The Taser's Edge


On the Second Day of Easter…
The Pentecost - Oil/Canvas (20" x 26")

The Pentecost. Oil/Canvas. Alexander Sadoyan.

I was struck today by the first Christian sermon, preached by Peter in Acts 2 (a portion of which assigned for today in the Daily Office), especially as I tried to imagine myself as one of the original hearers.

The scene is the day of Pentecost, and the reason you are in earshot of Peter’s sermon is that you were curious when you heard stormy winds that seemed to be coming from inside a nearby house.  You come and join the crowd forming around the house, and then you recognize the place.  It’s that house where about 100 people have locked themselves up for the last several weeks after the crucifixion of their false Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

In the time since Jesus’ death, hardly anyone has gone in or out of the building, and the rumors about what they might be doing inside are getting more bizarre by the day.  Still, the sound of a typhoon coming from the upstairs of the building, is beyond the explanation of even the wildest rumors that have been going around.

Some of the people standing next to you begin to snicker about how the sound must just be a loud party, and now that the guy who seems to be the leader of them and is beginning to speak is the drunkest of all.  Internally, however, you begin to wonder if it’s you who are drunk.  You seem to be hearing this man’s voice speaking in the language of your home country, your trade, and your religion, three different languages at the same time, saying the same thing, uttered from a single mouth, and he seems to be talking about God, the Spirit of God, and this Jesus.

Not only is he saying that the recently crucified blasphemer was killed, but now he is blaming you for it.  You start to get angry on that point, and so does the crowd around you.  Many of you only heard about the guy after the fact.  Why is he blaming you?

But then the speaker starts making even more audacious claims.  First, he says that this whole thing, even Jesus’ horrific execution, has been according to God’s plan, and that God raised Jesus from the dead.  And though you don’t catch it at first, it becomes clear that he is even saying that Jesus is God, and that King David had prophesied about the whole thing a thousand years before.

This is not a tame sermon.   It is a sermon to which you find yourself responding despite yourself.

“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say…Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  David said about him:

‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.  But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.



Saint Matthias

Psalm 15
Acts 1:15-26
Philipians 3:13-21
John 15:1, 6-16

A Reflection
I love this particular image of St. Matthias, because he has his hands extended with palms up and cupped, the posture of those willing to receive whatever God has for them – whether Bread of Life or a dirty foot needing washed (not that these two are always different things) – in openness, humility, and expectancy (not to mention that it’s the posture we take when receiving Communion each week).  Truly (and literally), this is the picture of a saint.

The account of the choosing of Matthias is a moving one.  It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the way that Peter reads the Psalms in a way that most of us wouldn’t think of reading the Bible, and we may find ourselves wondering what it means that the Church “cast lots” to discern God’s will for its leadership.  Those details, however, while perhaps worth our time at some other time, should not distract us from what is at work here in the early (so early that we might even call it a pre-Church, because the Spirit had not yet been poured out) Church.

Let’s set the scene.  In the preceding verses, Jesus has just told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit and then ascended “out of their sight” into heaven.  Those dazed folks (the disciples, Mary, several women, Jesus’ “brothers”, and apparently several unnamed others, for a total of about 120) returned to Jerusalem together “devoting themselves to prayer” but surely wondering just who or what the Holy Spirit was and how soon Jesus would come back out of the clouds to set up his kingdom on earth.

Truly, if we know that Spirit means ‘Breath’ (and in Greek it does), this community is a newly born and helpless infant, and it’s not clear yet if it will survive, let alone thrive.  The time between the Ascension and Pentecost (and in the church calendar, all the time is happening all the time, including Ascension and Pentecost this day in Epiphany) is the time waiting for a newborn to draw its own first breaths of outside air, and those brief moments seem to be taking weeks.  When we are remembering Matthias, that is what we are remembering.

Here, God, by leading the selection of Matthias by the believers, restores the believers’ hope that God is with them, has not and will not ever abandon them, and will fulfill Christ’s every promise to them.  The choosing of Matthias is the infant Church’s whimper, the promise of God that the full-throated wail of Pentecost is soon to follow.  Thanks be to God!

Collect for the Day
Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.



Pentecost (Whitsunday)

“Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

-p. 227, 1979 Book of Common Prayer