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Below are the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This particular Sunday is also known traditionally as Exaudi Sunday, so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’. It is said to be the saddest Sunday of the church year, because the disciples were at a loose end after Jesus ascended to Heaven. They missed Him and were unsure as to what the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost would mean.

You can read more about it in this post:

Exaudi Sunday: between the Ascension and Pentecost

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

On Ascension Day, we had the reading from Luke’s Gospel about our Lord’s return to His Father. Here we have Luke’s other version — as he was the author of Acts — from Acts 1. Note that, even at this stage, the Apostles still expected a temporal return of Israel to glory.

Acts 1:6-14

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm

It is probable that David wrote this Psalm after he was no longer besieged by enemies. It is a Psalm of praise and thanks to God for His goodness and mercy.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

68:1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.

68:2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.

68:3 But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.

68:4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.

68:5 Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

68:6 God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.

68:7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah

68:8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

68:9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished;

68:10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

68:32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah

68:33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.

68:34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.

68:35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter conclude. Peter exhorted his converts to be Christlike in everything, despite their persecution. He also encouraged them to avoid temptation at all costs.

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.

5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel

Jesus said these words, The High Priestly Prayer, at the Last Supper. John’s Gospel is the only one that carries the full complement of Jesus’s final messages to the Apostles, from John 14John 17: four stunning chapters. Note verse 9 below, in particular: not all will be saved, only those whom God has given to Jesus.

John 17:1-11

17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

May God increase our faith through His grace daily. Jesus Christ will reign for ever and ever.

For those fortunate enough to be able to return to church this Sunday, please pray for the rest of us that our leaders will see fit to open our church doors, too. Thank you.

Below are the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Readings from Acts continue. Early in his ministry, Paul spent a short time in Athens. The pagan Greeks believed in an unknown god, responsible for all creation. They were too intellectual to take Paul seriously, sadly. (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)

Acts 17:22-31

17:22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.

17:23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,

17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.

17:26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live,

17:27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

17:28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

17:29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.

17:30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent,

17:31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Psalm

This is a Psalm of general thanksgiving for all of God’s blessings.

Psalm 66:8-20

66:8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,

66:9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.

66:10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

66:11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;

66:12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

66:13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows,

66:14 those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.

66:15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

66:16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.

66:17 I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.

66:18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.

66:19 But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

66:20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

Epistle

Readings from Peter’s letters continue. Here he discusses the importance of Christlike righteousness in our conduct, making use of the grace we received in Baptism. His audience of converts was severely persecuted, so he reminded them to set their minds on the higher path.

1 Peter 3:13-22

3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?

3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,

3:15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

3:16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel

Readings from John’s Gospel continue. Jesus spoke these words at the Last Supper, announcing that God would send the Holy Spirit (Advocate) to the Apostles.

John 14:15-21

14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

14:19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

14:20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

14:21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

If you are able to return to church post-coronavirus, may you worship joyfully with a full heart.

I am most disappointed to have missed my favourite season in the church calendar. Worshipping together is not the same as evangelising to one’s neighbour. I would be happy to worship with others from my congregation outdoors but, that, too, is forbidden.

We have at least six weeks to go here in Britain until church doors open again.

Here are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the story of Stephen’s martyrdom. He was the Church’s first martyr (feast day December 26) and one of the first deacons. Saul of Tarsus — later, Paul the Apostle — had played a big role in persecuting the Christians of Jerusalem.

Acts 7:55-60

7:55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

7:57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.

7:58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

7:59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

7:60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Psalm

This Psalm ties in well with the first reading, especially verse 5.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

31:1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.

31:2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,

31:4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

31:5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter continue. Peter exhorts his converts to holiness.

1 Peter 2:2-10

2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation

2:3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

2:4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and

2:5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

2:6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

2:7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”

2:8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Gospel

John’s Gospel has the lengthiest account of the Last Supper recording Jesus’s final messages to the Apostles. This is but one sublime passage.

John 14:1-14

14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.

14:2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

14:4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

14:5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

14:7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.

14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

14:12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

14:13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14:14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Blessings to all, especially to those of us who cannot attend church because of coronavirus.

What follows are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Readings from Acts 2 continue, describing what happened after the first Pentecost.

