FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
21 April 2013
In Acts, Chapter 9, Peter brings about two miracles, the second of which you will hear about today. Both result in many conversions to “the Way.” Throughout Acts, miracles lead to faith. Yet in the gospel of John, the risen Christ says to doubting Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (20:29).
It is significant that Peter stayed with a tanner. In Jewish law tanners were unclean because they worked with animal carcasses. Aside from law, raw animal hides are vile. They stink and attract vermin. Peter chose to stay in the very pit of society, an act of love toward humanity. Yet the church he helped to establish flourished largely because people of wealth supported it. See the recent work by Peter Brown, Through the Eye of the Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West 350-550 AD.
Revelation was written to give courage and comfort to Christians who were threatened by their Roman rulers. In 64 CE, the Roman emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the great fire of Rome, setting off vast numbers of arrests usually resulting in death, often by horrible tortures (described by the Roman diplomat and historian Tacitus in Annals .XV.44). Peter and Paul are thought to have died in these persecutions.
In our reading, John is still in the throne room of God. A great crowd of people dressed in white robes appears before God, and one of the elders explains to John that they have “come out of the great ordeal,” meaning they have died under torture, still loyal to their Christ. In a wonderful metaphor of washing their robes in the blood of the lamb, we are told they have been forgiven their sins. Now God will care for them and “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”