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Monday, May 5, 2008

The Festival of Pentecost, 2008

May 10, 2008
Exodus 19:1-9 or Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 33:12-22 (20) or Psalm 130 (4)
Romans 8:14-17, 22-27
John 7:37-39

May 11, 2008
Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b (30)
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

May 14, 2008
Isaiah 66:1-2 | Psalm 56 (12) | Luke 6:12-16 | Acts 1:15-26

1. CONTEXT: John 20:19-23

The lectionary assigns three different passages from the Gospel of John
concerning the Spirit or Paraclete ("Counselor," RSV) as the Gospel for the
Day of Pentecost for all three yearls (A,B and C). But Acts 2:1-21 is
assigned as the second lesson for all three years. That is not surprising of
course, for it relates Luke's account of the first Pentecost.

The texts from John's Gospel assigned for years B and C (from chapters
7 and 15-16) seem at first sight to "fit" nicely with the Lucan account,
for they anticipate the coming gift of the Spirit. That which Jesus
promises (Gospel of John) is fulfilled on Pentecost (Acts).

But the Gospel for the present year (A) shows that John and Acts do not
"fit" so neatly after all. In the Johannine perspective the giving of the
Spirit occurred in the evening on the day of the Lord's resurrection
(Easter). Our lesson from John 20:19-23 is the "Johannine Pentecost"
account. While in John's Gospel Jesus gives the promise of the Spirit
during his earthly ministry, and it is fulfilled on Easter evening, in the
Lucan account Jesus gives the promise after his resurrection (Acts 1:8),
sometime during the forty days of his appearances to this disciples (1:3),
and this promise is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost in the Jewish
calendar (50 days after the Passover). The church calendar, based roughly
on Luke's chronology, places (the Christian) Pentecost 50 days (actually
49) after Easter. But our Gospel for the day knows nothing of such a

Our text is the second of three post-resurrection appearances in the
Gospel of John (20:1-18 and 20:26-29 making up the first and third).
These stories fulfill the promise of 14:18 in which Jesus declares that he
will not leave his disciples desolate but will come to them. Distinctive to
our story is that it portrays the fulfillment of the promises to send them
the Spirit (7:39; 14:16,26;15:26;16:13k). But there is more to it than this
Pentecost theme.

2. TEXT: John 20:19-23


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.’
20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America


19ουσης ουν οψιας τη ημερα εκεινη τη μια σαββατων, και των θυρων κεκλεισμενων οπου ησαν οι μαθηται δια τον φοβον των ιουδαιων, ηλθεν ο ιησους και εστη εις το μεσον και λεγει αυτοις, ειρηνη υμιν. 20και τουτο ειπων εδειξεν τας χειρας και την πλευραν αυτοις. εχαρησαν ουν οι μαθηται ιδοντες τον κυριον. 21ειπεν ουν αυτοις [ο ιησους] παλιν, ειρηνη υμιν: καθως απεσταλκεν με ο πατηρ, καγω πεμπω υμας. 22και τουτο ειπων ενεφυσησεν και λεγει αυτοις, λαβετε πνευμα αγιον: 23αν τινων αφητε τας αμαρτιας αφεωνται αυτοις, αν τινων κρατητε κεκρατηνται.

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London

2. ANALYSIS: John 20:19-23

John 20:19 - The time reference links with 20:1, Easter. The clause "the
doors being shut...for fear of the Jews" is the only place reference. But at
20:16 there is a reference to their being "again in the house" eight days
later and that "the doors were shut."

We are to think then of the disciples as being present in a certain house at
20:19 too, located in Jerusalem. It is probable that in 20:19 (as at 20:26)

the point John is making is that the risen, glorified Christ appears
miraculously; his resurrected body could pass through closed doors. (The
phrase "for fear of the Jews" is John's way of explaining why the doors
were shut, or locked, and to certify the security of the building from
normal human intrusion.) Jesus came (cf. 14:18), stood among his
disciples , and greeted them in customary fashion, "Shalom" ("Peace be
with you"), which is repeated in 20:21.

20:20 - Jesus authenticates his presence and "proves his identity with the
man crucified two days earlier through showing his hands...and his pierced
side" (R. Bultmann, Gospel of John, p. 69l). The disciples' reaction is to
"rejoice" (echaresan; RSV "were glad" is too bland). This is a fulfillment
of the promise, "Your sorrow will turn into joy" (16:20).

20:21 - The disciples are commissioned. Jesus had been "sent" into the
world by the Father, a prominent theme in Johannine christology,
mentioned some 41 times in this gospel (cf. 3:34; 5:38; 8:42;; 17:3,etc.).

