Episode 16

March 31, 2024


B216 Easter 2

B216 Easter 2
By the Well
B216 Easter 2

Mar 31 2024 | 00:30:33


Show Notes

Fran and Robyn talk about the way resurrection shapes community life in Acts 4:32-35 and John 20:19-31 (with a brief look at Ps 133).

We mention Gail Ramshaw's "Treasures Old and New"

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Speaker A: You're listening to by the, well, electionary based podcast preachers recorded on the land of the Warunderi people. Hello, everyone, you're listening to Fran Barber. [00:00:19] Speaker B: And I'm Robin Whitaker. [00:00:21] Speaker A: And this is the second week of the season of Easter, and Robin and I will be focusing on John 20, verses 19 to 31, and acts four, verses 32 to 35, with a bit of a foray into psalm 133. We're going to kick off with John, though. John 20, Jesus appears to the disciples. [00:00:47] Speaker B: Yeah. So this reading, I think actually it's a strange collection of texts because I would say it actually falls into three parts. So we've got the appearance in 1922 23 of Jesus appearing first. So this is the evening appearance through the locked doors. We'll come back and unpack this. And then we've got Jesus and Thomas, and then we've got the lectionary. People have given us the little summary of chapter 20 about all the other things Jesus did that are not written down. And it's sort of seen as the kind of first ending to John's gospel, a bit of a sign of an editor's hand before the whole other chapter 21 got added. So there's a bit to unpack here. I wonder if we kind of do it in sections. [00:01:33] Speaker A: I think so. And I mean, for me, the big picture thing to unpack is that really colloquial, flippant description of this as the doubting Thomas story. Actually, it's a believing Thomas. [00:01:44] Speaker B: Yes. It's a faithful Thomas. [00:01:46] Speaker A: Would I say that at the outset? But, yeah, let's kick off at the start, because as usual with scripture, there's an awful lot of dense stuff in here. So the evening of the first day, meaning? So it's about 630, perhaps sundown, sundown. [00:02:02] Speaker B: On the Sunday night. [00:02:03] Speaker A: And they're in the locked doors again. Behind the locked doors again. [00:02:08] Speaker B: Yes. So you've got locked doors, you've got dynamics of fear and also the dynamics of Jesus being able to break through obstacles. Right. This is a bit of a theme now going on, with the resurrection being the biggest sign of this. [00:02:23] Speaker A: And my understanding of the vocabulary here. Doors here is the same word as was used in chapter ten when Jesus described himself as the gate when he was the shepherd. Well, it's just the power of breaking through, as you say. It's the power of withholding and care in the chapter ten story. But here it's the breaking through. Now, for fear of the Jews, we probably need to talk about what that is and isn't. It's an internal conversation within Judaism it is. [00:03:01] Speaker B: And there's some debate about how to best translate this word, which. [00:03:06] Speaker A: What does it say? [00:03:08] Speaker B: You, Dion. [00:03:08] Speaker A: You, Dion. [00:03:09] Speaker B: So the Judeans might be one translation. So some people favor that because it makes it clear we're talking about local people. Yes, they were Jews, but they're also a geographic kind of descriptor that does help differentiate it from talking about modern Jews. So the problem with these texts, and particularly around Easter, is we have this fear of the Jews and the blaming of Jews that if we don't do some translation work for. Comes across as very anti semitic in modern. [00:03:41] Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, Harlem, on that quick comment from you, I'm quite persuaded we should have Judeans in this translation. And I'll have to ask you some other time why we don't, because. [00:03:52] Speaker B: Well, I think there's probably a very technical sort of debate about whether it's the most historically accurate way to. But I actually think for maybe more. [00:04:07] Speaker A: Pastoral, I was going to say, or. [00:04:08] Speaker B: Fear of the jewish leaders, or fear of the judean leaders. But I feel like we need a qualifying agree. But we are still in this. Just after the death, Mary Magdalene has announced that she's seen the Lord, but the men have not yet seen the. You know, this is their first time with the appearance of Jesus now. So they're still in know. The threat of their own execution, the threat of state violence is very real. [00:04:44] Speaker A: And then Jesus gives the first blessing of peace of three. [00:04:50] Speaker B: Yes. [00:04:50] Speaker A: And I want to say, of course, that three