Lectionary Commentaries for April 3, 2016
Second Sunday of Easter

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 20:19-31

Robert Hoch

John’s second report of Jesus’ resurrection appearance serves as the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter in Year A, B, and C.

Most scholars believe this chapter concludes the Johannine story, with John 21:1-25 being a later addition.

One might look at this entire chapter as recounting just how sturdy the tomb is in our creaturely thinking. Although the church may thunder with the Easter response, “He is Risen indeed!” actual congregational experience with contemporary tombs may seem more stubborn.

Examples are legion: opioid addiction, chronic disease, or irrational but paralyzing fear, among others — these seem all too common in our time and all too easily exploited, but not so easily relieved.

Alternatively, the unfairly titled “Doubting” Thomas underscores a deep yearning for God’s presence in our world. Like Thomas, many in our “secular age” want “data” or indications of Christ’s presence in the world as we know it, with its pierced hands and side. Absent such data, faith in the triumph of light over darkness seems implausible or at least out of reach.

Either or both of these trajectories may provide the pastoral concern as we read this text. Positively, this chapter chronicles “little” resurrections in the wake of Jesus, the Resurrected One.

Resurrection is too magnificent to grasp or, if we do grasp the One in whom there is no darkness, our knowledge is fleeting. Indeed, apart from the Beloved Disciple (John 20:8), it seems as if the disciples were locked into familiar tombs: upon seeing the empty tomb, the disciples didn’t preach, they didn’t join the choir, they went home (John 20:10).

Mary Magdalene stands outside the empty tomb, weeping, seeing only strangers indifferent to her dilemma (John 20:11-15).

Then, later, the disciples (perhaps the ones who went home in vs. 10), lock themselves into a house for fear of persecution; and not least, Thomas insists he will not believe “until [he sees]” the marks of crucifixion in Jesus’ body.

If we ever believed that resurrection would be a snap, these texts suggest a more nuanced account of what it is like for us to leave our own tombs, some of them self-made and to that extent seemingly impregnable. At the same time, each of these accounts suggests that the Jesus we would “see” on our own is vastly inferior to the Jesus who reveals himself as the Resurrected One.

“Fear,” says German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “has never been a good advisor.” Growing up in the former DDR (East Germany), she knows a thing or two about fear, its seductive and destructive powers. Likewise, John’s narrator speaks of the “fear of the Jews” which demands critical interpretation. According to Gail R. O’Day, the Johannine community understands itself to be a persecuted religious minority and “the Jews” is shorthand for that bitter intra-Jewish struggle.1

Additionally, we should not lose sight of the irony of a Jewish Jesus, the Resurrected One, appearing amid those who are in hiding “for fear of the Jews” (19b). Against docetic tendencies, Jesus exhibits his humanness (the wounds in his hands and side), which is never without ethnic complexion even if it is not defined by it.

Contemporary analogies anyone? Talk about “building walls” here and abroad, the scapegoating of ethnic and religious groups, has become too familiar in American political discourse. Much of it is based on fear, an emotion that leads us to believe that we are in possession of “perfect” understanding. We do well to remember the words of another John: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a).

In this case, the interpretive obligation is unapologetically public and, yes, political. But in the spirit of John’s gospel, the interpretive practice is incarnational, naming how this text forces us to subject the rhetoric of fear to the counter-testimony of the “stranger” in our midst. Think for example of the peaceful witness of Rose Hamid, the Muslim woman ejected from a Trump rally; 2 or perhaps the image of a uniformed police officer in Washington D.C. “breaking up” a group of teenagers not with coercion but with dance.3

Not insignificantly, Jesus’ appearance in this context of fear culminates with one of the distinctive marks of the Christian community, the practice of forgiveness (John 20:23). As a practice, forgiveness entails doubting our own fear-based conclusions. Forgiveness calls us to trust in God’s power to initiate resurrection in our midst, precisely where we least expected it.