Acts 2:42-47

2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

2:43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

2:44 All who believed were together and had all things in common;

2:45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

2:46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,

2:47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm

Psalm 23 was read a few weeks ago; some passages from Scripture turn up more than once in the Lectionary in the same year. In any event, this is too beautiful not to repeat.

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter continue. Peter counsels his converts on the proper conduct during a time of persecution: follow Christ’s example.

1 Peter 2:19-25

2:19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.

2:20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.

2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

2:22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

2:23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Gospel

The rest of the Eastertide Gospel readings alternate between John and Luke. Here we have John’s account of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, which ties in well with the Epistle.

John 10:1-10

10:1 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

10:5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

10:7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

10:8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.

10:9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

May God bless all who read this, especially those who are unable to worship in church at this unprecedented time.

Readings follow for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Peter’s first sermon at the first Pentecost continues.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

2:14a: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,

2:36 “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

2:39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

2:40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

2:41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Psalm

David penned this psalm of general thanksgiving to God; He hears and answers all those who are in distress.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.

116:2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

116:3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.

116:4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!”

116:12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?

116:13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD,

116:14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.

116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.

116:16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.

116:17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD.

116:18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,

116:19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter continue. The converts were persecuted. He gives them spiritual encouragement during their time of temporal difficulties.

1 Peter 1:17-23

1:17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.

1:18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold,

1:19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

1:20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.

1:21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

1:22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.

1:23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Gospel

Last week’s reading was the end of John’s Gospel. We now turn to Luke’s Resurrection story of the road to Emmaus, more about which in this post:

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

Luke 24:13-35

24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

24:19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

24:25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Eastertide is the best time of the Church year. Embrace it. Enjoy it.

May this season lift our hearts and minds, even if we cannot gather together for worship.

What follows are the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This particular day was traditionally known as Quasimodo Sunday, because of the Latin Introit: ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite’. This translates to: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and is intended for those baptised the week before. Centuries ago, it was on this day that the recently baptised went without their white robes for the first time.

This day is also known as Low Sunday, because the return to regular Sunday observance resumes. The ceremonies of Easter Vigil and Easter Day are over.

That said, Eastertide continues until Pentecost Sunday.

You can read more about Quasimodo Sunday in the following post. The eponymous Victor Hugo character was found as an abandoned baby outside Notre-Dame Cathedral on this particular Sunday, hence his name:

Quasimodo Sunday — seriously

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is what Peter preached on the first Pentecost.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

2:14a But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,

2:22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know-

2:23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

2:24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

2:25 For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;

2:26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.

2:27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.

2:28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

2:29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.

2:30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne.

2:31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

2:32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Psalm

Here David writes of himself but more appropriately of the Messiah to come: Jesus Christ. Peter refers to verse 10 in his preaching above (Acts 2:27).

Psalm 16

16:1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

16:3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

16:4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

16:5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.

16:6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

16:7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

16:8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

16:9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.

16:10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

16:11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Epistle

Peter wrote of the everlasting life to come, thanks to the Resurrection. Therefore, let us be glad and rejoice, regardless of our trials and troubles. Verses 8 and 9 tie in well with the Gospel.

1 Peter 1:3-9

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1:4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,

1:5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1:6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,

1:7 so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1:8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,

1:9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Gospel

The Gospel for this day is always the story of Thomas, who doubted. Blessed are those who have not seen yet believed. Refer back to the Epistle, 1 Peter:8-9.

I have more on this reading below:

Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31

Doubting Thomas: When seeing is believing

John 20:19-31

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

May everyone reading this be blessed with abundant faith through divine grace.

Below are readings for daytime services on Holy Saturday, applicable to all three years of the Lectionary.

Emphases below are mine.

Before getting to the readings, Holy Saturday sees the end of Lent in the evening and is very much food related, especially in anticipation of Easter. These posts discuss various Easter traditions:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Holy Saturday: preparing for an Easter feast (2017)

For those wondering why we have chocolate bunnies and eggs for Easter, the next post explains these ancient symbols of life. Centuries-old churches even have hares carved on them:

Easter, the egg and the hare (one of the fullest accounts about Easter symbolism)

Mary Magdalene and the legend of the egg (Christian — not pagan!)