is far from accidental and that three is a number of unity in the Bible. And we might juxtapose these three blessings of peace with Peter's three thrice denial. [00:05:09] Speaker B: Yes. Three is like. [00:05:10] Speaker A: There's a reversal going on. [00:05:13] Speaker B: Yes. And that's one of the threads that does link this particular first scene with the Jesus and Thomas scene, where we get the same peace be with you repeated. And then we've got some amazing things going on with the breathing. And of course, in Greek, this word for breath, the panuma word, can mean breath, spirit, wind. So there's a bit of a play on words going on here. So when Jesus sort of breathes into them or breathes on. [00:05:41] Speaker A: This is John's Pentecost. [00:05:43] Speaker B: Yes. Yeah, it really is. Although different to the Luke acts Pentecost. [00:05:49] Speaker A: Which I think is a refreshing change in the sense that related to what we were talking about last episode, Kylie and me, was the way the lectionary artificially divides up this Easter thing so that resurrection becomes this addendum that we believe or we don't believe rather than actually the whole thing. You've got the crucified and risen one is one thing, and in John, at least more than the others, I would argue these events up to the last judgment and ascension, and it's all in the one. [00:06:23] Speaker B: Yes, because the crucified one is the risen one, and the crucified and risen one is also the one that breeds the spirit. So you cannot separate these things. It's also worth saying at this point in case it's not clear to listeners that this story and all the section we're covering today is unique to John. So we don't have other versions quite like this, although we do have a separate Pentecost story about the giving of the spirit. But in John, the spirit is given almost synonymously with Jesus'appearance as risen. There's not a delay that we get in the more traditional story. The bit I find fascinating and also deeply difficult and would probably just quite frankly avoid as a preacher. But some of you might be braver than that is what follows in 22 and 23 about receive the spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained. So we have a parallel text in Matthew's Gospel in chapter 16 about verse 19, where very similar words are said by Jesus to Peter during his lifetime. I give you the keys of the kingdom. On this rock I'll build my church. And then Peter is given a very similar kind of bequeathed with this power to forgive John. I like this version because John kind of democratizes that this is now said to all the disciples. So this is a shared ministry, and I think we need to be careful not to read this too literally. I don't know what you do with it, Fran, but one traditional interpretation has been, therefore, the church has the power over salvation to forgive or not decree forgiveness. In certain traditions, I would probably lean away from that towards something more like it is the mission of the church to be a people of forgiveness, to embody forgiveness, because that's part of what Jesus embodies in the death and resurrection. [00:08:17] Speaker A: Well, I'm not sure what I would do, but what I'm playing with in my mind now is the prayer that Jesus taught us. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. I don't know. And comparing that with this, if you forgive the sins of any, they have forgiven them, if you. [00:08:40] Speaker B: So there is some stuff here about retaining or holding on to, is the literal language. If you withhold forgiveness, I suppose I'm. [00:08:47] Speaker A: Saying like in the Lord's prayers, we've traditionally called it, forgive us our sins as we forgive, as we forgive those who sin against us, as we skip over. But it's imploring us as we seek forgiveness, we are imploring that we can give it. And whether that. I think I would use that as a comparison with what's going on here, but on the spot of it here, I don't know how further I'd go. [00:09:21] Speaker B: Yeah. So it is tricky, and it's tricky to preach on. And depending on your tradition, I mean, I think if you're Roman Catholic, there's a particular way this tradition has come down, and it is in the priestly authority to declare someone forgiven or not in the confessional. So in traditions with that kind of a role, it is linked with some quite specific things, like, if a priest. [00:09:48] Speaker A: Doesn'T absolve you, you aren't well. Okay. All right. Well, in the context of that, I do have a response, and that is, like, I'm thinking we're not talking about the first letter of John reading today, but that is full of this sort of language about forgiveness of sins and whether we like it or