Your attention, please! When the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated the following Sunday [May 24, 2020, as it will be in many places in the United States], the second reading and Gospel from the Seventh Sunday of Easter may be read on the Sixth Sunday of Easter. The lector or deacon who doesn't want a last-minute surprise will confer in advance with his/her pastor or preacher, or just prepare for either case. Here are links to that second reading, and to Lector's Notes for that reading.

Ask your presider to tell your listeners (or tell them yourself):

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020

Before the first reading:

In Acts, chapter 1, Jesus told his followers to spread the gospel "in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes even to the ends of the earth." It takes a persecution, but the mission takes its first step outside Jerusalem today.

After the psalm, before the second reading:

The author of the First Letter of Peter warns persecuted Christians to bear sufferings patiently, and, like Jesus, not return evil for evil.

Before the gospel acclamation:

For Christians facing rejection by others, Jesus speaks of various ways that God is with us, and how our ways differ from those of non-believers.

First Reading, Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

The Historical Situation: The previous chapter of Acts describes Christianity's first martyrdom, when Stephen was stoned and a vigorous persecution began in Jerusalem. The disciples are dispersed. Philip turns this into an opportunity by preaching in the city to which he fled. That persecution would not constrain the gospel but promote it is a great, gracious irony we should not overlook.

The Theological Background: And it is not incidental (or even accidental) that it is Samaritans who first hear the gospel outside Jerusalem. They were a kind of mixed-race, mixed-religion, second-class Jew, much despised by mainline Jews. (Thus in Jesus' parable about the helpful passerby, where priest and Levite behave shamefully, it's a Samaritan who is good to the victim; by casting the hero of his story as a Samaritan, Jesus is sticking it to the smug.) Remember the assignment Jesus gives in chapter 1 of Acts: "You are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes even to the ends of the earth." So with these events, the mission takes its second step.

Proclaiming It: Here's a suggestion for reading this to the Sunday assembly. The passage is a fragment of the story of our origins as a church. So as lector, think of yourself as a family story-teller. Perhaps you're telling your grandchildren how you migrated to a new country, what threats you escaped, what strange places and customs you observed. Or you are an "original owner" describing to a new neighbor how your subdivision was built up in the 1950's. Tell the story of the spread of the gospel. This would be easier, surely, if the task were not fragmented over several Sundays. But this mindset can make your proclamation memorable.

Second Reading, 1 Peter 3:15-18

The Historical Situation: The author clearly wrote this letter to bolster persecuted Christians. He wants his audience to keep on the moral high ground, no matter how much they're mistreated. Christ, as always, is their exemplar.

Most, but not all, readers of these notes live in peaceful democratic countries. To them, the reading is likely to seem a little foreign. Most of us are not persecuted for our religion, after all. Some of us live in history's most libertarian countries. But our memories can be short and our world-vision narrow. People have been persecuted for their religion in many, if not all countries, and are so persecuted now. This reading invites us to communion with saints who nobly suffered in the past, and to solidarity with today's victims of persecution.

Proclaiming It: So, if you have trouble getting excited about reading this to the Sunday congregation, imagine you are the author of this reading. Providence has brought you out of harm's way for a while, but fellow believers whom you know and love are in the thick of it. They trust you for your wisdom and holiness. You have only a few sentences with which to encourage them. The stakes are enormous, for they may buckle in the face of persecution and renounce the Lord. They're counting on you. Draw on God's Spirit within yourself, and give it your best.


Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

Personification of Gentleness, stone, relief sculpture quatrefoil on the western exterior of the Cath├ędrale d'Amiens, depicting a personfication of Gentleness holding a shield on which is a lamb. 1220-1240. Click here for a larger version.

From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt (University) Divinity Library, Nashville, Tennesse, U.S.A.

Amiens is in the Picardy region of France north of Paris. The cathedral is a UNESCO heritage site, described here.

This page updated April 19, 2020