This post has more about Holy Saturday in general:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Now on to the readings.

First reading

There are two choices for the first reading.

Option One

This passage from Job concerns intimations of mortality and what happens after death.

Job 14:1-14

14:1 “A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble,

14:2 comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last.

14:3 Do you fix your eyes on such a one? Do you bring me into judgment with you?

14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can.

14:5 Since their days are determined, and the number of their months is known to you, and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass,

14:6 look away from them, and desist, that they may enjoy, like laborers, their days.

14:7 “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.

14:8 Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground,

14:9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.

14:10 But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they?

14:11 As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up,

14:12 so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep.

14:13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

14:14 If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.

Option Two

This passage from Lamentations is more hopeful than the one from Job.

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24

3:1 I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath;

3:2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;

3:3 against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long.

3:4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones;

3:5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;

3:6 he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago.

3:7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me;

3:8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;

3:9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked.

3:19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!

3:20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

3:21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

3:23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

3:24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Psalm

Here David proclaims his confident faith in God.

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16

31:1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.

31:2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,

31:4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

Epistle

Peter exhorts his flock to discard the world and embrace a life of righteousness, following our Lord’s example.

1 Peter 4:1-8

4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin),

4:2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.

4:3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.

4:4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.

4:5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.

4:6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

4:7 The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.

4:8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

Gospel

There are also two choices of Gospel reading.

Option One

This passage from Matthew explains that the Jews encouraged the Romans to seal up Jesus’s tomb, lest the disciples steal His body. This notion that His body was stolen is still a popular one among unbelievers today.

Matthew 27:57-66

27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.

27:58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

27:59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth

27:60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.

27:61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

27:62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

27:63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’

27:64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”

27:65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”

27:66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Option Two

These verses were read on Good Friday.

John 19:38-42

19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.

19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

19:41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.

19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The mood of all of these readings is sombre, reflecting what Jesus’s friends and disciples must have felt, not understanding that He would rise from the dead.

Easter Vigil readings — heard in the evening — are jubilant, recalling God’s faithfulness to His people throughout biblical history.

Over the centuries, much has been written about the origins of the church in Rome.

Catholics and the Orthodox hold to a different history than do Protestants.

Much hinges on what has been recorded a) by historians and b) in the New Testament.

Wikipedia has a bewildering array of ancient historical writings about Peter’s ministry there and whether he and Paul were martyred together, as Catholics and the Orthodox hold. I’ll let you read those.

What brought this to mind was Paul’s friendship with Aquila and Priscilla, introduced in Acts 18:1-4.

Acts 18:2 says that Aquila, born in Pontus in Asia Minor, was a Jew — a convert by then — who had been exiled from Rome. He and his wife Priscilla ended up in Corinth, which is where Paul made their acquaintance.

The Jews and Rome

Bible.org has an informative article by Dr Greg MaGee, ‘The Origins of the Church at Rome’, excerpts of which follow. Emphases mine below.

A number of historical artifacts and writings give us an idea of the Jewish population and where they lived:

Sources indicate that before Christians emerged in Rome, Jews had already established a presence in the city. Inscriptions from Jewish catacombs and comments from literary documents open a window into the life, organization, and struggles of the Jews in Rome. The catacomb inscriptions have most recently been dated from the late second through the fifth centuries A.D.1 Richardson concludes that the inscriptions attest to the existence of at least five synagogues in Rome in the early first century, with the possibility of even more. The “Hebrew synagogue” probably arose first, with subsequent synagogues named after famous allies of the Jews.2 The language used in inscriptions suggests that many of the synagogues were in the poorer districts of the city.3 Scholars have noted the lack of evidence for a central organization or leadership structure that oversaw the different synagogues.4 At the same time, in the inscriptions only leaders are identified in relation to their synagogues. Ordinary Jews affiliated themselves with Judaism as a whole rather than their particular synagogue.5 Thus the Jews viewed themselves as a unified group despite the apparent lack of a controlling body of spiritual leaders in the city.

