A worship professor voices frustration at students who conclude a Gospel reading with “Here ends the Gospel.” “The gospel doesn’t end,” my colleague insists. “The gospel is the good news—then and now!” Reading the endings of the canonical Gospels, one imagines that the four evangelists would agree with him. Each of them has difficulties wrapping things up.
In John 5, festival scenes in the holy city are juxtaposed with the view of five porticoes full of invalids. Imagine dropping by the nursing home on your way to Christmas Eve services. One place is festive, filled with pretty clothes, color, light and music. The other location features crutches, canes and people who cannot hide their desperate need for healing.
I was looking through a high school yearbook recently, a dangerous thing to do when 40 years have passed. I got lost staring at the silly hairstyles, the photos of teachers who are long since gone, the friend in the senior play whose name is now etched on the Vietnam memorial. It was a time of turmoil and strife in the nation. Racial tensions, assassinations and war were tearing the country apart. But you would never know that from my yearbook’s carefree and hopeful class photos.
Many Christians can name the hour and the place of their salvation. For me it was answering not one but two altar calls at Billy Graham crusades in the 1960s. For Reinhold Niebuhr, who was asked if he could name the time and place of his salvation, it was “2,000 years ago on a dusty hill named Golgotha outside Jerusalem’s wall.”
"We are witnesses to these things," said Peter. Yet as the gospel for the second Sunday of Easter opens, "these things" do not include Jesus' resurrection. That morning Peter had seen an empty tomb with some scattered linens. He had witnessed absence, not resurrection. At that point, he had not even witnessed Jesus' death—he had missed his chance. Yet soon Peter becomes one of the boldest and most powerful of witnesses to Jesus' message, death and resurrection. Clearly something happened.