April 1 – April 8

Friday, April 1

First Corinthians 15:20-34: It was in refuting the skeptics at Corinth that the Apostle Paul came to understand the Resurrection of Christ as God’s historical act for the purpose of rectifying the evils inflicted on the created order by Adam’s Fall. The Resurrection had to be physical, because death and corruption were physical.

Although it was a single event in history, the “logic” of the Resurrection implied that the whole physical world, starting with the bodies of Christians, was destined for restoration and transformation through the risen and glorified flesh of Christ. This meant that the true and ultimate afterlife anticipated by Christians was not based on the immortality of the soul, but on the resurrection of the body.

In answering the Corinthian skepticism, Paul established the “logic” of the Resurrection in a chain of short hypothetical syllogisms. Within 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, the word “if” appears nine times, leading to the final inference, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”

At this point, Paul is ready to move from apologetics to theology, and he marks the transition with a formal “now”: “But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (15:20).

Ezekiel 6: The prophet, standing in Babylon, faces westward, the direction of Israel, to pronounce this oracle of doom. The threefold destruction predicted here (sword, famine, and pestilence) stands parallel to the three portions of Ezekiel’s shaved hair and beard in the previous chapter, as does the prophecy of a remnant that will be delivered.

Whereas in chapter 5 Ezekiel addresses Jerusalem, in the present chapter he addresses the rural areas of Israel, the hills and valleys. The immediate listeners to this oracle, however, are those Israelites who have already been brought to captivity in Babylon. It is they who must take warning, for they will soon see God’s judgment on idolatry.

Idolatry—the worship of whatever is not the true God—is the root sin against which all the Lord’s interventions in history are directed. Since idolatry always involves human bondage, the Lord’s interventions are directed to deliverance from bondage. The Exodus itself set Israel free from the gods of Egypt.

Idolatry is the sin that is about to bring about the destruction of Judah, says Ezekiel, as well as Israel not so long before; idolatry is the reason that the masses of their population were carried into exile. Indeed, idolatry is itself a form of exile, an alienation from the true God.

Saturday, April 2

First Corinthians 15:35-49: When the Apostles proclaimed Jesus as risen, they did not mean that he had somehow survived in a spiritual state after his death on the Cross. They meant, quite plainly, “he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). It was an event, not a static condition.

Also, it was emphatically physical, not in the sense of induced by physical forces, but in the sense that it happened to the body. Had this not been the case, the Resurrection of Jesus would not have happened according to the Scriptures. The Resurrection-hope held out by Holy Scripture had to do with the body. When Isaiah prophesied, “Your dead shall live,” he went on to specify, “their corpses will arise” (Isaiah 26:19).

It was this physical quality of the Christian hope that proved to be too challenging for some of the brethren at Corinth. They summarized their argument with the sarcastic query. “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35)

What those individuals contested was not a belief in an afterlife, but the physical cosmology implicitly contained in the thesis, “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus” (Acts 5:30). They were unable to grasp that the Gospel proclaimed this truth as a vindication of the whole created order.

Holy Scripture, after all, had not declared, “God approved of all the spiritual things He had made,” but, “God saw everything (kol) that He had formed, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31).

Ezekiel 7: If the Bible likens good to a seed that grows, develops, and matures, the same is likewise true of evil. Like the enemy that Jesus described as sowing tares among the wheat, Ezekiel says that Israel is about to behold the blossoming and fruit of many years of evil sowing.

The scene of the coming judgment portrayed in this chapter is marked by the same cataclysmic finality that characterizes Jesus’ own predictions of the fall of Jerusalem. The “land” of Israel cursed in this chapter is to be understood in a geographical, not just a political, sense. That is, the very earth is cursed, as the ground is cursed in Genesis 3. Drawn from the earth, man pollutes that source by his accumulated sins. God’s patience is immense, but, as it relates to times and seasons, it is not infinite. The end has come, says Ezekiel. When God is “fed up,” there is nothing in this earth that can prevail against His judgment.

Sunday, April 3

John 20:24-30: Thomas was the first among the Apostles to embrace the imperative of the Cross. Unlike Peter (“Get behind Me, Satan!”), he put up no resistance to the news. When Jesus declared His intention of going to Jerusalem to “wake up” Lazarus, the other Apostles expressed their fear at the prospect. “Rabbi,” they answered, “lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” It was Thomas who found within himself the generous strength to say, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:8, 16).