On to Thomas. A pair of scientists declares “even the most logically beautiful theories or thought experiments can’t hold a candle to real-world data.” This sentiment seems to speak to the yearning of Thomas: “Until I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25b).

Apparently, Thomas believes in data-driven conclusions. And, truth be told, so do we. Thomas speaks to our values more than we recognize. As people of faith, we experience an almost reflexive dislike for “doubting” Thomas, but this is neither fair to him nor to the biblical witness.

True, the biblical text does not engage in abstract arguments about the “existence” of God as a philosophical concept. Nevertheless, the modern debate around the existence of God boils down to this question, one that is not uniquely modern, according to Patrick D. Miller: “Is God a reality, one with which we have to deal, or not? Is God real?” Miller believes the psalmist is preoccupied with this central concern: is God present in our suffering? does God exist in the midst of pain, injustice, and doubt? Miller underlines the characteristic way the Psalms juxtapose extravagant faith claims alongside deep doubts.4

Perhaps in Thomas we hear the one who prays like the psalmist prays, pleading for God’s existence amid our groans, watching for God in the land parched with doubt but no water, looking for the God who bears the marks of our weary world in his own body.

Perhaps we could hear Thomas this way, as one who seeks evidence of God’s presence in the world, through the “mark of the nails in his hands” … if so, Thomas’ response to Jesus suggests vastly more than evidence for God’s existence, more even than the Lord God alone, which would have been enough. But, no, on Thomas’ lips we hear the personal confession, “My Lord and my God!” (28b).

Thomas wanted only to see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands, to put his hand into his side — but what he received on his lips and within his heart was vastly more than the wounds. He received his Lord and God.


Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John” in New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 505. See also “Reflections” 647-651.

Jeremy Diamond, “Silently Protesting Muslim Woman Ejected from Trump Rally” in CNN (11 January 2016), accessed on 22 January 2016 at http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/politics/donald-trump-muslim-woman-protesting-ejected/index.html

Perry Stein, “A D.C. Cop Tried to Break Up a Group of Teens” in The Washington Post (28 October 2015) accessed on 22 January 2016 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/10/28/a-d-c-cop-tried-to-break-up-a-group-of-teens-it-ended-in-this-impressive-dance-off/.

Patrick D. Miler, The Lord of the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 1-2.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 5:27-32

Mitzi J. Smith

Some people already realized that joining the apostles was risky business (Acts 5:13).

This episode at Acts 5:27–32 marks the second time that some religious leaders and Sadducees arrested, detained, and interrogated the apostles for preaching the resurrection of Jesus. Previously, Peter and John were imprisoned because the same religious authorities were “much annoyed” at their preaching Jesus’ resurrection (4:1-4). This second time they are motivated by “jealousy” (v.17). The first time, the council eventually released the apostles. However, this time “an angel of the Lord” discharges them (v.19). And when brought before the Council, they again declare their resolve to privilege the voice of God over human authority (anthropoi) (5:29; cf. 4:19).

Following the Apostle Paul’s lead, nineteenth century black preaching women declared that they would obey God rather than mortal men. Many religious institutions continue to prohibit women from preaching and being ordained in churches. Independent black churches arose in response to the racism of white denominations. Yet many black churches practice sexism against black women called to preach the Gospel. Women generally are still less likely to be hired or promoted as senior pastors despite their increased numbers in seminaries. However, women are expected to submit to oppressive religious authorities; and some do. A mature female student and minister related that the women in her church approached her about convening a bible study at her home. The women were in pain, she said, and needed a safe space to experience the life-giving power of God. This female minister approached the pastor for his permission! The pastor first agreed and then changed his mind. She yielded to his authority as to when, what and whom she could teach in her own home! Do we fear men above the God who called us? Following God is risky business. Sometimes following God’s voice versus human authority means risking institutional approval and community. Responding to God’s voice may result in oppression and alienation. Nineteenth-century preaching women envisioned the world as their pulpit. Maybe some of us need to escape some of the prisons in which human authorities have placed us.