not, actually, scripturally, that is often described why Jesus died for us. [00:10:07] Speaker B: Yes. [00:10:09] Speaker A: And given it's only the first week of Easter, and you've got to come up with six resurrection sermons, although I would say every Sunday is a resurrection sermon. But we've mentioned that in the season. And so you're a preacher going six weeks of this, actually, and it is a challenge, as you say, this could be an invitation to say, well, actually, in the resurrection, we are forgiven. And maybe it's a challenge. Maybe I would choose to challenge this. [00:10:34] Speaker B: Scripture or to see it as a challenge to us. We are forgiven. How good are we at actually forgiving others? [00:10:42] Speaker A: Yeah, well, God has done it in Christ, and in this reading, God's peace is now in history amongst us, the ultimate shalom. So I think that's where I'd go with the good news that we are forgiven. And therefore, I might want to say, is this a piece of good news here in the scripture? So we'll see. [00:11:07] Speaker B: And you can push back here. We were talking earlier today, Fran, about the way the christian community takes on being the resurrected body of Christ. So, for me, there's something really important here. Know Jesus, his first act when meeting with the gathered group, as opposed to just the women at the tomb, is to breathe the spirit and then to give them the role that he had in his lifetime, which is to declare forgiveness of sins. And in doing so, they effectively become the body of Christ. [00:11:41] Speaker A: Yes, totally agree. But it's not in their own power. [00:11:44] Speaker B: No, totally. Yes. [00:11:47] Speaker A: Anyway. No, but that's important. [00:11:52] Speaker B: But I mean, the one other thing to say, and particularly if preachers are going to pick up this theme, you do want to go and look at the first John passage, which I think, again, both here and there, we have the reality of sin in the very midst of a declaration of forgiveness and resurrection. So I don't think early christians were, well, we'll get to acts in a moment, which is doing something else. But I don't think early christians were so naive as to think that Jesus'death and resurrection magically erased all traces of sin. [00:12:21] Speaker A: Right. [00:12:22] Speaker B: Because right here in the midst of it, we have an acknowledgement that forgiveness is needed as an ongoing. [00:12:30] Speaker A: Oh, yes, yes. [00:12:31] Speaker B: But let's talk about Thomas. Fran, you said he isn't doubting. Why do you say that? Tell us what we should notice about Thomas and this passage, which I do love. [00:12:41] Speaker A: So he's missed out on the initial encounter. We don't know why, but Jesus has come back eight days later or something. The other disciples told him, we've seen the Lord. And he says, unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand. So for a start, I think the word believer here is epistos, sort of unbelieving. And we say doubt, which is a loaded term that means a whole lot of other things. Skeptical questioning of and all that. And I'm an advocate for questioning, but I think it has loaded a whole lot of things onto this passage that aren't really there. But I guess what I would emphasize is that what Thomas is asking for, I don't want to say proof, but it's not to believe that this once dead Jesus is now alive there. But is this the one who was crucified? He wants proof of the resurrection of the. He goes, unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, which would be gross enough, then I put my finger in the mark of the nails, and then even worse, my hand in his side, I won't believe. So it's not about the incredulity of the modern person to believe in something called the resurrection. [00:14:04] Speaker B: No, it's not our sort of post enlightenment incredulity at this. [00:14:09] Speaker A: It's actually that he doesn't believe that. [00:14:11] Speaker B: This particular man has come back from. And this mark language. I think I might have talked about this. [00:14:19] Speaker A: Sorry, I've got a better way to put it. He doubts that the crucifixion could be as revelatory as it appears to be here. That's his thing. The crucifixion is what makes it anyway. Sorry. [00:14:33] Speaker B: And the language of Mark. And in a sense, the translation, mark captures it. But the word is almost a word for stamp or scar. So these are not open gapy wounds. These are the scars in his nails, the scars on his side. [00:14:51] Speaker A: Very intimate though it is. [00:14:52] Speaker B: And it's deeply tied to, like you say, the physical realities of crucifixion. I don't know why he particularly wants to put his finger in these scars. That seems like