Thomas may also have been something of a loner, which would explain why, when the risen Lord paid His first visit to the assembled Apostles, Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). He apparently had gone off to get a better grip on himself. It had been a very tough week. Just as Thomas had foreseen, Jesus’ life had ended in tragedy. This, the Apostle was sure, was the biggest tragedy he had ever seen. Yet he was coping with it somehow. Years of an inner docility to inevitable fate had schooled him in the discipline of endurance. Yes, he would get through this too. He was a man who could deal with misfortune and sorrow. His real problem had always been how to deal with happiness. In today’s reading that problem gets a lot worse.

Ezekiel 8: This startling, detailed, and dramatic vision of Ezekiel occurred on September 17, 592 B.C. He is carried “in the Spirit” to Jerusalem to witness the abominations for which the city was to be punished with the wrath and the inevitability that we observed in the previous chapter. The material of this vision will occupy Ezekiel through Chapter 11, at the end of which he will be returned to Babylon. Prior to Jerusalem’s downfall in 586 many of the prophets fellow exiles in Babylon maintained the hope of returning home soon. The purpose of this and other visions of Ezekiel was to destroy such a hope by showing it to be groundless.

In this vision there are four scenes, each illustrating a discrete abomination in the temple. The first scene is at the north gate of the wall that separated the outer court of the temple from the outside world (8:3-6). (Ignore and omit the word “inner” from verse 3, in accord with the more accurate Greek text of the Septuagint. The received Hebrew text of this chapter is notoriously corrupt.) Ezekiel finds a pagan shrine in this place, an affront to the Lord’s presence in the temple.

In the second scene (8:7-13) Ezekiel goes through the wall of a chamber adjacent to the gate, where he finds Israel’s elders worshipping images of animals.

In the third scene (8:14f) he crosses the outer court toward the temple’s inner court. Not yet entering the latter, Ezekiel beholds Israelite women crying for the death of Tammuz, a Mesopotamian god of vegetation. Even this alien cult is found in God’s temple.

Finally, in the fourth scene (8:16-18), Ezekiel enters the inner court, where he discovers sun-worshippers. Israel’s idolatry is complete. These men have turned their backs to God and are giving adoration to a creature.

Monday, April 4

First Corinthians 1:1-17: It is unique that Christ is named six times within the first seven verses of this epistle. This feature emphasizes that Christ is the only center of unity in the Church. Paul must make this point, because the Corinthians were dividing themselves into factions.

Strife at Corinth was not a new phenomenon. Even at the time of the congregation’s founding, Paul became so discouraged with the locl strife that the Lord gave him a special revelation to keep him going. St. Luke tells us, “Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city’” (Acts 18:9).

If the Apostle Paul needed reminding on this score, perhaps all Christians do. The story of the founding of the Corinthians church stands in the Bible to teach us that the presence of conflict does not invalidate the experience and claims of a congregation. This account testifies that God does not abandon a Christian congregation just because it has a bit of conflict and an occasional locking of horns. Christ did not abandon the church at Corinth.

Paul goes on to remind them of his original message to them, which he refers to as the Gospel. They received that Gospel, he says, and, by taking their stand on it, they are in the process of being saved—the verb is sozesthe, present tense, passive voice: “you are being saved.” On that Gospel, says Paul, the Corinthians took their stand—the verb is hestakate, perfect tense, active voice: “You have taken your stand.” This verb refers to the original creedal confession through which the Corinthians became Christians. As we have seen in our reading of chapter 15, the Corinthians had been instructed, at the time of their conversion, on the creedal components of the Christian faith.

Ezekiel 9: The marking of the foreheads of the Remnant is a sort of renewal of the marking of the houses of the Chosen People in Egypt on Passover night.

Those thus marked will be spared on the day of wrath, for the simple reason that they “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem.” Sometimes the just man is left so powerless in this world that all he can do, in the face of overwhelming evil, is “sigh and groan.”

The temple offers no sanctuary from the punishment; those in the temple are the first to fall, because they have defiled God’s house. The divine judgment begins, then, not with the world, but with the household of God.

The seven heavenly figures — the scribe and the six executioners — are angelic figures representing God’s just will in what is about to transpire in Jerusalem. Revelation 7 is a very good text to read with this chapter, which is surely in part its literary inspiration.