Likewise, through his death and resurrection Jesus "returns" to the Father,
a concept appearing ;some 20 times (cf. 7:33; 13:3; 16:5,etc.). In his
absence, he asks the Father to slend the Spirit (14:16) and commissions
his disciples: "even so I send you." Cf. 17:18 in the prayer of Jesus: "As
thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world."

20:22-23 - Jesus bestows on his disciples the Holy Spirit and the
authority to forgive and retain sins. Major interpreters are agreeda that
John envisions the authority over sin to be granted to the Christian
community, not simply to office holders in it(R. Bultmann, Gospel of John,
p. 693; R.E. Brown, Gospel According to John, pp. 1044-45). The "disciples"
represent the community. The Spirit is bestowed upon them collectively,
and it is given to all believers. So it will be with authority over sinl. Of
course this does not preclude specific ways of carrying out this ministry;

it is appropriate that the church has regularized and ordered it in its
ordained ministry.


As the lessons are read, the passage from Acts will be attended to by
members of the congregation more than the other lessons. After all, it's
Pentecost, and on that day we like to hear the "old, old story."

Pentecost is often called the "birthday of the Christian church."
Birthdays can be celebrated, but not repeated. The same is true with
Pentecost. It marks (like Christmas and Easter) a particular point in
salvation history. It is wrong to think that it can be repeated, to say that
the church of today should experience it all over again, or to claim that the
church should be more like that congregation in Jerusalem.

The value of the "Johannine Pentecost" can be seen here. While the Lucan
account relates an experience that affected the earliest Jerusalem
community, the Johannine text provides some directions for the church in
every age. The disciples (=church) are commissioned by the risen Christ
to be witnesses of the one sent by the Father, and they receive authority
to forgive and retain sins.

The sermon will strike the note of celebration, referring to the account
in Acts. But then it can move into Johannine themes. It will not be
necessary to do comparisons (as above) between Acts and John. Rather,
one can simply pick up the Johannine themes concerning Christ, the Spirit
and the church. The good news of the day is that the crucified Jesus
appeared alive again to his disciples, and that in consequence of his
resurrection a people has been created by the Spirit, which "calls, gathers,
and enlightens" that people to the present day and "preserves it in union
with Jesus Christ" to the end of time.

Jesus sent his disciples into the world. As the community of Jesus
Christ, we are the ones whom he sends. We are not sent aimlessly,
however. It is our joyous privilege and duty to represent Christ.

I don't think it is wise strategy to give the impression that each person
ought to be a "junior cleric" in everyday life, preaching the gospel. The
corporate emphasis of John can be retained. Going this way, the preacher
can speak of the mission of the congregation in the community. Something
like this might work: As a Christian community, we are commissioned to
bear witness to Christ, and we do that as we work together as a body of
believers who tend to worship, parish education, opening our doors to
serve the community, calling on the unchurched, and seeking to restore
those members who do not come--in other words, being the church of
Jesus Christ, the community of the Spirit.

The matter of forgiving and retaining sins is more difficult to speak about.
But the occasion presents itself to explore confession and absolution and
church discipline. The commissioned community carries on Jesus'
ministry of forgiveness. But what about retaining the sins of anyone? Jesus does not demand that we do this (any more than to forgive sins), but the saying points at least
to the seriousness of sin and the need for repentance. What we can rejoice
in is the promise of the Risen Christ that absolution is effectivel. That is
possible belcause the church has been born, created, by the Spirit (the
Pentecost theme) and sent to carry out Christ's mission.


Brown, Raymond E. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. JOHN. Anchor Bible,
vols. 29, 29a. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966, l970.

Bultmann, Rudolf. THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. Philadelphia: Westminster Press,


Even congregations which celebrated Holy Communion only on the first
Sunday of the month (until recently…remember when???) will celebrate it today, and a festive procession is desirable. In some parts of the country June 7 will be the transition into summer (end or near end of the school and Sunday Church School year
and activities). Perhaps Confirmation will be held this day or on the next
Sunday. Because of the emphasis in the Gospel lesson on being "sent," the
day might provide an opportunity to include during announcements before
the general prayer some specific ways the congregation has carried out its
mission the past year, and the prayer could ask God's blessing on these and
other works. In addition to Pentecost hymns (LBW 160-164, HB 222-230) , O HOLY
are fine opening hymns, and ; WE KNOW THAT CHRIST IS RAISED (LBW
189, HB 296 ) would be excellent as the Hymn of the Day.

Exegete: Arland J. Hultgren is Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St Paul, MN. He is the author of The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary (Eerdmans, 2000.)




Dartmouth, MA 02747


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