a strangely intimate and like I almost need to. So we're going to see other language here of hearing, seeing, touching. [00:15:14] Speaker A: So something I was reading and I can't remember if it was Carolyn Lewis or someone else, so sorry. But they were talking about his. Thomas's so called doubting is about more a relationship than anything credible or faith, as we would call an. And that emphasis on relationship, I think, comes through in that sort of intimate request. And I would say the text actually doesn't say that he does the touching. [00:15:49] Speaker B: No, although Jesus invites him. [00:15:51] Speaker A: I know, but then it doesn't say, so he did and then went, aha. No, I believe you. Yeah. [00:15:55] Speaker B: Maybe the invitation is enough for the. [00:15:58] Speaker A: I don't know. But then my lord and my God. It's not usual for a text not to say something, but anyway, so I think that's interesting. That's all. Yeah. And then my lord and my God. The my. It's not the Lord and the God. Like there's that intimacy again around relationship and recognition. [00:16:17] Speaker B: Yeah, there is. And in fact, my lord is a more generic title. It can also mean my master. But the my God is the highest proclamation we've had in the mouth of a human in John's gospel. So my God. And this is where I think the gospel really does. The guts of the gospel is in this juxtaposition that in the very invitation to touch the wounds or the scars of crucifixion, Thomas can recognize in that scarred but risen body that is God like to me. That right there is. [00:16:54] Speaker A: That's the meaning. [00:16:59] Speaker B: That'S been kind of perfected. Perfected. This is a resurrected body that bears all the marks of the violence of life. And in that tension, he can recognize that God is in that. And the other thing we should say about Thomas, who we like to put down, is Jesus greets him the same as he greeted all the others. He comes in again and it's, peace be with you, know it's not. Hi, Thomas. You doubted? You're awful. [00:17:32] Speaker A: I've come back because you're such a pain. You weren't there, and now you don't believe the others. What are you thinking? [00:17:36] Speaker B: So this challenge at the end, in the way John tells this story, have you believed because you've seen, and this is clearly directed at a future, at future readers. [00:17:45] Speaker A: Right. [00:17:46] Speaker B: Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe. It's an acknowledgement that future generations will not get the experience that Thomas and the first disciples had. [00:17:56] Speaker A: I don't think it's as loaded with judgment, though as popularly it might have been seen to be. [00:18:01] Speaker B: Yeah, I agree. Yeah. [00:18:05] Speaker A: And then the last part is just the purpose of the book. [00:18:08] Speaker B: Yes. And I personally think in the midst of Easter season, that's probably not the focus of your sermon, but knock yourself out. Anything else you want to say about this before we move to the psalm? [00:18:20] Speaker A: Only that you don't want to make as much as the fact that the text doesn't say he didn't touch, but he did hear. So there's something about the hearing, and we know in John that people, their taste, they eat together. No, he hears and he sees and he sees. Yeah. [00:18:35] Speaker B: And he's invited to touch. See, I probably wouldn't read so much into that being omitted. I think it's implied, but yeah. [00:18:45] Speaker A: Okay. [00:18:46] Speaker B: All right. [00:18:47] Speaker A: So we come to acts four, an incredibly utopian and wonderful statement of how your church is all operating out there. Everyone. [00:19:04] Speaker B: Yes. So in acts here, this is obviously after pentecost, as it's narrated in acts chapter two. Peter's done a long speech, and we've got Peter and John together have been doing some preaching about the resurrection and have been arrested and critiqued and questioned by a number of different named groups. They're still in and around Jerusalem at this point. So the sadducees, some temple priests have. [00:19:32] Speaker A: Been arguing the resurrection and whether. [00:19:37] Speaker B: And just before this, we're told, in fact, in the preceding couple of paragraphs, there is repeated emphasis that they're preaching with boldness. They pray with boldness, they're doing signs and wonders. But verse 31 ends with being filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. So this is one of the hallmarks. And then we get this very idealistic. [00:19:59] Speaker A: It is. I would want to say that this text is saying that the impact of the resurrected, crucified one is so cosmic and thorough going and so communal in its