Literary excepts describe the social and political environment of the Roman Jews. For instance, as early as 59 B.C., Cicero offers his opinion on the Jews during his defense of Flaccus: “You know what a big crowd it is, how they stick together, how influential they are in informal assemblies… every year it was customary to send gold to Jerusalem on the order of the Jews from Italy and from all our provinces.”6 Cicero’s remarks confirm the presence of a large community of Jews in Rome and indicate misgivings about their separatist tendencies. Comments by Philo about events under the reign of Augustus provide further information:

[T]he great section of Rome on the other side of the Tiber is occupied and inhabited by Jews, most of whom were Roman citizens emancipated. For having been brought as captives to Italy they were liberated by their owners and were not forced to violate any of their native institutions… . [T]hey have houses of prayer and meet together in them, particularly on the sacred Sabbaths when they receive as a body of training in their ancestral philosophy … [T]hey collect money for sacred purposes from their first-fruits and send them to Jerusalem by persons who would offer the sacrifices.”7

Like Cicero, Philo notes that the Jews maintained a distinct identity. The section of Rome Philo mentions (Trastevere) was “the chief foreign quarter of the city, a district characterized by narrow, crowded streets, towering tenement houses, teeming with population.”8 Philo also refers to the reason some of the Jews now lived in Rome: their ancestors had been forcibly taken to Rome as slaves (under Pompey).9 Once freed, the Jews bore the title libertini.

Augustus allowed the Jews to practise their faith freely.

However, Tiberius took against the Jews in 19 AD, shipping them to Sardinia. MaGee cites Tacitus’s account:

“Another debate dealt with the proscription of the Egyptian and Jewish rites, and a senatorial edict directed that four thousand descendants of enfranchised slaves, tainted with that superstition and suitable in point of age, were to be shipped to Sardinia and there be employed in suppressing brigandageThe rest had orders to leave Italy, unless they had renounced their impious ceremonial by a given date.”10

John MacArthur adds that Sardinia was rife with plague at the time of Tiberius’s edict:

He took 4,000 Jews and sent them to a country that had the plague, hoping they’d all catch the plague and die. So they were unpopular.

In 39 AD, Claudius also banished the Jews from Rome. MacArthur tells us:

every one of them had to go. Now we know a little about Claudius. And the reason we do is that about 70 years after the edict, it was written about 120 A.D., Suetonius wrote about Claudius. Suetonius was a historian, and he got all the information on Claudius, and he wrote about his life. And one of the statements that Suetonius makes in his life of Claudius is this: “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots – listen – at the instigation of Chrestus, Claudius banished them from Rome.”

Aquila was one of those Jews. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

That the reason of his leaving Italy was because by a late edict of the emperor Claudius Cæsar all Jews were banished from Rome; for the Jews were generally hated, and every occasion was taken to put hardship and disgrace upon them. God’s heritage was as a speckled bird, the birds round about were against her, Jeremiah 12:9. Aquila, though a Christian, was banished because he had been a Jew; and the Gentiles had such confused notions of the thing that they could not distinguish between a Jew and a Christian. Suetonius, in the life of Claudius, speaks of this decree in the ninth year of his reign, and says, The reason was because the Jews were a turbulent people–assiduo tumultuantes; and that it was impulsore Christo–upon the account of Christ; some zealous for him, others bitter against him, which occasioned great heats, such as gave umbrage to the government, and provoked the emperor, who was a timorous jealous man, to order them all to be gone. If Jews persecute Christians, it is not strange if heathens persecute them both.

Chrestus

The name Chrestus is connected with Claudius’s edict.

It is unclear whether Chrestus was a person or, as is more likely, how the Jews in Rome referred to Christ.

MacArthur gives us more information about Chrestus:

Now, Claudius unloaded all of the Jews because they were always having riots, and the riots were instigated by a person named Chrestus. Now, you know, you can go back in history until you’re blue in the face and never find anything about anyone in that area who fits the bill named Chrestus. But what is very interesting is that the Greek Chrestus is only one letter different than the Greek Christis, which is Christ. It’s only the difference between an I and an E. And what it seems to be indicating is this: That what caused Claudius to send all the Jews out was they were rioting over the issue of Christ, which indicated probably some missionaries had come there, and had proclaimed Christ again as always was done in the synagogue, and as always happened with Paul, right? A riot ensued, and the element they had accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah was set against the Jews that were unbelieving, and they threw the city into turmoil, and Claudius got uptight and kicked them all out of town.

