinthians 10, linking the Old Testament (particularly Exodus) waters and manna images to the New Covenant sacraments.

Mighty victim from the sky,
Hell’s fierce pow’rs beneath thee lie;
Thou hast conquered in the fight;
Thou hast brought us life and light;
Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
Thou hast opened paradise,
And in thee thy saints shall rise.

The brief Passover reference at the beginning of stanza 2 – the sheathing of the destroying angel’s sword – is explored here in full force.  The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ has brought about a great victory.  Jesus is a “mighty victim from the sky”, yet, “Hell’s fierce powers” lie beneath him.  He has conquered, he has brought us from death to life, and those evils can never reign over us again; the hope of our own resurrection to eternal life is sealed for sure.

This leads the hymn to a great doxological ending:

Easter triumph, Easter joy,
Sin alone can this destroy;
From sin’s pow’r do thou set free
Souls new-born, O Lord, in thee.
Hymns of glory, songs of praise,
Father unto thee we raise;
Risen Lord, all praise to thee
With the Spirit ever be.  Amen.

That second line always bugs me – “sin alone can this destroy“… It is obviously meant that sin is the object, not the subject, of the verb destroy: Easter triumph and joy alone can destroy sin.  But there’s just no decent way to get the word order sorted out with perfect clarity without destroying the rhyme scheme of the lyrics.  You just have to roll with the poetry, which we moderns and post-moderns are not generally very good at doing.  Getting over that shortcoming in ourselves, however, this is a logical and fitting apex for the hymn.  Christ’s victory is over sin itself, and in his Gospel we find freedom.  And thus we praise the triune God, Father, Risen Lord, and Spirit.

There’s still plenty of Easter Sundays left… get it into your congregation’s hands if you haven’t already!  It works as a communion hymn, offertory/doxology hymn, processional, recessional… nearly anywhere in the liturgy where singing can be found!

Hymn: the way, truth, life

There’s a perfect hymn for Saints Philip and James Day which works perfectly with both the Collect and the Gospel lesson:

1 Thou art the Way: to thee alone
from sin and death we flee;
and he who would the Father seek,
must seek him, Lord, by thee.

2 Thou art the Truth: thy Word alone
true wisdom can impart;
thou only canst inform the mind,
and purify the heart.

3 Thou art the Life: the rending tomb
proclaims thy conquering arm,
and those who put their trust in thee
nor death nor hell shall harm.

4 Thou art the Way, the Truth, the Life:
grant us that Way to know,
that Truth to keep, that Life to win,
whose joys eternal flow.  Amen.

This lovely reflection on Jesus as the way, truth, and life, is an excellent pairing with yesterday’s holy day.  And also, as I commented in that post, the 5th Sunday of Easter will also be a good candidate for singing this hymn, as its collect is derived from the traditional collect for Philip & James.  Check it out; consider appointing it for your church’s worship service that day if you’re on the modern calendar; or just enjoy it on your own!

Philip & James, Old & New

It feels a bit silly to approach a “mere” major feast day with an “old & new” comparative article.  That sort of analysis is usually better spent upon whole seasons rather than individual days.  But this holiday in particular has undergone some interesting transformation and reassessment and repurposing.

First of all, let’s consider the traditional Collect.  Roughly adapted to modern idiom, it reads:

O ALMIGHTY God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the steps of your holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leads to eternal life; through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

This collect, dropping the mention of Philip and James, has been repurposed as the Collect for the 5th Sunday of Easter in the modern calendar.  This is pretty neat: the collect was considered so great that it got moved to a Sunday where it will be heard by the majority of church-goers (rather than only the few who participate in the liturgy during the week).  And placing that Collect in Eastertide means that it’ll always be generally near the May 1st holiday it originally belonged to.  The modern collect for Saints Philip & James Day still draws upon the “way, truth, and life” quote, pairing with mostly the same Gospel reading as in the traditional lectionary, which is good, though the petition and application of the Collect comes out rather differently:

Almighty God, who gave to your apostles Philip and James the grace and strength to bear witness to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life: Grant that we, being mindful of their victory of faith, may glorify in life and death the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The other major change is the Epistle.  Traditionally, the reading was James 1:1-12.  Those verses did have some thematic connection with the traditional Collect, but a more significant consideration is the identity of James.  There are, today, typically three men named James in the New Testament:

  1. James the Great/Elder, Apostle, brother of the Apostle John, commemorated on July 25th
  2. James the Less, Apostle, commemorated with Philip on May 1st
  3. James of Jerusalem, kinsman of Jesus, author of the Epistle of James, commemorated on October 23rd

For a good portion of the Church’s history of biblical interpretation, James the Less and James of Jerusalem have tended to be considered the same man.  But, now that scholarly opinion prefers to see three different characters named James, it was decided that the epistle of James should be not read on the feast day for the “wrong James”, so a different epistle lesson was appointed instead: the popular “jars of clay” passage, 2 Corinthians 4:1-7.

