Lenten blog | March 27, 2023
Paul's Twelve Hour Sermon
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 27th: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 143; and Acts 20:7-12. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I think every seminarian has heard about Eutychus. He comes up in homiletics classes, the classes basically about sermons. No matter the importance of what you are saying – for remember this is Paul who is talking – there is always the danger of simply saying too much.
Early Christians from the start were honouring the first day of the week, Sunday, as their special day of worship. Sunday in the church is always a celebration of Easter Sunday’s resurrection. This is why Lenten Sundays are not counted as part of Lent’s 40 days. Christians were gathering to be in the presence of the one who was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. With Jesus not confined to death’s tomb, His followers congregated on the first day of the week to celebrate His presence among them.
Those earliest Christians, however, were not morning people. Our weekly worship is a morning event. Theirs tended to be an evening gathering. This was based on the institution of Holy Communion at the Last Supper. This was the evening Passover dinner that Jesus shared with His disciples. At this table, Jesus broke bread and shared it with the Twelve telling them that this was His body. He shared the cup, telling them this was His blood. He commanded also, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Accordingly, those first Christians gathered for an evening meal together, and during the actual meal, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread (Holy Communion) and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
The Jewish day is from evening to evening. When we read today “On the first day of the week …,” this is Sunday, but in our reckoning it may actually be Saturday evening. Regardless, Paul is among them on Sunday, the first day of the week. Paul has plans to leave the next day. Before he leaves, he wants to make sure that the believers in Troas have as good a hold on the faith as possible. So Paul preaches and teaches them from the sunset breaking of bread until midnight. Let’s just call that six hours.
The room, says the text, is well lit, but still Paul has been preaching/teaching for six hours. (Sort of puts my sermons in perspective.) At this six hour point, Eutychus begins to nod off “while Paul talked still longer.” At some point, Eutychus could not fight off sleep any longer. He gives in to exhaustion. The problem is that he fell asleep on the sill of a third-story window. He tumbles out the window and is pronounced dead on the ground below. Paul goes down, picks Eutychus up, and tells everyone that he will be just fine. Then, amazingly, Paul goes back up to the third-floor room and just starts preaching/teaching all over again, and he does so until the sun rises. Added all together, this sounds like a twelve hour sermon. (Now my 12-15 minutes in the pulpit are really in perspective.)
It makes me smirk when I then read of Paul, “Then he left.” Paul breaks away from his preaching to check on Eutychus, declares him fine, returns to preaching, “then he left,” and only then do we hear that Eutychus was just fine. This was a pretty dramatic event in Troas, not to mention for Eutychus, but for Paul it was rather run-of-the-mill. Not even Eutychus falling out a window to his supposed death was as important to Paul as the Word of God.
In homiletics, the story of Eutychus carries the warning about saying too much, but it also shares the example of Paul who held the Word of God to be most extraordinary. We have entered the final stretch of our Lenten journey. There is only this week and next. I hope that if you have made these posts a part of your journey that you have grown accustomed to reading the Bible daily, to reading the Word of God. I hope that you see in the biblical words the extraordinary Word. And I do hope that you will continue the practice of daily Bible reading even after Lent has passed to the glories of that particularly amazing first day of the week when the women went to the tomb ... well, that’s for another time.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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