They were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus. And you see, Suetonius thinks that Chrestus is some guy who lived then in Rome. And remember, he was writing 70 years later, so it’s easy to see how he could’ve made that simple error. They were probably rioting over the issue of Christ. And it seems to me that that kind of issue would preclude the fact there had to be Christ presented there. So therefore, there was the possibility of Aquilla and Priscilla being saved already. You see? And so they arrive over there in Corinth to ply their trade, and they’re already Christians.

MaGee also mentions Chrestus in his article. He also believes there was no such person:

The claim that Christ stands at the center of the conflict of A.D. 49 is contested on several fronts. First, the most straightforward reading of Suetonius’s account implies that Chrestus himself was present in Rome, as an instigator of the unrest.29 In response to this objection, some advocates of seeing Christians in the mix of the unrest of A.D. 49 propose that either Suetonius or his source was confused about the event.30 Other scholars have supposed that instead of Suetonius confusing the vowels in the name, Christian copyists incorrectly copied the document.31 Alternatively, it is contended that the Latin sentence structure allows for Chrestus being simply identified as the cause of the disturbance rather than being physically present in Rome.32 In further rebuttal of the Christian hypothesis, critics point out that Suetonius only later introduces Christian movement, at the time of Nero.33 This suggests that the Christianity had not been on Suetonius’s radar up to that point. Spence counters by explaining that the chief aim in Claudius 25.4 is to highlight the Jewish rather than Christian experience, even though the claims of Christ were involved.34

Scholars skeptical of a Christian angle to the controversy offer an alternative theory. They assert that the reference to Chrestus indicates that a messianic figure living in Rome was generating turmoil among the Jews.35 One problem with this theory is that no such person is known from any other historical sources. Moreover, Suetonius does not qualify his description by designating the character as “a certain Chrestus,” which would be more expected if the leader had been a figure of only fleeting interest.36 Finally, a rebellion led by a messianic figure would have evoked a more violent response from the Roman authorities.37 The more likely scenario is that Jewish contentions involving the claims of Christ brought about the Roman opposition.

Origins of the church in Rome

For a big clue on the origins of the church in Rome, MaGee says we have only to look at Acts 2:10, part of the story of who witnessed the first Pentecost:

10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,

about whom, he writes the following:

A number of scholars suggest that these temporary residents of Jerusalem may have taken the gospel back to Rome.52

MaGee points out other clues in Acts 6:9 and Acts 8:1:

In Acts 6:9, Luke mentions Stephen’s confrontation with Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (tine” tw’n ejk th'” sunagwgh'” th'” legomevnh” Libertivnwn). These libertini likely correspond to the freed slaves mentioned in sources examined earlier. If some of these freedmen eventually received the gospel message, their contact with libertini elsewhere could have facilitated the spread of the gospel to other regions, including Rome.53 The geographical spread of the gospel to new regions would have been further encouraged when persecutions against Christians erupted in Jerusalem (see Acts 8:1).

Clues from Acts may be incorporated into a wider model that surmises that geographical dispersions of Christians in the first century likely brought Christianity to Rome.54 Both Roman inhabitants who visited Jerusalem before returning to Rome and Jews who settled into Rome for the first time may have played a role.55 Once Jewish Christians reached Rome, they would have had relatively unhindered ministry access in the synagogues, since no Jewish controlling authority could step in to quickly and definitively oppose the propagation of the message.56

Peter — and Paul

MaGee looks at the difference between establishing and building the foundations for the church in Rome with regard to Peter, citing Acts 12:17:

A competing theory promotes Peter as the carrier of the gospel to Rome. The mysterious reference in 12:17 (Peter “went to another place”) opens the door to speculation that Rome was the destination.57 Later church tradition asserts that Peter’s ministry as bishop of Rome spanned 25 years. While the biblical evidence rules out a continuous presence in Rome, it is surmised that Peter could have founded the church in A.D. 42 and then continued his leadership over the church even when in other locations.58 Finally, Rom 15:20-24 could contain an allusion to Peter’s ministry to the Romans, which dissuaded Paul from focusing his outreach in Rome.59