This text, too, has a thematic role: it speaks of the ministry of the apostles, of veiling and unveiling the truth, of blindness and sight, knowledge of the glory of Christ presented in earthen vessels.  Echoes of John 14 can be found here, and so can an allegory of these lesser-known apostles: compared to other apostles whom we know better from the Scriptures, Philip and James are very much like clay jars (humble, seemingly expendable characters) who nevertheless carried the glorious and imperishable word of God to the nations.

Happy Saint Mark’s Day!

If you’ve got a “Churchman’s Ordo Calendar” or other such liturgical resource hanging on your wall, you may see today is Saint Mark’s Day [transferred].  This may be puzzling to some people – why is it transferred, and what does that mean?

A certain calibre of holy day can be transferred in the event that it conflicts with another, higher ranking, holy day.  When you think of a “day” in liturgical time, imagine there is only room for one Communion service.  In the event that you get double-booked, a judgment call has to be made: which holy day will you celebrate, and will the other one just get skipped for the year, or get transferred to the next available day?

In the Prayer Book tradition, taking its cue from Western Catholic practice in general, we have Major Feast Days (“red-letter days” as provided in the Prayer Book) and we have commemorations (“black-letter days” listed in the Prayer Book calendar).  Commemorations are of a low rank; they get skipped if they coincide with a Sunday or other holy day.  The Major Feast Days, however, are generally required in the Prayer Book tradition, and therefore they will either replace the Sunday they land on (depending upon the season) or they will get bumped back to the next available date.

Saint Mark’s Day is supposed to be April 25th.  But this year, April 25th fell within Easter Week, wherein the Prayer Book tradition does not allow any non-Easter intrusions.  A few days ago I mistakenly stated that the old Prayer Books allowed holy days like this to be celebrated later in Easter Week, but closer inspection of the old calendar rules revealed that, even though Easter Week only provides two sets of Collects and Lessons, the whole week is still off-limits for other major feast days.  So whether you’re using an old or new prayer book, Saint Mark’s Day is still transferred to today.

If you take a look at both the major feast days and the commemorations throughout the year, you’ll notice that there’s a convenient gap through much of March and April where they get pretty sparse.  The average month has three major feast days in it, but March has just two, and April only one!  This is because of the overriding presence of Holy Week and Easter Week – every year, somewhere in this time of year, those two weeks in a row will blot out all the commemorations in its path, and cause any of those major feast days to be transferred.  So, the fewer saints days we schedule in these months, the less we have to deal with this situation.  Pretty smart, huh? 😉

The Logic of Eastertide (Modern)

A couple days ago we looked at the traditional calendar’s treatment of this season; now let’s look at how it has developed through the liturgical reforms of the 20th century into the lectionary of the 2019 BCP that we have today.

The same general contour still exists: the initial emphasis is on the resurrection and Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, then comes “Good Shepherd Sunday”, and the remaining Sundays deal with teachings about the Holy Spirit, transitioning toward Ascension and Pentecost.  The modern calendar, however, has one extra Sunday of post-resurrection appearance and one less Sunday of Holy Spirit teaching… so in a way modern Eastertide is more “eastery” if you like.

And, to repeat the warning from last time, the modern naming system is “The #th Sunday of Easter” starting with Easter Day, and the traditional system is “The #th Sunday after Easter”, starting with the modern Easter II.  So, here goes…

Easter Vigil & Day

There are now four sets of readings available for the course of Easter Day.  The Easter Vigil has up to twelve Old Testament readings, followed by the baptismal discourse in Romans 6 and Matthew 28:1-10.  The Easter Sunrise service is essentially the same, though allows only a choice of one of the vigil’s OT readings.  The Principle Eucharist has the shortened traditional Epistle (Colossians 3:1-4) with a reading from Acts 10 as an alternative, and the resurrection Gospel is from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, depending upon the year.  Because Matthew’s resurrection narrative is used at the Vigil and Sunrise service, John’s narrative is also permitted in Year A so Matthew’s gospel doesn’t have to get re-used so many times.  There is then an Easter Evening option featuring the Road to Emmaus story from Luke 24 (which is also covered during Easter Week).

