Evening Prayer

The Fourth Sunday after Easter

Old Testament lesson: 2 Samuel 7.4-13

Some background is needed to today’s reading. The book of Judges (which comes just before Samuel) describes Israel’s descent into corruption (political, religious, and moral) after the leadership of Joshua. Samuel is called by God to sort out the mess caused by the house of Eli. Samuel is a ‘judge’ who wields impressive power by comparison with those who bear that title today. As well as determining disputes, he is a religious, secular, and military leader. After years of success on all fronts, he hands over to his sons who promptly squander his achievements. The people demand a king (so as to be like the surrounding nations). God reluctantly agrees. Samuel anoints Saul, who turns out to be bad king. Wounded and defeated in battle at Mount Gilboa, Saul falls upon his sword. The way is now clear for Saul’s great rival, David. After military successes, David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Today’s reading is one of those texts in the Bible which is pivotal. It deals with replacing a peripatetic tabernacle with a permanent temple as a home for God and the establishment of an eternal, hereditary monarchy, descending from David. God’s promises, made through the court-prophet Nathan, are unconditional and unequivocal - hence the cries of anguish, exemplified by Psalm 89, when David’s son, Solomon, turns out to be anything but wise, turning from God and making a mess of the succession. The monarchy is a catastrophic failure. It is unsurprising that the early Jesus movement interpreted today’s lesson as foreshadowing the coming of Jesus Christ (David’s direct descendant) as the fulfilment of God’s promise to Israel.

New Testament lesson: Acts 2.14a, 22-36

The Acts of the Apostles should be read as the second instalment of Luke’s account of the origin of the Christian church: having described the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus in his gospel. He tells of the early Jesus movement as it grew away from Judaism and spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Before today’s reading, the disciples have been filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Listeners from all over the known world have been able understand what the disciples say, exemplifying the gospel’s universal reach, overcoming all barriers of race and culture. Peter is stung by the suggestion that they are drunk. He preaches the first reported Christian sermon. Today’s reading is the second part of it. He proclaims that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. He distinguishes Jesus from David, pointing out that David is still dead, but Jesus has risen. He quotes Psalm 16, which would have been attributed to David, as prophesying this. Finally, he contrasts God’s majestic actions in Christ, with the shameful treatment of Jesus by humankind.