Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 9:1-6 (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
Narrative Lectionary: Paul’s Conversion, Acts 9:1-19a (Matthew 6:24)
The Revised Common Lectionary begins with selections from Acts during the season of Easter. The Narrative Lectionary readings also turn to Acts and follows the same passage this week. Saul, who was persecuting the early followers of Jesus, happens to meet Jesus in a vision on the road in Acts 9:1-6. Saul had gone to the high priest and asked for letters to bring to the synagogues in Damascus, so he could arrest followers of “The Way” as the followers of Jesus were called. However, on the road, a light from heaven flashed around him, and a voice called out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When Saul asks who it is, Jesus replies, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus then tells Saul to go to Damascus and he will be told what he is to do. The men with Saul help him up, perplexed because they heard the voice but didn’t see what happened, and Saul was unable to see anything afterward. Meanwhile, in Damascus, a disciple named Ananias receives a vision that he is to go look for a man of Tarsus named Saul—the very Saul that Ananias was warned about. However, Christ tells Ananias to go lay his hands on Saul so he might regain his sight, and that Saul is now an instrument of God’s purpose. Once Saul’s sight was restored, Ananias baptized him, and Saul began to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus is Lord.
Psalm 30 is a song of praise for deliverance from death and defeat. God has rescued the psalmist from whatever ailment befell them and they rejoice in God’s healing and restoration. The psalmist praises God for faithfulness even in the face of death, for how could the psalmist praise God from the dead? Instead, God has turned the psalmist’s mourning into dancing, and they rejoice and praise God, who is their Savior.
John of Patmos beholds a vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation 5:11-14. This vision is very reminiscent of Daniel 7:13-14, right down to the heavenly creatures. All heavenly beings and all earthly creatures come together in universal worship of God in this vision, worshiping the one on the throne as well as the Lamb that was slaughtered, who now has all authority.
John 21:1-19 is a post-resurrection story only found in John, but with hints from other accounts, such as Jesus eating broiled fish in Luke 24:42-43. Simon and the sons of Zebedee were fishermen before they followed Jesus, and now they, along with Thomas and two other disciples, return to fishing. After everything they have been through, they go back to what they knew. But all night long, they caught nothing, until a mysterious stranger, who called them children, told them to cast their net to the right side of the boat, and then they couldn’t haul it in because there were so many fish (this is very similar to the story in Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus first called Simon and the sons of Zebedee to follow him, and so it may be from the same source). Simon Peter recognizes that it is Jesus and puts on some clothes before jumping into the sea to swim to shore. Jesus serves them breakfast of bread and grilled fish (reminiscent of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish). After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter the same question with slight variation three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon always replies yes, and Jesus always tells him to feed and tend to his sheep. Peter is hurt that Jesus asks him this three times, but Jesus reminds Peter that he once thought he could do things on his own and couldn’t. As time goes on, if he remains faithful, he will be forced to go where he doesn’t want to go (a foreshadowing of Peter’s own death). Peter, who swore he’d remain faithful and then denied he knew Jesus, had a difficult time being questioned by Jesus about his faithfulness, but Jesus wanted him to know that following him, taking care of the flock of Christ as the church, would be a harder task than he expected.
The Narrative Lectionary is the same as the first reading from Acts, but adds a secondary verse of Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters.” Eluding to Peter being question by Jesus, Peter would have to choose whether to serve himself or to serve Christ. He had failed before, but Jesus was urging him to do the right thing this time.
On this third Sunday of Easter, we are reminded that all too often we desire change and then go right back to the way things were. We fall back into the patterns and routines that are comfortable and known. We believe that our baptism is a new start, a new life now that lasts for eternity—and this is the truth. However, far too often we forget that newness and just return to the way things were. We fail to see the reign of God, the beloved community, around us. Simon and the others went back to their old profession—fishing—because it brought them some comfort. However, Jesus called them out of the boat and reminded them that to follow him meant giving up their old way of life for something unknown. For Saul, who fought against following Jesus, when Jesus was finally revealed to him, it transformed his entire life, even physically as well as spiritually. True transformation in Christ means we can’t go back to the way we used to be. We are new creations in Christ.
Call to Worship (Psalm 30:10-12)
Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
My soul praises You,
And will not be silent.
O LORD my God,
I will give thanks to you forever.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Faithful God, we confess that we wander away from You. We confess that at times we are taken up by the concerns of the world and fail to seek You. We know, O God, that our doubts and questions are good and lead us back to You. It is our indifference that can lead us astray. Help us, O God, to turn to others in our times of doubt and fear, for You created us not to be alone. Guide us, O God, to seek our questions before You, before our scriptures and traditions and teachings, and even if we do not find the answers, we know this is part of the journey. Turn us back, O God, when we become apathetic and indifferent, for that is the true enemy of faith—not doubt, but indifference. In the name of Jesus, who sought You in the garden, we pray as he did: “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 139:7-10)
“Where can I go from Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” There is no place we can go where God is not with us. There are no questions we can ask, no doubts we can hold, that will separate us from God, as long as we continue to seek God, God is seeking us. You are loved. You are known. Share the good news that God is with you, alive in you, now, and love one another. Amen.
God Who Watches In The Night, watch over us in our times of struggle. May we, like the disciples, find comfort in the presence of one another, and may we find healing in the silence. For we know the silence is not a rejection, but it is the stillness of Your presence, that You are listening to us. The darkness of night is like the darkness of the womb, preparing us for what is next to come. It is not the valley of the shadow, but the great inhaling of the first breath. We wait for Your Spirit to stir in our lives, as we wait for You, God of Night and Day. Amen.