Refusing to be silenced, the apostles talked back to and/or sassed the authorities who unjustly and unnecessarily brutalize and detain them: #ResurrectedLivesMatter; #Jesus’LifeMatters; #Apostles’LivesMatter. The Sadducees and their allies denied that God resurrected Jesus, insisting that #AllLivesMatter. Thus, oppressed people deserve no special intervention.

God sides with the oppressed

With God, Black lives matter; Muslim lives matter; Jewish lives matter; refugee lives matter; poor lives matter; women’s lives matter; incarcerated lives matter; the most oppressed among us matter. God’s people should be agents of reversal. We are to embody good news to the poor, imprisoned, and those oppressed because of their religious affiliation, culture, gender, race, class, or sexual orientation. The religious entities, authorities and communities to whom we often submit do not always side with the oppressed or with justice. Authoritative communities and institutions sometimes allow themselves to be hijacked by their own biases, dogmas, racism, sexism, classism, and prosperity gospels. We stifle God’s voice. Absent intentional self-reflection, internal and external critique, religious institutions and peoples always risk becoming more and more like the oppressors and less and less able to see and hear God speak in new and life-giving ways. Instead, we justify death and dying.

The lynched body does not have the final word

The apostles’ ministry of healing and preaching intervenes in the lives of the oppressed. Peter and the apostles persist, maintaining that God raised the Jesus of Nazareth whom “you” lynched by hanging on a tree (Acts 5:30). God sided with the colonized Nazarene that religious authorities lynched (2:22). But God did more than resuscitate that same Jesus. In an act of great reversal, God promoted Jesus from a disgraced death to a position of authority at God’s right hand; God invested Jesus with the power to forgive sins, including the lynching of Jesus. Forgiveness involves both acknowledgment and reversal of the collective sin of a nation and its impact. When sins are committed by a nation, the sins must be acknowledged if reconciliation is to occur — even if those currently in power are not the ones who constructed the noose and convened the lynching.

The apostles claimed that they were witnesses not just of the lynching of Jesus but to God’s exaltation of Jesus, Acts 5:30. These events were not something they read about but that they experienced. New experiences/events that we witness should impact what is already written down and can alter in some way our prior knowledge. We search the scriptures to support what we think we already know about God and to affirm, too often, our oppressive ways toward others — others who think, teach, live, and look differently from ourselves. As a result of the disgrace and the exaltation that the apostles experienced as witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection, they could approach life, vocation, and humanity through a different lens or perspective. They see, if darkly, through the lens of the oppressed, devalued, and lynched other.

Lynched bodies, police brutality and mass activism

The apostles refused to stop talking about how God resurrected the lynched body of Jesus. The only reason the Temple police did not violently arrest the apostles was because they feared the mass protests. They fear that their brutality would be captured by the masses and result in their mobilization and retaliation (Acts 5:26). If it were not for the willingness of the people, the masses, to disrupt injustice, to protest, the apostles would have been the fatal victims of police brutality. When injustice and oppression permeate religious, social, and political systems, nothing short of mass activism will transform them. Mangled, lynched bodies sometimes resurrect our consciousness and lead to the dismantling of unjust systems. Preach it; Live it: God raised Jesus!


Commentary on Psalm 150

Kelly J. Murphy

Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts series included a number entitled “Praise God and Dance,” a direct invocation of Psalm 150:4: “Praise the Lord! With trumpet sound, with lute and harp, with tambourine and dance!”

Peter Lavezzoli notes that the Sacred Concerts illustrated “how jazz, long denounced in religious circles as vulgar ‘devil’s music,’ can rise to the level of the sacred.”1 Ellington’s genius in quoting Psalm 150 helps to demonstrate that long before the Sacred Concert series, the ancient Israelites recognized that all musical instruments could be used to praise their God.  After all, as biblical scholars regularly note, the psalm seems to list all the instruments known to the ancients. In the world behind the text of Psalm 150 — in other words, in the world that produced the psalm — no musical instrument was too loud, too clanging, too clashing, or too “vulgar” to praise the Israelite God.

