Easter 4: Sunday Scriptures & Sermon Questions

Eastertide at Ascension
Sacred Fire Preaching Series

Weekly devotional resource is available here.

Scriptures for Sunday, April 22: Acts 4:23 – 37

1.  In Acts 4:18-22, Peter and John are ordered by the Sanhedrin not to speak or teach any more in the name of Jesus. In vv. 31 & 33 we are told quite clearly that they continue to speak – giving testimony about the resurrection and speaking with boldness. Obviously they have decided that this speaking is part of ‘listening to God rather than” to the powers that be. When is right for Christians to disobey the authorities? Are there cases in our society when we need to stand against the prevailing opinions – or even laws?
2. In Acts 4:24-30 the church prays both for ‘boldness’ in their own speech and for God himself to act. What kind of boldness does the church need today? What do we need to ask God to do in our society?
3. Read Deuteronomy 15:1-11. This chapter seems to have a tension within it – God promises (v.4) that there will be no poor people in the land of Israel – but later in the chapter (v.11) God says that the poor will never cease from the land. How do we resolve this tension? Deut 15:4 seems to be quoted in Acts 4:34 – how did the early church interpret Deuteronomy 15?
4. In what ways can we follow the positive example of people like Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37) – and avoid the  negative example of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)?

Easter 3: Sunday Scriptures & Sermon Questions

Eastertide at Ascension
Sacred Fire Preaching Series

Weekly devotional resource is available here.

Scriptures for Sunday, April 15: Acts 4:5-14

Sermon questions:
  1. Fr. Jonathan mentioned in his sermon that Luke-Acts is to be understood as a single literary unit, with the Holy Spirit serving a key ‘character’ in both books. The Holy Spirit ‘fills’ Jesus for his earthly ministry (Luke 3:22; 4:1-2; 4:18) and similarly ‘fills’ the apostles to be witnesses to Jesus in Jerusalem, Samaria, Antioch, and to the ends of the earth (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:4f; 4:8, etc.). In what ways does the Holy Spirit empower the apostles to be witnesses of Christ? Spend time praying that God would fill Ascension with the Spirit to be his witnesses to Pittsburgh, southwestern PA, and beyond.
  2. In v. 9, Peter describes the ‘act of kindness’ done in healing the lame man as a sign of a deeper deliverance and salvation from sin and death. What is your experience of miracles? If you have experienced a miraculous occurrence, how did it relate to the presence of the kingdom in the situation in which it happened?
  3. It is striking how often Acts refers to the power of the name of Jesus. In v. 12 Peter says ‘there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved’. Why do you think Jesus’s name is of such importance in Acts? Have you ever found the act of calling upon the name of Jesus itself to be powerful?

Easter 2: Sunday Scriptures & Sermon Questions

Eastertide at Ascension
Sacred Fire Preaching Series

Weekly devotional resource is available here.

Sermon questions:

Acts 3:12-26
1. In this passage Peter seems to be somewhat different from the Peter we usually encounter in the gospels – what has happened to him that gives him the boldness to talk about Jesus (and act in Jesus’ name) in public?
2. What is the connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the healing of the lame man (see his story in Acts 3:1-11)?
3. Jesus is given a number of interesting ‘titles’ in this passage: vv.13 & 26-  servant/son (the word used can be translated both ways); v.14 – Holy and Righteous One; v.15 – Author of life; v.20 – Christ; v.22 – prophet. What do you think these terms would have meant to Peter’s first listeners? Some of these words are only rarely used by Christians today – why do you think that is?
4. There seem to be several promises made to those who ‘repent and return’ (v.19). The first seems clear enough – repentance leads to sins being erased. What do you make of the other two: 1. that ‘times of refreshing from the Lord’s presence’ will come and 2. that God will send the Christ?

11am Choir Rehearsal

10am Easter Vigil Rehearsal

Church Closed for Easter Monday

12:30pm Resounding Grace Rehearsal

8am Easter Sunrise Breakfast

All welcome to breakfast after the 6am Easter Vigil!

6am Easter Vigil

The first service of Easter Day begins with darkness and includes the singing of the Exsultet, or Song of Praise, over the year’s Easter Candle, the passing of the Light of Easter, scripture, silence, Holy Baptism and the first Eucharist of Easter! Please remember to bring your bells to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord! Childcare is not provided at the Vigil.

“I got me flowers to straw Thy way; I got me boughs off many a tree:

But Thou wast up by break of day, and brought’st Thy sweets along with Thee….”

So writes George Herbert in his 17th century poem “Easter”, and so have I long thought of what it is like to journey toward our church in the cold darkness of pre-dawn on Easter morning, looking forward to the Easter Vigil worship. Like the women who journeyed to the tomb on that first Easter morning, longing to do something for Jesus, we find, as we arrive, that he is there before us, greeting us with his deep love and empowering us to worship him.

The Easter Vigil service is probably the most ancient of the services celebrated during Holy Week – traces of it are found as early as the 2nd century. While many churches celebrate it on Saturday night, others, like Ascension, have a tradition of holding their Vigil services beginning before sunrise. Just as all of Lent has been a journey from ashes to alleluias, so is the Easter Vigil a mini-journey from tomb to garden, from darkness to light, from the Fall to the Resurrection and new life through baptism. It is also a “short watch”: in a Maundy Thursday gospel reading we heard Jesus ask his disciples “could you not watch with me one hour?” – and so now we keep Vigil, sitting in the darkness, waiting for the lighting of the Easter Candle, waiting for the dawn, waiting for the first Eucharist of Easter.

So we arrive in a very dimly lit, almost dark church and sit for a bit in the darkness, remembering the darkness we encountered on Maundy Thursday when all light was extinguished in a bare, stripped down room. And then the Easter Candle is lit at the back of the church! Amazing how the single light – representing the light of Christ, can bring light into a dark place! As the procession moves slowly down the aisle to the front, the Celebrant chants “The Light of Christ” and we respond “Thanks be to God” and what I call “the dance of light” begins as torch bearers light the candles of the congregation, crisscrossing back and forth, revealing more and more of Christ’s Body as the candle light fills the room.

When the procession arrives at the front the Celebrant sings one of the Church’s most ancient chants, the Exsultet, originating possibly as early as the 5th century. With glorious poetry, it speaks of the “holiness of this night” when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God – when, to redeem a slave, God gave a son.

From this singing we move into hearing the story of our Redemption with readings about the Fall, the crossing of Israel over the Red Sea and the defeat of the Egyptian army and other parts of our Story. And we sing songs in the darkness and pray short prayers, and while all this is happening the sun is rising, ever so slowly filling the room with God’s light.

Then baptisms are performed and we all renew our baptismal vows – and then there is a hush in the candle-lit darkness ‘till the celebrant cries “Alleluia! Christ is risen” and as we shout “The Lord is risen indeed”! all the lights in the church come on and bells are rung and we sing our way into the first Eucharist of Easter.

“You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore, my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”






12:30pm Lunch with Jonathan and Andrea Millard

This will be Canon Jonathan Millard’s last Sunday with us until he returns from his sabbatical leave in mid-August. Please join Jonathan and his wife Andrea for lunch in the New Catacombs following the 11am service. They will speak for about 30 minutes on their plans and hopes for this sabbatical leave. All are welcome. Lunch is by donation.

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