The 2nd Sunday of Easter

As in the traditional calendar, the Sunday after Easter Day deals with the disciples gathered, being visited by Jesus, and receiving the Holy Spirit.  It is lengthened, however, to include the following week’s meal when Thomas is present, satisfies his unbelief, and makes his confession of faith.  The Epistle readings now diverge for the rest of the season: outlining 1 Peter in Year A, 1 John in Year B, and Revelation in Year C.  And, although the Old Testament lessons continue their usual function of matching with the Gospel lesson, there is also an alternative track for reading from the book of Acts.  Both of these patterns conclude with the Sunday after the Ascension.

The 3rd Sunday of Easter

Here a further post-resurrection appearance is dealt with: Luke 24’s road to Emmaus (in Year A), Luke 24’s gathering of the eleven (presumably minus Thomas) (Year B), or John 21’s miraculous catch of fish (Year C).

The 4th Sunday of Easter

A week late, compared to the traditional pattern, this is the modern calendar’s Good Shepherd Sunday.  The traditional Gospel was from John 10, and so all three years of the modern calendar include different excerpts from the same chapter, catching different parts of Jesus’ Good Shepherd Discourse.  The traditional Epistle (from 1 Peter 2) is retained in Year A, when that book is the recurring epistle for the season, but in Years B & C the progressive readings from 1 John and Revelation manage to chime in the Good Shepherd theme just a little.

The 5th & 6th Sundays of Easter

Traditionally the last three Sundays picked up non-sequential excerpts from John 16.  Now that there’s a three-year cycle of lessons, even more excerpts from the Upper Room Discourse can be covered.  The 5th Sunday now has John 14:1-14 (Year A) or 14:15-21 (Year B) or 13:31-35 (Year C); the 6th Sunday now has 15:1-11 (Year A) or 15:9-17 (Year B) or 14:21-29 (Year C).

In both the old and new traditions, this progression of Gospel readings continues into the next mini-season, Ascensiontide.

So, although the general content of the modern Easter season is similar to the traditional history behind it, the arrangement is rather different.  The modern lectionary favors sequential (or at least in-order) Bible reading and has largely abandoned the topical approach to dealing with Eastertide.  One of the major indicators that the underlying logic and purpose has shifted, despite keeping many of the readings within the season, is the fact that the Collects of the Day are mostly changed from the old books to the new.

St. Mark’s Day or not?

It’s April 25th, and that means it’s Saint Mark’s Day!
Or rather, normally it would mean that.  The question is if there’s another feast day that takes precedence.  And the answer to that comes down to the question of which calendar you’re using.  This week is Easter Week, which means something different if you’re using a modern Prayer Book (like the 1979 or the 2019) or a traditional Prayer Book (like the American 1928, English 1662, etc.).

The traditional Easter Week only appointed two special feast days – Monday and Tuesday – and thus Saint Mark’s Day will be celebrated today, Wednesday, on schedule.  But the modern calendar has special collects and lessons for the whole week, which take precedence over the major feast days, meaning that the observance of Saint Mark’s Day gets bumped back to the next available day: Monday April 29th.

If you find this rather complicated, don’t worry – liturgical calendars do take some getting used to, and there are “ranks” to our various holy days that determine which one takes precedence over the other in the event that they land on the same day. For the most part the Anglican Prayer Book tradition keeps it pretty simple; Western Catholic tradition before the Reformation was much more elaborate, and even though the Roman Catholics have reformed, streamlined, and simplified their liturgical calendar in the past few decades they’ve still got a notably more complicated system than we have.

If you’re interested in a “hierarchy of precedent”, according to the Prayer Book tradition, here it is:

  1. The Sundays of Advent, Christmas Day, the Holy Name (Circumcision) of Jesus, the Epiphany,  the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, the Last Sunday before Lent, the Sundays of Lent and Eastertide, the days of Holy Week and Easter Week, Ascension Day, the Sunday after the Ascension, Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, the Ember Days, and the Rogation Days
  2. The Major Feast (“Red-Letter”) Days of the Prayer Book
  3. 1st & 2nd Sundays after Christmas, Sundays in Epiphanytide, and Sundays after Trinity Sunday
  4. National Days
  5. Commemorations and Other Occasions

Within item 1 and item 5 long-standing tradition sets out further layers of precedent for feast days.  But nothing in item 1 will ever land on the same date as one another, so there’s no functional reason to break up that list into further items, and item 5’s break-down can be explored another time.

The Logic of Eastertide (Traditional)

When looking at the Easter season in the old and new calendars, the most annoying challenge right off the bat is the fact the numbering system changed.  The modern system is “The #th Sunday in Easter” starting with Easter Day, and the traditional system is “The #th Sunday after Easter”, starting with the modern Easter II.  So if you just use numerical shorthands, the old and new calendars will be off by one.  I suppose the modern system was making a point of identifying Eastertide as a single unit, rather than a succession of days following the high point of Easter day itself.