The world in the text of Psalm 150 reiterates over and over again the importance of praise. From start to finish, Psalm 150 is solely concerned with the praise of God. In fact, every verse includes the Hebrew halelûyah, the plural imperative of the Hebrew verb hallel, “to praise” + yah (a shortened form of Yhwh, the divine name). The command is repeated often more than once in a verse in only six short verses (plus a jussive form in the final verse), is intended for everyone — indeed, for “all that breathes” (v.6). The psalm begins with a command to praise Yhwh in his holy place (likely a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem) and, more broadly, “in his mighty firmament” (language that invokes the creation of the entire cosmos from Genesis 1 — in short, all of God’s world and creation).

Why all this praise? Many of the preceding psalms focus on the reasons to praise God, but Psalm 150, somewhat famously, focuses primarily on how and where to praise — not why. Each of the following verses is an intensification of the previous — the praise seems to get louder and louder: first with trumpet (v. 2a), then with lute and harp (v. 2b); next with tambourine and dance (v. 3a), then next with strings and pipe (v. 3b); then again with clanging cymbals (v. 5a), then with “loud clashing cymbals” (v. 5b). With each additional instrument listed, the crescendo of praise grows louder, less controlled.

If readers zoom out from the world in the text of Psalm 150 itself to focus on the larger textual world of the fifth and final book of the Psalter found in Psalms 107-150, the swelling of praise grows louder still. Psalm 146 marks the first cymbal crash of praise in its beginning and end: Praise the Lord (vv. 1, 10)! The next three psalms are also each bookended by the imperative to praise Yhwh (Psalm 147:1, 20; 148: 1, 14; 149: 1, 9). Accordingly, in Psalm 150, as in the preceding four books that comprise the book of Psalms, the fifth book of the psalter ends with a doxology (see also Psalm 41:13; 72:18-19; 89:52; 106:48).

Yet if readers pan out even further yet and examine the entire book of Psalms, the crescendo increases yet again. Psalm 150 also functions as a doxology to the entire book. The final psalm closes not only the fifth book of the psalter, but the whole psalter as well. The psalm lists no reasons why one should praise, but only the imperative to do so: Praise Yhwh! Perhaps the final editors of the book of psalms felt that the preceding one hundred and forty nine psalms more or less summed up all the reasons why one might praise Yhwh. Or, perhaps, with its call to praise loudly, unabashedly, with music and dance, a call directed at everything that breathes, Psalm 150 is a stark reminder that for the world of the ancient Israelites praise abides above and beyond all else, even above and beyond a reason for praise. Hallelujah, no mater what or why.  

During Easter, praise might come easy — after all, it’s Easter.  When Psalm 150 is paired with texts like Acts 5:27-32 (Peter and the apostles are persecuted — but they remain faithful to God), Revelation 1:4-8 (John of Patmos’ opening words to the seven churches of Rome, with the doxology that emphasizes Christ’s pending return and God’s authority), or John 20:19-31 (Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ), as it is during Year C, a psalm full of nothing but a call to praise makes sense. It likely feels right — after all, Easter gives reason for praise. During Easter season, the disciples might doubt, like Thomas does, but they eventually get it; the apostles might be persecuted, but they remain faithful to God (and Gamaliel speaks in their favor, too); the early church might feel alone and oppressed in the hugeness of the Roman empire, but they are nevertheless assured that the Lamb will return soon.