Tuesday, April 5

Psalm 6: Every deliberate and willful sin is a step in the direction of hardness of heart. Psalm 6, as a penitential psalm, takes sin very seriously. The sin spoken of here is deliberate, willful. It is not just a mistake; it is not something for which we simply apologize. It is, rather, a voluntary affront to God’s image in us. The taking away of sin required the shedding of Christ’s blood on the Cross. This fact itself tells us how serious is this whole business of sin.

Sin has entered deeply into human experience, and it has left human beings in a very weakened state. It is felt in our inner frame, our very bones, as it were. The psalm goes on: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled, but You, O Lord . . how long? Return, O Lord, deliver me. Oh, save me, for Your mercies’ sake.”

The psalmist then speaks of death, for by sin death entered into the world. Death is sin rendered visible. What we see death do to the body, sin does to the soul. Death is the externalizing of sin. Death is no friend. Apart from Christ, the Bible sees death as the realm where God is not praised. As the bitter fruit of sin, death is the enemy; indeed, it is the “last enemy,” says 1 Corinthians 15:26.

When the psalmist, then, prays for deliverance from death, he is talking about a great deal more than a physical phenomenon. Death is the “last enemy,” the physical symbol of our sinful alienation from God: “For in death there is no memory of You; in the grave, who will give You thanks?”

Sin and death, then, form the context of this psalm, and these are the forces of Satan. Sin, death, and Satan—such are the enemies of which the psalmist speaks: “My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows old because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity. . . . Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled.”

Even as he makes this plea for mercy, nonetheless, the man of faith already knows that God hears him: “For the Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.”

Ezekiel 10: The wooden statues of the Cherubim, with their wings spread over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, were but symbols of the angels of the Presence, the heavenly Cherubim who serve to support the Throne of God.

Now Ezekiel sees these heavenly spirits themselves, and they are identical with the Four Living Creatures that he had beheld in his inaugural vision in Chapter 1, where they bore, as here, the Cloud of the divine Presence. They will appear again, of course, in Revelation 4.

The burning coals from within their whirling wheels, full of the divine holiness, are destructive of those whose brows have not been marked by the angelic scribe, who also appears again in this chapter.

Wednesday, April 6

John 5:1-16: John does not identify the feast in verse 1 (probably to be read without the definite article). One suspects that this mention of a Jewish feast day is inserted simply to explain why Jesus was in Jerusalem (after being in Galilee in the previous chapter).

The name of the pool was Bethzatha, or Bethdaida, or Bethesda. The pool may have had each of these names at one time or another. Even to this day, one can visit the pool (which, alas, is now completely stagnant and fetid) and see five sides originally covered by porticoes. It is a trapezoid transected into two parts; these are the “five” sides. The pool is near the lovely church of St. Anne.

It is also near the site of the ancient Sheep Gate, on the northern side of the city. John’s text has been expanded by an addition to verse 3 and the insertion of verse 4. Missing in the better textual witnesses, these later additions were intended to explain the conversation in verse 7.

The important point is that “Jesus saw him lying there.” This is a very important word in John’s Gospel (cf. 1:47-48; 9:1; 11:33 et cetera).

Ezekiel 11: The first oracle in this chapter addresses a slogan going around Jerusalem at the time, descriptive of the city’s coming destruction. The slaying of Jerusalem’s citizens, says the oracle, will ultimately be the fault of its leaders, not of the Babylonian besiegers. The latter are but instruments in the divine judgment.

The leaders back at Jerusalem planned big things for themselves, and their big plans are addressed in the second oracle. When Ezekiel and his other companions, including the cream of Jerusalem society and its most competent citizens, were taken hostage to Babylon in 597, some of those Israelites who remained in the Holy Land began to feel pretty good about their own prospects, now that the better rivals were gone. With respect to their brethren who had been carried away, they reflected: “Well, too bad for them, but that leaves more for us.”

The burden of this second oracle is to reassure those captives in Babylon that the Lord had not forgotten them and that He was determined to restore them. Indeed, it was on them that His coming blessings would fall, for their restoration is the substance of the great prophecy here about newness of heart, which becomes so important a theme in the New Testament (See especially Hebrews 8.)

