April 16, 2023
Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Peter 1:3-9
Inheritance provides a means for families to transfer wealth from one generation to the next and thus offer some measure of financial security. This is possible, of course, only when there are assets that can be passed on. In the United States, disparities among racial groups have been exacerbated by the huge gap in generational wealth. A poll conducted less than a year ago showed that White Americans are nearly three times more likely than Black Americans to receive wealth from their parents, with Latinos and Native Americans not faring much better.
Even in a wealthy country like the United States, most people will never receive a financial inheritance, especially if they are people of color. How striking then to read today in the First Letter of Peter (1 Peter) that we have who have been baptized have received “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Pt 1:4). This assertion is particularly astonishing in light of the audience to whom this letter was addressed: communities of Christians composed primarily of women and slaves, those least likely to expect any kind of inheritance.
Just as those who inherit money may require advice on how to invest and use it wisely, so do those receiving a spiritual inheritance need some guidance in their new life. And so, writing under Peter’s name, the author of 1 Peter offers instruction to believers about how to live out the inheritance that they have received through their baptism into Christ.
Our inheritance is linked to baptism; it accompanies “a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pt 1:3) In several other New Testament texts, we are reminded that baptism joins us to the dying and rising of Jesus. In the letter to the Colossians, for example, we read that “when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12). This season for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus is a time to reflect on the meaning of our baptism, by which we have been raised up for a new life in Christ.
The imperishable inheritance that we receive at baptism is a legacy of faith and of hope. The author recognizes that some of those to whom he is writing have suffered persecution or know others who have experienced suffering for being followers of Jesus. His words are meant to reassure them by reminding them of the “living hope” (1 Pt 1:3) that they have received through Christ’s resurrection and their share in that new life through baptism. While not seeking out suffering for its own sake, Christians are not only empowered to endure persecution but can even rejoice in their trials. They can be confident that this testing of their faith can “result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pt 1:7).
Of course, Christians experience uncertainty and even doubt in their baptismal journey. All of us at times look for reassurance, just as when the risen Jesus showed himself to Thomas and the other disciples. In today’s Gospel story, Jesus encourages those frightened disciples by his presence in their midst and bestows his gift of peace. He speaks to all of us, declaring, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).
In this same way, the author of 1 Peter reminds his audience of the legacy of faith that they have received through baptism. Their inheritance allows them to remain firm even when they experience trials or uncertainty: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Pt 1:8).
The inheritance that we have received in baptism is indeed a pledge of eternal life with the risen Christ, but it is also a legacy of faith and hope—a trust that God has our back in every situation and will ultimately keep us and protect us. With the psalmist we can express our joy in this inheritance: “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11).
A Hymn for Today: “Hope of the World”
Theologian Georgia Harkness wrote this hymn in 1954 and submitted it for a hymn search conducted by The Hymn Society in preparation for the Second General Assembly of the World Council of Churches held in Evanston, Illinois. The theme of that conference was “Jesus Christ—the Hope of the World.” Harkness was one of the most important United Methodist theologians of the second half of the twentieth century. This hymn articulates many of her theological themes and is an apt response to today’s Epistle reading, which speaks of the “living hope” that we have received through baptism into the resurrection of Christ. Listen to two different musical settings in different styles here and here.
Hope of the world, thou Christ of great compassion:
speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent;
save us, thy people, from consuming passion,
who by our own false hopes and aims are spent.
Hope of the world, God’s gift from highest heaven,
bringing to hungry souls the bread of life:
still let thy Spirit unto us be given
to heal earth’s wounds and end our bitter strife.
Hope of the world, afoot on dusty highways,
showing to wandering souls the path of light:
walk thou beside us lest the tempting byways
lure us away from thee to endless night.
Hope of the world, who by thy cross didst save us
from death and deep despair, from sin and guilt:
we render back the love thy mercy gave us;
take thou our lives and use them as thou wilt.
Hope of the world, O Christ, o’er death victorious,
who by this sign didst conquer grief and pain:
we would be faithful to thy gospel glorious;
thou art our Lord! Thou dost forever reign!
Text: Georgia Harkness, 1891-1974. © 1954, ren. 1982, The Hymn Society
Tunes: DONNE SECOURS, VICAR, ANCIENT OF DAYS (Jeffery)
Image Credit: Baptism – Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus, 3rd century
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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