impact, that this is what community looks like now. [00:20:18] Speaker B: Yes. [00:20:19] Speaker A: So it's not so much descriptive. [00:20:27] Speaker B: Maybe this is an attempt to have a cop out from a western point of view, where I don't live in a community that shares everything equally. So we got this double emphasis of no one claiming private ownership, but they all shared everything in common and repeated again in verse 34, there's no needy person amongst them because they sold everything, and that was all shared. So I think what we're getting here is one tangible, lived out impact of the resurrection. This is how it shapes communities, is that they've radically reorganized their lives economically, communally. But it's framed. I don't want to divorce it from the testimony that's right in the middle. So verse 33, with great power, the apostles gave their testimony. This is this witness word, maturion to the resurrection of the Lord. So what they're witnessing to is the resurrection, not the death. So that in Luke acts, the focus is very much on the resurrection. This is the point of God's great action that's liberative. And testimony is linked to this new ability to live out in a radical, equal community. So we can't. [00:21:46] Speaker A: That is the emphasis, isn't it? And it just troubles me because it just encourages so much the modern problem with the resurrection as this thing to explain or dismiss outright. Gail Ramshaw's book, treasures old and new, has a fantastic chapter on the resurrection of the body that it's not a new book, folks, and I've mentioned it before, but if you're looking for some inspiration in these coming weeks, it's a great summary of how the imagery, how she would say that our metaphorical language, like resurrection of the body, we've used so automatically we've taken it to be literal. And it's given us all these problems in trying to understand or dismissing it so that we would say the creed, but leave that bit out. When you can't divide, you can't separate it all. It's one event anyway. It's a good chapter to check. No? [00:22:37] Speaker B: That's right. So what's the impact of that for how you're reading this then, Fran? [00:22:46] Speaker A: This act one? Well, I suppose the impact of what she discusses is to try to mitigate the situation where the resurrection becomes a problem for your audience or your congregation, a problem of skepticism. [00:23:09] Speaker B: Okay. [00:23:11] Speaker A: Because she would say, the tradition has used all sorts of ways of talking about how God brings life to those of us who are mortal, where it appears impossible through the hebrew scriptures and on. And this is the language we have now. So I guess it only bears out in this passage, in that I'm critiquing that this is what? That I'm critiquing. Luke axis focus entirely on the resurrection as the important thing about the Lord Jesus and not the crucifixion. [00:23:44] Speaker B: Yes. And I mean, look, I think to give this author credit, the resurrection is not possible without crucifixion. So they are, of course, linked. But he puts the emphasis on the resurrection as the point of God's vindication and kind of almost proof, in ancient terms, of God's ability to liberate from death. But again, I think the other thing I like about this acts for all. It's sort of, in a sense, maybe overly positivistic. Scholars do question how historically accurate. [00:24:20] Speaker A: Well, I'm sure they do. [00:24:23] Speaker B: It's deeply shaped by wanting to convince people that this is a life shattering. [00:24:28] Speaker A: But there is archaeological evidence, isn't there, of shared clothing for charity that's been found that indicates a sharing and a giving to the poor? [00:24:44] Speaker B: Yeah, I'm not sure about that precise evidence, but I mean, for starters, ancient communities were far more communal already than anything like our western ones. And here we can learn from other cultures who do live more communally. And you're not dealing with a blatantly capitalist society like our own, but you are dealing with rules around private ownership and stuff. So this is still incredibly radical. [00:25:10] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:25:11] Speaker B: But one of the things I like about it that does challenge your sort of classic, very individualistic evangelical interpretation of the resurrection is that it's all about you, right? Your sins are forgiven, you're saved, you're right with God. It's all about you as an individual. This immediately takes us to the communal. [00:25:30] Speaker A: Absolutely. [00:25:30] Speaker B: So this is a whole group who are of one heart and mind, and so much so that they radically reorganize their