A closer look at earlier Patristic testimony lessens the probability that Peter established the church at Rome. In the mid-second century A.D., Irenaeus envisions a founding role for Peter alongside Paul: “Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, laying the foundations of the Church.”60 Soon after, he refers to the “universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.”61 Immediately, the problem surfaces that in comparing Peter to Paul, who arrived to Rome relatively late in the church’s history, Peter’s unique founding influence in the church becomes less likely.62 More likely, relatively obscure Christians made contributions to the church’s establishment, leading to a vital and growing community. As a parallel, Christianity surfaces in places like Cyprus and Cyrene without any apparent missionary journey by noted apostles (Acts 11:20). In the fourth century, the theologian Ambrosiaster shares a similar perspective on the beginnings of the Roman church:

It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law … One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith; because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ.”63

Scholars are quick to discount the value of Ambrosiaster’s viewpoint as independent testimony.64 Even so, one would expect that the memory of a prominent founder such as Peter or Paul would not likely be forgotten if one of them had indeed established the church of Rome.65

Lonely Pilgrim, a Protestant, wrote a well-researched article, ‘Early Testimonies to St Peter’s Ministry in Rome’. He wonders why anyone would dispute it:

This is somewhat surprising to me. Even as a Protestant, there was never any question in my mind that Peter ministered and died in Rome — perhaps because I’m also an historian. The historical evidence for Peter being in Rome is not just solid; it’s unanimous. Every historical record that speaks to Peter’s later life and death attests that he died in Rome a martyr under the emperor Nero, ca. A.D. 67. No record places the end of his life anywhere else.

Lonely Pilgrim points out that those who doubt Peter had much to do with the church in Rome are also the same people who support Paul’s presence there:

The primary reason for this opposition, I suspect, is that in a fundamentalist view, all religious truth must come from Scripture, sola scriptura — and it is not self-evident from Scripture that St. Peter was ever in Rome. This is also the reason why few Protestants seem to dispute that St. Paul was in Rome: because he tells us he was, repeatedly, in his scriptural epistles. Most more thoughtful Protestants realize that there is a difference between religious truth and historical truth, however intertwined the two may sometimes be; and historical sources are valid authorities for historical truth. These tend to be, incidentally, the Protestants least inclined toward anti-Catholicism.

Lonely Pilgrim cites the first of Peter’s letters:

But the Bible can be an historical source, too. And there is actually a significant testimony in the Bible to Peter’s presence in Rome. In the valediction of Peter’s first epistle, he wrote (1 Peter 5:13 ESV):

She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.

Here the Greek grammar is clear: ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς (sends greetings to y’all) ἡ ἐν βαβυλῶνι (she who is in/at Babylon) συνεκλεκτὴ (she elected/chosen together) καὶ Μᾶρκος (and also Mark) ὁ υἱός μου (my son). Peter, writing the letter, and therefore sending the greetings, is obviously with “she who is at Babylon,” and also with Mark, “[his] son.” She elected is the Church, always personified as a woman; and Peter is with the Church. But the Church where? The ancient city of Babylon had been in ruins for centuries. Peter must have been speaking in a cryptic metaphor. The Babylon of the Bible was the capital of a vast, powerful empire, and stood at the height of sin and excess. Where else could that be in Peter’s day but Rome?

Writing under the emperor Nero, Peter would wisely have used discretion in revealing his whereabouts in writing, lest his letter be intercepted by Roman authorities. The symbolism that is transparent to Christians today would not have been so explicit to those not so steeped in the Old Testament or ancient Mesopotamian history.

Peter and Paul together in Rome

Lonely Pilgrim cites St Clement of Rome — an early bishop of the city — as mentioning that Peter and Paul were there together:

Among the earliest surviving testimony outside the Bible is the first letter of Clement (1 Clement), which is usually dated to around 95 or 96 A.D. Clement of Rome, as evident from the letter, was a high official of the Church in Rome, writing in exhortation to the Church at Corinth to settle a division between the established elders and an upstart faction. The Roman Catholic Church today holds St. Clement to have been the third bishop of Rome (i.e. pope); early patristic writers varied in their listings, placing Clement anywhere from second to fourth. His letter is a clear early example of the bishop of Rome exerting authority over other churches …

Clement was the first writer to place Saints Peter and Paul as a pair, as they have always been in the Roman Church. He showed a clear and personal knowledge of the deaths of both Peter and Paul, and he assumed that his recipients also knew the stories. Most Christians accept that Paul was martyred in Rome; it is not a far stretch to assume from Clement’s pairing of the two Apostles that he also believed Peter to have died in Rome. In fact, his grammar is revealing: Peter and Paul offered their example—their martyrdom—“among us” (ἐν ἡμῖν)—that is, among the Romans. Clement was consistent throughout his letter in the use of the pronouns ὑμεῖς (you, i.e. Corinthians) and ἡμεῖς (we, us, i.e. Romans).