Yet take Psalm 150 out of the Easter liturgy, and it can be more difficult.  After all, there are moments and days and times and seasons when praise of an all-powerful creator or the world God made does not come easy — nor does it feel natural or, perhaps, even right. In the face of disaster, next to the bedside of a cancer patient, by a grieving parent — the imperative to praise can ring hollow, no matter how big or grand or amazing the creator’s deeds might be. Yet the place of Psalm 150 in the world of worship has not always been consigned to a lectionary reading in the year. Rather, in Jewish and Roman Catholic tradition, this psalm has played a role in the everyday — the time and space where the reality of wanting to cry out and lament instead of praise might seem more prevalent than during the Easter season. In Judaism, Psalm 150 is part of the every day morning service. In Catholicism, the “Morning Rite” (Lauds) includes Psalm 150 in the Laudate psalms (also included are Psalm 148-149).  

The call to praise found throughout Psalm 150 takes on an even more profound meaning when placed in the worship and praise of God in the day-to-day, especially when the day-to-day means early mornings, stomach aches, worries over bills, unemployment, social injustices, travel plans, or sick relatives (and, of course, all the wonderful and good things that can happen in the day-to-day world outside of Easter). Perhaps that is why Psalm 150 does not tell its readers why to praise but only how. After all, commanding praise outside the triumphant and the wonderful — the Easter season — can, depending on the day, be hard to take. This returns us to the world in front of the text, and to Duke Ellington’s masterful “Praise God and Dance!” Ellington’s piece “made jazz a vehicle for spiritual expression.”2 He combined the secular, the mundane, and the everyday with the sacred, which often seems so extraordinary and extraordinarily other, and showed how closely the two are linked. He did this as a legendary jazz performer and an African American male in a time when racism ran rampant throughout the United States. It’s hard to imagine how such a revolutionary move — bringing jazz with its trumpets and cymbals and dance — into stately cathedrals during a period of turmoil and racism could not have inspired some to praise even if there were moments and days when praise of an all-powerful creator or the world God had made, with all of its injustices, did not come easy.

The beauty of Psalm 150 — which calls everyone and everything that breathes to praise God with trumpet, cymbals, and dance, in what seems to be any and every way — is that it frees one to praise loudly, with clanging and clashing, both in times of triumph and in the day-to-day. Everyone, everywhere, praise.


1 Peter Lavezzoli, The King of All, Sir Duke: Ellington and the Artistic Revolution (New York: Continuum), 136.

2 Ibid.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 1:4-8

Israel Kamudzandu

The God in Revelation is the same God who manifests self in the entire Sacred Christian Canon.

Through Jesus Christ, this God poured out the Holy Spirit upon John to be both the witness and instrument of God’s voice, signs and wonders. The book’s title is mentioned in the first verse and its main goal is to alert readers to what they will encounter as the narrative unfolds. In theological terms; Revelation refers to an “unveiling,” of a worldview previously hidden from ordinary eyes; especially from the eyes of the oppressed people of Asia Minor. It is not a secret that Revelation was written to an oppressed group of people who experienced a nightmare from Imperial rule. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus through John summons readers and hearers not to worship Caesar and not to hear imperial propaganda as the final word.

The opening of the letter, especially in Revelation 1:4-8 informs readers of the name of the sender, the recipients of the message who are the seven churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, and the greeting to the listeners. The readers of the 21st century might be perplexed by the number seven but from John’s perspective, everything is seen from the heavenly view and thus Revelation is embedded with symbolic divine language. Seven is signifier of completeness or perfection, suggesting that the Book of Revelation was not just written for the seven congregations in Asia Minor but rather, the book was written to the universal Church including other small communities of faith that were in and around Asia Minor. While the language of Revelation does not resonate with the postmodern language, the letter was written to all believing Christians.

In reading this letter, listeners must hear the voice of God speaking into their lives in ways that are comforting to their ears. The greeting of grace and peace informs Christians that their peace is not found in the language of the Empire but rather in the Pax Dei or the peace of God.1 Revelation is a book charged with Godly language and the author deploys vivid imagery whose goal is to persuade Christ believers in Asia Minor and those around the world to avoid devotion to any cosmic imperial powers save that of the raised Jesus Christ, who is enthroned at the right hand of God and now speaks to the Universal Church. In faith and worship, the worshippers share Christ’s victory, which is the harbinger of authentic peace. In the context of Revelation, the result of grace is peace whereby the walls of hostility are broken and worshippers see themselves as belonging to a new world view ruled by God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In an oppressed and hostile situation, peace is the presence of wholeness in and around social relations. Peace signals a longing for a God who will usher in the messianic world of justice and reconciliation. Where there is grace, there is peace and where there is peace, there is also evidence of God’s gospel.

