Our final reading from the book of Acts (taking the place of the Hebrew Bible lections during the season of Easter) records the story of Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi. Paul and Silas are arrested after they anger some city merchants by casting out a demon from a girl who was a source of income for the merchants through her gift of divination. The merchants incite a mob who bring Paul and Silas before the town officials and demand their punishment. Paul and Silas are flogged severely and put into prison. The prison stay is cut short by a powerful earthquake that opens all the prison doors. When the jailer sees the open cells and reasons that the prisoners must have escaped he considers taking his own life. Paul and Silas however call to him from inside the prison. The jailer is so relieved that the prisoner’s did not use the earthquake as a time to escape that he listens and believes in the gospel Paul preaches. As a result the prisoner’s entire family is baptized. In this story we see the paradox of gospel freedom. The gospel sets us free (in this case quite literally), but our freedom is a call to service. Paul and Silas do not use their freedom for their own benefit, but instead use it as a means to grow the kingdom.
Psalm 97 belongs to a collection of Psalms (93, 95-99) known by scholars as “Enthronement of God Psalms.” Recent scholarship has suggested that these psalms form the “theological heart” of the psalter. In our Psalm today we hear the results of God’s sovereign reign. The storm-language – “lightnings” and thunder (“the earth…trembles“) – bespeaks the awesome power of God, before which even the “mountains melt,” an observation that connotes not destruction but yielded-ness to God’s sovereign claim.
The effects of God’s arrival also involves the human community, as suggested by the mention of “righteousness and justice” in verse 2. This vocabulary also links Psalm 97 clearly to Psalm 96, which concludes with the affirmation that God “will establish justice (in) the world with righteousness and (among) the peoples with his faithfulness.”
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Our final reading from Revelation contains one emphatic message: Jesus is coming soon! It would seem that John’s book is wrong at this point. We cannot simply spiritualize and individualize this promise, turning it into an existential coming at all times. To do so would rob John’s apocalypse of its ability to confront the power of the beast as it shows up in all the world’s oppressive structures and systems. John declares a coming of Christ that is not internal or private, but a coming to the world, to redeem the world. Despite the apparent error about the timing, what John conveys is a sense of urgency, the promise and
realization that God could invade the world’s history at any time. Where the empire and oppression seem to hold the day, John shows that in fact God and the Lamb are already reigning and already bringing sin, death, and the devil to their ultimate end. We see it in the resurrection of Jesus, and we experience a foretaste of it in the Eucharist.
It is to that table that the end of Revelation brings us. For many Christian communities “Come Lord Jesus” is the Eucharistic table prayer of the church, and has been from very early in the church’s life. The 2nd century Didache places this prayer within the Eucharistic liturgy (Didache 10:6; see 1 Corinthians 16:22, Luke 22:16). The water of life is not only available at the end, in the New Jerusalem, but is present already, because the Lamb reigns already.
In John 17 Jesus is praying for the church. He prays for its unity. He prays for its oneness with the Father. He prays for its ability to be where Christ is. He prays for its love. Jesus is not offering instructions to the disciples or to those they will lead–he is talking to his father. As important as evangelism is, when Jesus tells his Father that he is asking “not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20), he is not at that moment exhorting the church to participate in evangelism. Likewise, as commendable as ecumenical partnerships are, when Jesus asks that those who believe and those who do not yet believe “may be one” (John 17:21), he is not exhorting involvement in ecumenical dialogue. Jesus is not exhorting the church here. He is not instructing. He is not preaching, teaching, or rallying the troops. Jesus is praying. If he were exhorting us, we would have a mission, namely, not to disappoint him. Instead, we overhear a prayer on our behalf and are not called to action in that moment as much as wonder that the Father and the Son spend their time discussing the likes of
us and our little community of faith. It is this wonder that makes us desire the ends that the prayer has in mind!
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts, minds, hymns, prayers, and thoughts for worship consider the entirety of the Easter season. The jubilation of Christ’s resurrection is with us. Acts 16 reminds us that Christ’s resurrection is drawing people to God. Psalm 97 points to the
sovereign God whose power was made known in the resurrection event. Revelation 22 looks forward to the coming of Christ that is made possible and believable by the Easter event. John 17 reminds us that God loves creation–and desires a resurrection and restoration for all.