The blended character of the early Christian church, as a movement of both Jews and gentiles that challenged religious and social distinctions of the day, owes its existence not only to Jesus’ inclusive teachings, but largely to the work of a person who never met Jesus. The story of Saul of Tarsus in the Acts of the Apostles reveals that the risen and ascended Christ intimately touched Paul and concretely transformed his life, from one organized around death and repression to one organized around creativity and new life.
This is the same and only Christ we ourselves can know, as followers of Jesus who never met him in the flesh. This account in Acts is remarkable for its transformation not only of Paul’s hatred of the Christian movement, but also Ananias’ fear of Paul, his community’s oppressor (verse 13). This courageous act mediates God’s forgiveness and restores Paul’s ability to function, healing his despair and completing his conversion (verse 9, verses 18-19). Jesus acts in our lives as a divine vision of restored relationship, and acts to restore our human vision, our ability to see others. The living Christ reaches out to touch us to demand that we reach out to one another.
- Who has acted as God’s agent of change and healing in your life?
- Have you ever received a call from God that knocked you flat, or seen that happen to someone else?
Psalm 30 declares that our purpose for existing is to praise God, so much so that the psalmist implies that God will sustain his life only for that purpose (verse 10). While affirming that God listens for our cries of need, this psalm portrays God as having a special ear for our songs of thanks and praise.
The lived experience of people who suffer from injustice, such as the Hebrews in exile, is that sometimes God seems absent (verse 8). Our God does not intervene in suffering by exercising unilateral, top-down power over the way human communities treat each other. Rather, God listens for our assertions of the glory for which we are created, which challenge the suffering created by human-made structures of injustice. To steadfastly declare God’s faithfulness and remember God’s justice is to cling to a vision of a better world, of how things could and should be.
- When does your heart sing to God? Has this ever happened during a time of hardship, or only in hindsight?
- Can you think of examples of people clinging to God’s goodness during oppression and thereby holding open a space for justice to be won?
In Chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Revelation, John of Patmos paints a vision, rich in political symbols, of God seated on a throne, surrounded by 24 elders and four creatures that Christian tradition now associates with the four gospel writers. They are then approached by a slaughtered yet living lamb, representing Jesus. Before the Lamb’s appearance on the scene, John despaired that no one in heaven or earth would be able to open the seven-sealed scroll. But now that Jesus has appeared to read the tremendous divine message, every one in heaven and earth is able to participate in joyous communication with God (verse 13).
Their praise directed to “the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb” sees God and Jesus as two figures, yet our affirmation that Jesus and God are one affirms that the throne and the cross are one. Despite the triumphalist tone of the book of Revelation, John was critiquing the Roman Empire’s concept of enthroned might by placing suffering, humility and abjection at the heart of God’s power.
- What comes to your mind as you contemplate the image of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb?
In this last resurrection account of the Gospel of John, a group of the disciples have gone back to their old way of life, practicing their trade and readjusting to normal life. Jesus comes to them as a stranger, disrupting their self-reliance and nourishing them with his own abundant provision, evocative of the time he inspired strangers to multiply and share their loaves and fishes. This image of the risen Lord of the universe cooking a humble campfire breakfast on the beach is surely one of the most appealing images of the resurrected Christ.
After breakfast, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to undo his three-fold denial of Christ during the Passion, by soliciting a three-fold affirmation of Peter’s love (verse 17). At the same time, Jesus makes clear that Peter’s restored relationship with him is also a command to provide and care for others, to once again leave his nets of self-reliance and follow Christ into selfless participation in community.
- How do you experience God both challenging and nurturing you during this Easter season?