In the greeting, John uses a triad of ‘threes’, which again is a number of the divine and from this flows the three sources of grace, peace and life (Revelation 1:4-5). Embedded in the greeting are also the three titles of God of which John uses to characterize the narrative of the book. It is God not Caesar who is the benefactor of people and thus John writes to make readers aware of the dangers of imperial portraits seen at all the chief intersections of urban life. The sovereign essence of God is amplified by such epithets as “the Alpha and the Omega, …… who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1:8), and these names and titles of God subvert claims of Roman Emperors. Contemporary readers of Revelation are also summoned to be aware of the dangers of imperial portraits seen in advertisements, political propaganda, and political party promises. Unlike other books of the Bible, Revelation has a very extensive critique of imperial ideology, militarism, and trade. Thus its theology is basically political in the sense that every aspect of imperial outlook is analyzed, critiqued and brought into its proper place.

Imagery and metaphor dominates in the book of Revelation and in particular, John uses the metaphor of sevens to signify or describe the nature of the Holy Spirit. In chapter Revelation 1:4, the seven spirits are a reference to the fullness of the Holy Spirit before God’s throne.2 Ministers of the Word must pay particular attention to the role, place, and function of the Holy Spirit in Revelation and to loose sight of that is to miss the meaning of this book. John uses the dynamic imagery of the Holy Spirit to stress the active presence and power of the Spirit in and among the congregation’s seven congregations of Asia Minor and consequently the presence and power of the same Spirit in the Universal Church. Both the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” and the Spirit are given central place, role and function in the book of Revelation and these two aspects of the trinity have authority over creation’s destiny. In relation to God the Father, Jesus Christ through his life, death, and Resurrection is the main source of grace, peace, and life (Revelation 1:5). What readers may ask is the question about John’s role in trying to elucidate the purpose of Revelation.

First, John is a pastor to all the congregations in Asia Minor and he sends this message for pastoral purposes. Second, John is “faithful witness,” which means he witnesses to all what God has done in Jesus Christ and John does this even with his entire life as a public testimony. Legally, witnessing means that the one speaking saw and experienced what really happened and John takes a stand for the truth of the Gospel and against the falsehood, lies, and evils of the Empire. Christians have used the word “testimony,” in a very casual manner and readers of Revelation can learn much from John on what this concepts means in one’s journey of faith. What then are the lessons of Revelation 1:4-8 and what are readers called to do in terms of appropriation of the message? The first lesson is in verses Revelation 1:5-6 where Jesus is praised for three roles: “Loving, freeing, and made us.” These are not just words but they refer to God’s disclosure of love expressed in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Revelation is about God’s love to all humanity and its entire creation.

The other lesson is that Christ followers are on a journey and along this journey; they will encounter other Neros (the dragon and beast in the form of cancer, death, hunger, wars, terrorism, and HIV/AIDS) and will be tested with idolatry imageries. At times they will be tempted to settle for mediocrity or compromise with globalism but with faith and trust in God, the Lamp will lead them into the New Jerusalem — or a place where God dwells.

Above all, God is in absolute control of all things and this same God has the first and final word in creation.

Prayer: God, Almighty, in the vaunted claims of the beast, help us to be witnesses of your power and in the midst of so many voices, quicken our ears to hear the summons of your voice. May your voice be the first and the final one in our lives. Amen.


1 See Harry O. Mair, Picturing Paul in Empire: Imperial Image, Text and Persuasion in Colossians, Ephesians and the Pastorals (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 102 – 118.

2 See Richard Baukham, Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 110 – 15.