Happy Easter! This weekend the Church celebrates the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Next Thursday is the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord in most of the world. In the five west coast provinces of North America, however, this celebration is transferred to the following Sunday. In those places, the second reading and the gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter may be substituted for the second reading and gospel reading of this Sunday. If you live in one of those place, as I do, be flexible. For the purposes of this Scripture Series I will use the readings given for this Sunday (the Sixth Sunday of Easter) this week and those for the Ascension , next week.
First Reading: Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
5 Thus Philip went down to (the) city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. 8 There was great joy in that city.
14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
NOTES on First Reading:
The episode in this Sunday’s reading reports on the missionary work of one of the newly appointed Seven. The point of the story is not the question of how or when the Holy Spirit is received but rather the link of the church in Samaria with the church in Jerusalem. The Samaritans were considered heretics by the Jews so their acceptance by the Jerusalem church was an important step in the opening up of the church to the non-Jewish world. The Holy Spirit was seen as the unifying power that acted as the bond between the churches. Questions about the mechanics of the giving of the Holy Spirit came up much later and were not intended as the main thrust of this story.
The miracles and healings described here are the signs spoken of in other places (Mt 10:1; Mark 9:26, 16:17,18; Luke 10:17; John 14:12; Heb 2:4) of the New Testament which will accompany the spread of the faith by the disciples. See especially Mt 10:1 and Mark 16:17-18.
Joy (v 8) is one of the signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Here the Spirit is already present in the actions of Philip as a faithful disciple of Jesus.
In verse 16 as in Acts 10:44-48 and Acts 19:1-6, Luke distinguishes between baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus and the reception of the Spirit. In each of these cases, the Spirit is conferred through members of the Twelve (Peter and John) or their representative (Paul). This may be Luke’s way of describing the role of the church in the bestowal of the Spirit. The point may be the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Church and His activity in the growth of the Church. Elsewhere in Acts, baptism and the Spirit are more closely related (Acts 1:5; 11:16) and pretty much inseparable.
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3: 15-18
15 Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, 16 but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit.
NOTES on Second Reading:
Lord was the name for God commonly used in the Old Testament. See Isa 8:12-13. Here the title is applied to Christ.
Peter reminds his readers that the only compelling argument about the Christian life is the argument of a life truly lived in a Christian way.
“Better” in verse 17 is meant in the sense of more suitable rather than in the sense of morally better. The writer is aware that some Christians by their conduct may provide grounds for pagan hostility.
Verse 18 begins the section which ends in 4:6 and forms the climax of the letter. It stresses that Christ is the basis for the confidence of Christians. This verse does not refer to the contrast between body and soul but rather to the two spheres of Christ’s existence: earthly human life and as life as Risen Lord.
Gospel Reading: John 14: 15-21
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
NOTES on Gospel Reading:
The gospel reading this Sunday begins by reminding us that faith must affect our lives. Simply believing and holding it in so that it has no impact is not enough. Faith must lead to obedience for it to be real and life changing. This is restated in language more typical of John in verse 23. The next few verses (15-26) deal with the way in which Jesus remains with His followers and the way in which the Holy Spirit works in their lives. They can be divided into three sections according to topic:
the love of or lack of love of Jesus (14:15, 21a, 23a, 24a) reward for such love (14:16-17a, 21b,25-26) opposition between the disciples and the world (14:17bc, 18-20, 22).
Verse 17 provides a partial answer to the question that will be asked in verse 22. The answer lies in the hearer and seer not in what they see and hear.