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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

All Saints' Day - November 1, 2012



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Wisdom

Wisdom has been a book of the church since the earliest times. For some Christians, it is part of the Apocrypha ("hidden books"); for others, it is in the Old Testament. Until this book was written (about 50 BC), the best that could be hoped for when one died was to exist in some inderterminate state. Wisdom tells us that being made in the image of God includes sharing with him in immortality. Only the godly, the ethical, will be granted eternal life; those who choose to deviate from God's ways will be punished and will disappear into nothingness.


Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

In the Hebrew Bible, life simply ended with death (or at best, the dead merely existed in an indeterminate state, separated from God), but during the first century BC, some Jewish thinkers developed the notion of after-life. Wisdom is in the Apocrypha or in the Old Testament: the Church has used it since the earliest times, but the Jewish authorities rejected it. It is quoted in the New Testament. The thinking is that, at the Last Judgement, the just (or righteous) will join God and the angels in heaven, but the unjust (or wicked) will be punished. 2:23-24 says: “... God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it”.

But the “righteous” (v. 1) are protected by God, and after death, they will not suffer. To the wicked (“foolish”, v. 2), they seem to have simply ceased to exist, to have been annihilated, but they are actually “at peace” (v. 3), with God and the angelic court. It may appear that they have been punished, but their certain hope in life and in death is to live for ever. Then v. 5: the hardship they have suffered in life is really discipline, a process of testing by God and being found acceptable to him, and a preparation for receiving “great good” from him. God’s testing (v. 6) is like refining gold: when the ore is heated, the metal coalesces and the slag separates: a process of purification. Isaiah 53, a Servant Song (which we believe tells of Christ) speaks of a “lamb that is led to the slaughter ... there was no deceit in his mouth” and his life is “an offering for sin”. This is the sense in which those who have died are a “sacrificial burnt offering” (v. 6). At the Last Judgement (“In the time of their visitation”, v. 7) those who have died will triumph (shining and “sparks” are images of triumph.) V. 8a summarizes Daniel 7:18-27; in the context of Wisdom, it simply means that the just will rule over the wicked (although many Jews took Daniel as saying that, in the Messianic age, Israel, the just, would rule all other nations.) In the age to come, “the faithful” (v. 9), “those who trust” in God, will understand ultimate “truth”, i.e. God, and will dwell in a loving relationship with him, because of his freely-given gift of love (“grace”) to, and forgiveness of (“mercy”) those he chooses.


Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 25:6-9

In accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus says that he will not drink wine again “until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (see Mark 14:25). Earthly language is inadequate for expressing heavenly notions. Chapters 24 to 27 of Isaiah are a prophecy about the end-times; our reading is a description of the celestial banquet to which Jesus refers. (Other ancient Near East cultures also use a banquet as a description of the final happiness of the godly.)

Chapter 24 begins with the announcement of the destruction of the earth. There will be total upheaval of the social order (24:2). God will then destroy the earth. Most people will have broken the covenant with him, so he will cause them to “suffer for their guilt” (24:6) and die. Only a godly remnant will remain. The earth will be a gloomy place (24:7-13) but then the survivors will praise God’s name (24:14-16a). “On that day” (24:21) God will imprison rebellious angels and the kings of the earth for a long time and then punish them (24:22). “... the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem ...” (24:23). As the seventy elders beheld God’s glory at Sinai, so Israel’s elders will again see him enthroned in his majesty.

Then “on this mountain” (25:6), at Jerusalem, God will provide a banquet “for all peoples”, for the godly of all nations, with food and the wine of which Jesus speaks. The dead are pictured as being covered with a “shroud” (25:7) or “sheet”; this will be removed when God swallows up, does away with, “death forever”. God’s kingdom will be established. In eternal life, he will “wipe away” (25:8) one of the roots of all misery, our mortality, and he will remove the collective shame of breaking the covenant. The remnant, the godly, will acknowledge “our God” (25:9), for whom we have waited and who has saved us; let us “rejoice in his salvation”.