community life. That's what the resurrection does. [00:25:40] Speaker A: And that's great fodder for a sermon in a context where many of us are worried about our buildings and whether we need them or not, and whether they are weighing on us more than they are useful to us, and whether sort of divesting ourselves of some of them might actually help communities that don't have enough to contribute to their community life. [00:26:04] Speaker B: And where we live, in a society where cost of living around the world is becoming for a lot of people, they'll never afford their own home. I'm interested that I'm sure there are christian communities doing this, but I know here in Melbourne it's often the sort of more sort of lefty yoga, hippie type communities who are talking about communal living and buying land together and living communally because it's the only way people can afford things. [00:26:32] Speaker A: And older people of that nature, too. [00:26:34] Speaker B: Exactly. [00:26:35] Speaker A: Doing that as well. [00:26:36] Speaker B: And of course, this tradition is kept alive in the monastic community, which continues to sort of almost embody. [00:26:43] Speaker A: Well, they're witnessing to this. [00:26:45] Speaker B: Exactly. Resurrection, a witness to this possibility that people could still give up everything they individually own for the sake of a community and submit themselves to that community life, as hard as that must be at times. [00:26:57] Speaker A: So this week, the psalm very clearly echoes this, acts four, reading how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. It's psalm 133. That would be a great opening worship. [00:27:12] Speaker B: It would. [00:27:12] Speaker A: I mean, call to worship. [00:27:14] Speaker B: And it links to both readings in a way, with the peace. [00:27:17] Speaker A: Yeah. The end for there, the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore. [00:27:23] Speaker B: So I think using the psalm, I mean, this is an astonishingly short little psalm, three verses. [00:27:29] Speaker A: A psalm of ascent. Apparently there are 15 of them. Well, I think scholars have been mixed about what they were originally for, apart from, obviously use in worship. But ascent is a translation of the verb color, to go up. So there's scholars, I think, think there are pilgrimage songs and prayers going to Jerusalem or from probably, or probably to. And this is the second last one in the list. So 134 is the last one, the. [00:28:05] Speaker B: One which is even shorter. Two verses, depending on the edition. So similar themes of blessing, of unity. The images here of oil on the head and the beard of Aaron is again of sort of anointing, which we've had last know. And of course, Mount Zion being the sort of place of salvation to which all the nations stream in the prophetic tradition. [00:28:35] Speaker A: It's a very abundant psalm. It's luscious. That's a good word, luscious. You've got oil. There's so much oil that's running down his beard. I mean, it's wasteful. It's not. But that's what one response would be, running down all down his clothes. And then the dew is also emerging all over the mountain. [00:28:59] Speaker B: So, yeah, it's a luscious son, an eternal blessing. So it's picking up so many of the themes that are obviously here in the older testament before the resurrection, but picking up some similar light. This is communal, it's eternal, it's a blessing for. [00:29:18] Speaker A: Well, it's life, abundant in God and through God. And as we understand it as christians, the resurrection of Christ is life for all and evermore. Yep. [00:29:31] Speaker B: Now, just before we finish, do you want to say something about questions. [00:29:34] Speaker A: Oh, well, last week, Kylie and I invited any who might be interested to submit a question through our Facebook page, a question around preaching or scripture. And we're not promising to be able to answer these questions you're asking, but we'll do our best and possibly, perhaps tackle one per we may. We're working on whether there might be other methods by which people might submit a question, but at this stage, it's the Facebook group. [00:30:03] Speaker B: Great. So starting next week, we will start to answer those questions. And thank you. I've already seen one on there. [00:30:10] Speaker A: I was going to ask, are they coming in thick and fast? [00:30:14] Speaker B: So happy Easter, everyone. [00:30:16] Speaker A: Happy Easter. [00:30:16] Speaker B: Blessings as you preach by the well is brought to you by Pilgrim Theological College and the United Church in Australia. It's produced by Adrian Jackson. Thanks for listening.

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