St Ignatius of Antioch, Lonely Pilgrim says, wrote his Epistle to the Romans, which is dated between 98 and 117 AD:

Again he placed Peter and Paul as a pair, and implied that the Romans have had personal contact with the Apostles, who enjoined them with authority.

He also cites Irenaeus of Antioch, who wrote about Peter and Paul in Against Heresies III.1.1 and III.3.1-2:

Here we have, clearly stated, not only the statement that Saints Peter and Paul built the Church at Romenot that they were the first Christian missionaries there, but that by their apostolic ministry they laid its foundations—but also, Irenaeus affirmed the doctrines of Apostolic succession and Petrine primacy, unequivocally and authoritatively, at a date earlier than many Protestants would like to recognize. What is more, St. Irenaeus was not a partisan of the Church at Rome, but the Greek-born bishop of Lugdunum (today the city of Lyon in France). In the face of the growing threat of Gnosticism, the unity of the Church and the authority of Rome were more important than ever.

You can read the citations and more early testimonies from doctors of the Church at the link.

Conclusion

The church in Rome probably started thanks to Roman Jews who witnessed the first Pentecost in Jerusalem.

From there, Peter and Paul — separately and together — laid solid foundations for the church.

I’ll leave the final word to Dr MaGee:

Based on a study of relevant biblical and extra-biblical documents, it is generally agreed that non-apostolic Jewish Christians brought the faith of Christ to Rome in the early decades of the church. After generating both interest and controversy within the synagogues, Christianity was forced to reorganize in the wake of Claudius’s edict against the Jews. The resulting Gentile-dominated church that received Paul’s letter in the late 50’s met in small groups around the city of Rome but maintained communication and held onto a common identity and mission. Paul and Peter leave their mark on these believers, though they merely strengthen the work that had already begun to flourish in the capital city. Beyond these main points, scholars still differ on the exact timeline of the birth and growth of the Christian community, as well as on to what degree Roman reactions against Jewish instability stem from disagreements about Christ. When all is said though, the overall picture of the emergence of Christianity in Rome constitutes yet another significant example of God’s extraordinary work in the early church during the decades following Christ’s death and resurrection.

I hope this is helpful as an insight to the early church in Rome.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent (Year B), from Vanderbilt University’s three-year Lectionary site. Emphases mine.

The Old Testament reading tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants. God promised not to destroy Earth with a flood. The sign of His covenant is the rainbow. This is one of my favourite Bible passages:

Genesis 9:8-17

9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

9:9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,

9:10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.

9:11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

9:12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

9:13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

9:14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,

9:15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

9:16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

9:17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Psalm reminds us of God’s infinite mercy and steadfast love:

Psalm 25:1-10

25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

In the Epistle, Peter, in describing the New Covenant, points to both the themes in the Psalm and the reading from Genesis:

1 Peter 3:18-22

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Gospel recounts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus’s subsequent exhortation to ‘believe in the good news’:

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This is a powerful set of readings, well worth reflecting upon before church on Sunday.

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:6-11

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

—————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post introduced the background to the Jerusalem Council, the topic of Acts 15.

John MacArthur says that many theologians consider the Jerusalem Council to be the Magna Carta of the Church.

Briefly, Pharisees who converted were telling Gentile converts they had to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law in order to be notionally proper Christians. Said Pharisees went so far as to disassociate themselves from the Gentile converts who were uncircumcised.

These Pharisees were known as the circumcision party and as Judaisers. Both terms are in the New Testament. A group from Judea was going to new churches in Gentile lands spreading this false teaching. John MacArthur and other Bible scholars think that they could have been trailing Paul and Barnabas, who established these new churches, and infiltrated after they left. Paul had to deal with this issue in his letters to the Galatians, Galatia being in Asia Minor. These were determined men, some of them were political zealots. Last week’s post has more information about them.