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 24

This psalm is based on a Canaanite myth which tells of the divine conquest of the unruly forces of chaos. The psalmist has transformed it into a hymn of praise to God, the victorious creator, followed by a liturgy on entering the Temple. In question-and-answer form, it was probably sung antiphonally, as the Ark was borne to the Temple. Vv. 1-2 acknowledge God as creator. V. 3 asks: who will be admitted to the Temple? Vv. 4-6 give the answer: those who are pure, do not worship false gods, and do not harm others with false oaths. They will be blessed by God, with prosperity. In vv. 7-10, the pilgrims identify God in terms traditionally associated with the Ark: he is “King of glory”, the “Lord of hosts” (v. 10), the war hero of Israel (v. 8b). The “doors” (v. 9) are those between the outer court and the sanctuary of the Temple. Perhaps a priest asks: “Who is the King of glory?” (v. 8) from within, and the people answer from the court. (The “heads”, v. 7, are the lintels of the doors.) God dwells in the sanctuary.


Revelation

This is the last book of the Bible and is in a way a summary of the whole of the Bible. It is an apocalypse, a vision which foretells the future and presents an understanding of the past. It tells of the struggle between good and evil, and the ultimate victory of Christ. Writing in symbolic language, its author urges Christians to keep faith in a period of persecution. It is hard to understand because we do not know the meaning of the symbols (e.g. animals) it uses.


Revelation 21:1-6a

This book is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) made known through John. It is prophecy which reveals secrets of heaven and earth. Our reading is from John’s record of his vision of the end-times. He has told of the destruction of the old city, Babylon (code name for Rome) and of the old heaven and earth (20:11); the ungodly have been driven off to punishment (20:15). Only the godly, a remnant, remain. Isaiah 65:17-25 and 66:22 predict that all creation will be renewed, freed from imperfections and transformed by the glory of God.

Now John sees the new creation. The “sea” (21:1), a symbol of turbulence, unrest and chaos, is no more. He sees “the new Jerusalem” (21:2), probably not made with bricks and mortar, “holy”, of divine origin, beautiful and lovely as a “bride”. (Marriage is a symbol of the intimate union between the exalted Christ and the godly remnant. Some see the city as the church, set apart for God’s use in the world.)

John hears “a loud voice” (21:3) interpreting 21:2: God again comes to “dwell” (be present spiritually) with “his peoples”. Sorrow, death and pain – characteristics that made the old earth appear to be enslaved to sin – will disappear (21:4). God, “seated on the throne”, speaks in vv. 5-6: he will do everything described in 21:1-4; he is sovereign over all that happens in human history. (“Alpha” and “Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so God encompasses all.) God will give the gift of eternal life (“water”, 21:6b) to all who seek him.


Symbol of St John

John

John is the fourth gospel. Its author makes no attempt to give a chronological account of the life of Jesus (which the other gospels do, to a degree), but rather "...these things 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." John includes what he calls signs, stories of miracles, to help in this process.


John 11:32-44

Lazarus, Mary’s brother, has died. Martha has told Jesus that he would not have died had Jesus been present, but that the Father will grant whatever Jesus asks. Jesus has said to her: “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23), which she takes to refer to the general resurrection Jews expected at the end of time. Jesus has answered: “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25); even though a believer dies physically, he or she will live on as a person. She has added: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (v. 27).

Now Mary repeats Martha’s earlier assertion (in v. 21). Jesus is stirred with indignation, probably at the sorrow death brings. Touched by the pain of those he loves, he weeps: he shares that pain in some real way. Martha tries to restrain Jesus from viewing the decomposing corpse of his friend (v. 39). Jesus says to her: did I not tell you that if you believed you would see God’s power to end death? God, Father and Son, bring Lazarus back to physical life. Jesus verbalizes his thanks to the Father as he tells the unbelieving “crowd” (v. 42) that he is sent by the Father. On Jesus’ command, Lazarus emerges, still wrapped in burial cloths.

© 1996-2003 Chris Haslam



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