As this chapter ends, the Cloud of the divine glory moves east onto the top of the Mount of Olives, and Ezekiel is restored to Babylon, where he narrates his visions and oracles to his companions in exile.

Thursday, April 7

First Corinthians 13:1-13: Unless I am mistaken, he never claims, “faith loves all things.” He emphatically does assert, however, “love believes all things.” What else can this mean except that real Christian love—agape—includes faith?

Without suggesting that living faith and true love can really exist apart, I think recognition that “the greatest of these is love” would prompt us not to regard love as subsumed into anything else, not even faith.

I would not insist on this point, except that Paul himself appears to do so when, by way of hypothesis, he speaks of faith without love: “. . . and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (13:2). That is to say, Paul is able to conjecture a faith separate from love, whereas he never supposes a love without faith.

In summary, then, a reliable adherence to the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the matter would prompt us to avoid theological expressions that obscure the truth that “the greatest of these is love.”

Second, the supremacy of love among the three that “abide” lays the basis for yet another triad: faith, hope, and patience. In Paul’s thought these three become, as it were, aspects of love. That is to say, “love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (13:7). It is love that believes, love that hopes, and love that endures. The other three are contained in love.

Ezekiel 12: Once again Ezekiel is charged to act out an elaborate pantomime as a message for his fellow Israelites in exile. Whereas the previous such actions, in Chapters 4-5, had to do with the destruction of Jerusalem and the sufferings of her citizens, the present instance is concerned with the experience of the coming new exile of those who still remained back home.

When his fellow exiles ask him, “What are you doing?” (12:9), Ezekiel responds with a stirring oracle by way of explanation: To those Jewish exiles already in Babylon who are imagining that they may soon be returning to the land of Judah, Ezekiel is stressing the point, “You think this is exile? You haven’t seen anything yet!”

He emphasizes in particular the suffering destined for Zedekiah, the King of Judah. Ezekiel’s walking with covered face (“that you may not see the land”) is an eerie prophecy of the day when the Babylonians would gouge out the eyes of Zedekiah, so that the execution of his sons would be the last thing he saw in this world before going into exile (2 Kings 25:4-7; Jeremiah 39:4-7; 52:7-11).

In verse 17 the prophet begins yet another pantomime, this one much simpler, and in verses 21-28 Ezekiel is charged to challenge two more cynical slogans popular at the time. These slogans, concerned with apparently unfulfilled prophecies, will lead into his condemnation of false prophets in the next chapter.

Friday, April 8

First Corinthians 10:1-13: The early Christians, when they called themselves the ekklesia, “church,” chose the word with deliberation. This was the word selected by the translators of the Hebrew Bible (3rd century before Christ) to render the Hebrew qahal, the word designating the ancient congregation of the Israelites in the desert. Indeed, they believed themselves to be the heirs of that ancient “church.” They perceived their own experience in Christ as closely resembling—and continuous with—Israel’s experience of God in the Exodus and the desert wandering. We perceive this perspective in the present reading from 1 Corinthians 10, which speaks of the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism and the Eucharist, as signified in ancient Israel’s experience.

This perception prompted them to be spiritually cautious, remembering that almost none of those ancient Israelites made it to the Holy Land! Here in his exhortation to the Corinthians, Paul brings that sobering fact directly to their attention.

Ezekiel 13: This chapter contains an oracle against false prophets (13:2-16) and an oracle against false prophetesses (verses 17-23). The major problem with all such folk is that they “prophesy out of their own minds” and “follow their own spirit” and “divined a lie.” Thus, grave spiritual harm befalls those who listen to their fantasies and follow their counsels.

Even though a wall is just about to fall, says Ezekiel, they daub it with whitewash to make it look new and secure. Well, the whole thing is about to come down, he warns, in spite of the false hopes raised by false prophets.

In his oracle against the false prophetesses, Ezekiel speaks of wristbands and headbands (if these things are, indeed, what these rare Hebrew words mean), evidently the paraphernalia of their rituals and incantations. We should probably think of these women as fortune-tellers, the sort of charlatans that are still among us. The prophet’s point here is that this sort of thing is not harmless; foolish individuals, who probably need sound counsel for important decisions, really do pay heed to such imposters, rather often to the harm of their souls. God will thwart the designs of these deceivers, says Ezekiel, by showing their predictions to be false.