HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN EASTER
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14: 1-14
¨Sometimes the readings appointed for a Sunday are so rich that I struggle to find something short to say about them. Perhaps this morning’s readings are a case in point.
|The Stoning of St. Stephen*|
Our first reading is about the stoning of Stephen, the first person to be martyred for professing what came to be known as the Christian faith. Stephen is one of the first seven deacons named to take care of the daily distribution of food in the early church. They are to take care of the widows. There have been complaints that the Hebrew widows are being better served than the Greek widows. These seven deacons are ordained by the Apostles who pray over them and lay their hands on them. They are to take over the day to day details of running the church, especially feeding people. The Church was still a collectivist entity at that time.
In our reading there is a cameo appearance by someone called Saul, who seems to be operating a coatroom for the people stoning Stephen. We will hear a lot more about him, but here he appears as an enemy of the new faith and as a facilitator of violence against it and its adherents. The death of the first martyr brings to mind the bloody history of the Church as it struggled to spread the Gospel to the entire world. It also brings to mind the persecution of Christians that is ongoing in many parts of the world. An eight months pregnant woman in Sudan has been sentence to 100 lashes and then death for leaving Islam and reverting to Christianity. In literal-minded Islam, leaving Islam is apostasy, and it is punished by death. Christian minorities in Iraq, Syria and Egypt are often targeted by Muslim extremists- they are killed, their property destroyed, their churches burned. In Pakistan the only Christian in the cabinet was murdered recently, for being a Christian
In the wake of the election in India, where a political party supported by Hindu extremists, among others, has come to power, we can expect the harassment and persecution of Christians to increase. In countries like North Korea Christianity is harshly forbidden. In China only churches with official sanction can exist. The Roman Catholic Church exists underground.
The Psalm today is also a cry to the Lord for protection against enemies. I hope some of you will recognize how part of its language has made its way into Episcopal Prayers, for example “My times are in your hands”. More importantly, while the Gospels of Mark and Matthew have Jesus quoting verse 1 of Psalm 22 when he cries out “My God my God, why have you forsaken me”, in Luke’s account of his death his final words are taken from verse 5 of Psalm 31: “Into your hands I commend my spirit”. Both the reading from Acts and the Psalm reaffirm the triumph of trust in God and of faith in the face of death.
Stephen in his death throes does not call upon God the Father to receive his spirit. He cries out to the Lord Jesus. This cry is to Jesus Christ who has already ascended into heaven. Our Gospel this morning contains an extensive exposition of the relationship of the Father and the Son. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death, resurrection and ascension. He is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s dwelling. The Disciples do not understand. Thomas says “We do not know where you are going. How can I know the way? Jesus answers “I am the Way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also”. When Phillip asks him to show the Disciples the Father, Jesus answers: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
In today’s Gospel the unicity or unity, if you will, of Father and Son is proclaimed. We will have to wait for another week to hear what Jesus has to say about the third person of the Holy Trinity, and of course in three weeks when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the revelation of the Trinity will be complete. We will see that God exists in three persons, that we come to the Father through the Son, and that God is among us because his Spirit is at work in men and women in the world around us.¨Amen
*Lorenzo Lotto Renaissance
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