Today’s reading describes how the Jerusalem Council unfolded. Note (verse 6) how the elders and Apostles spontaneously gathered together to discuss this issue which, left unresolved, could have fractured the Church into two parts — a Jewish one and a Gentile one.

Matthew Henry says the Jerusalem Council shows the example that churches must resolve issues when they arise rather then letting them play out:

Here is a direction to the pastors of the churches, when difficulties arise, to come together in solemn meetings for mutual advice and encouragement, that they may know one another’s mind, and strengthen one another’s hands, and may act in concert.

Much debate had been taking place before Peter rose to speak (verse 7). Some translations use ‘disputing’, but MacArthur says:

the word doesn’t really mean fighting, it really means discussing, back and forth …

Judaisers were among those debating.

Luke, the author of Acts, did not tell us exactly when Peter spoke, but it was before the end, since Paul and Barnabas spoke next, followed by James. Henry’s commentary says of Peter (emphases mine):

He was not master of this assembly, nor so much as chairman or moderator, pro hac vice–on this occasion; for we do not find that either he spoke first, to open the synod (there having been much disputing before he rose up), nor that he spoke last, to sum up the cause and collect the suffrages; but he was a faithful, prudent zealous member of this assembly, and offered that which was very much to the purpose, and which would come better from him than from another … When both sides had been heard, Peter rose up, and addressed himself to the assembly

Peter said that ‘early on’ — meaning at the first Pentecost, which MacArthur says was ten years earlier — God chose him to be the first to preach to the Gentiles. Luke recounted this in Acts 10, with the conversion of Cornelius and those close to him. Up to then, either Jews or Samaritans (half-Jews) converted.

Henry points out that Peter spoke when he did because:

he had himself been the first that preached the gospel to the Gentiles.

Also, Peter was the first to get blowback for it when the ‘circumcision party’ criticised him afterwards in Jerusalem for converting Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). The issue was resolved at the time. Henry’s commentary reminds us:

He put them in mind of the call and commission he had some time ago to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; he wondered there should be any difficulty made of a matter already settled: You know that aph hemeron archaion–from the beginning of the days of the gospel, many years ago, God made choice among us apostles of one to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and I was the person chosen, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word, and believe, Acts 15:7. You know I was questioned about it and cleared myself to the universal satisfaction; every body rejoiced that God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life, and nobody said a word of circumcising them, nor was there any thought of such a thing. See Acts 11:18. “Why should the Gentiles who hear the word of the gospel by Paul’s mouth be compelled to submit to circumcision, any more than those that heard it by my mouth? Or why should the terms of their admission now be made harder than they were then?”

Yes, everyone glorified God:

18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter went on to say that God knows men’s hearts — i.e. knows those who are His — and He went on to give the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles just as He had to the Jews (verse 8). He made no distinction between the two peoples and cleansed their hearts by faith (verse 9). And that was all. God attached no conditions. He generously gave them the free gift of the Holy Spirit. He generously gave them the free gift of grace to strengthen their faith. They were saved by faith through grace. No wonder people glorified God (Acts 11:18). That’s exciting news then and now! That’s what God continues to do.

Peter then asked, with that in mind, why were some of those assembled testing God, in effect, by asserting their conditions were higher than His by demanding Mosaic law, a law that the Jews couldn’t bear and one that does not save (verse 10).

Peter used the word ‘yoke’ — the heavy wooden brace put on an ox’s neck — to describe Mosaic law. Remember what Jesus said (Matthew 11:28-30):

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Peter concluded by affirming that ‘we believe’ — a reminder for the Judaisers — that both Jew and Gentile will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (verse 11).

MacArthur points out:

God does not cleanse people from sin, whose salvation is not legitimate, right? … The Jews just kept doing more sacrifices without any relief of their consciences. Christ came along and clears the conscience, forgiveness is complete. So Peter says, look, he says they’ve already been purified by faith, what is law goin’ add to that? It’s done. Then Peter points out another fantastic evidence, that salvation is by free grace alone.

Salvation via faith through free grace is a marvellous note on which to close.

More on the Jerusalem Council next week.

Next time — Acts 15:12-21

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