Anyway, the traditional calendar with its one-year lectionary had a certain flow to it which is relatively well imitated in the modern calendar.  We’ll get to the modern one in a couple days; today we’re just looking at traditional Eastertide.

Easter Day

The resurrection of Jesus is clearly set forth, complete with multiple witnesses in the Gospel reading (John 20:1-10), today’s celebration aptly applies the resurrection to all God’s people. The Epistle (Colossians 3:1-11) chimes in with the reminder that we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ, by virtue of our union with him in Baptism. The Epistle then goes on to direct us toward heavenly Christ-like lifestyles and attitudes, which is also the prayer of the Collect.

The Octave Day – The First Sunday after Easter Day

The focus remains very close to Easter Day itself: examining the benefits of the resurrection of Christ for us. And they are many: the Collect notes the dual doctrines of justification and sanctification that flow from his death and resurrection, the Gospel (John 20:19-23) speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Epistle (1 John 5:4-12) points us knowing this testimony from God.

The Second Sunday after Easter Day

Today the Easter focus on the resurrection is expanded to include how Jesus was also an example for us to follow. Specifically, we follow him as sheep follow their shepherd. The Collect and lessons each speak of God as our shepherd, gathering us, keeping us safe, and holding us close to him. Thus today is commonly nicknamed “Good Shepherd Sunday.” But it is the Epistle (1 Peter 2:19-25)) and the Collect that turns these beautiful descriptions into instructions: we are to follow and imitate Jesus, even if it means suffering for doing nothing wrong. Knowing of his resurrection gives us hope for ours, too.

The Third Sunday after Easter Day

This Sunday we are reminded of a consistent biblical pattern: suffering and pain is temporary, while joy is eternal. In the Gospel (John 16:16-22), Jesus pointed this out to his disciples concerning his approaching death and resurrection.  The Collect and Epistle (1 Peter 2:11-17), then, take this theme and apply it very practically: because we know that the pain and suffering of life this world is temporary and the joy of God’s kingdom is eternal, we ought to live in such a way that is consistent with that eternal life.

The Fourth Sunday after Easter Day

This Sunday, we are reminded that the resurrection life in Christ is one that is patterned after and ordered by God. The Epistle reading (James 1:17-21) describes this by asserting that we must listen to the word of God, because it saves us and renews us. Additionally, it mentions gifts from above, and the Gospel reading (John 16:5-15) gives an example of this: the Holy Spirit who leads us into all God’s truth. The Collect, finally, takes these themes of listening, and gifts, and disciplines them into one beautiful and coherent prayer.

The Fifth Sunday after Easter Day (Rogation Sunday)

For the past couple weeks, hints of a change of focus have arisen as the Gospel readings have focused more and more on the departing of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Now, with the Ascension Day approaching, this focus begins to take center stage as all today’s propers deal with the idea of gifts and provision from God.  The Gospel (John 16:23-33) speaks of the coming gift of the Holy Spirit.  What the Epistle reading (James 1:22-27) does, and subsequently the Collect, is turn towards us and remind us of the responsibility that comes with such wonderful gifts: thinking and living according to the will and life of the Spirit given to us.

When you look at the course of the season, there are three major contours that can be traced.

  1. The Epistles move from the exalted “theological” writings of 1 John to the more balanced writings of 1 Peter to the bluntly practical writings of James.  This is something like descending a staircase from the lofty heights of Easter toward the more tangible earthly mission that will be given in Ascensiontide and Pentecost.
  2. The Gospel lessons are all from John.  In general, his gospel book tends to be treated as the “festal” book, containing the exalted texts for the high points of the Christian year such as this.
  3. Overall, these Sundays move from dealing with the resurrection of Jesus into his Upper Room Discourse where he speaks extensively of the Holy Spirit.  The Easter resurrection focus this transitions toward the topics of Pentecost.

One oddity resulting from these seasonal progressions is the fact that there are several readings from week to week that take you out of sequence, even backwards, through single passages.  This happens with 1 Peter 2 for two Sundays, and with John 16 in the last three Sundays.  Again it should be pointed out that in the classical prayer book tradition, continuous readings through Scripture was the function of the daily office lectionary; the Sunday Communion lectionary dealt with Gospel topics on a seasonal basis.

Anyway, that is the traditional set of Sundays in the Easter season.  If you’re more familiar with the revised common lectionary you will probably still recognize some of this shape.  But we’ll get into that, and the comparison between them, later this week.