Easter 3A: What We Almost Missed

 

Emmaus Door, by Janet Brooks-Gerloff
Emmaus Door, by Janet Brooks-Gerloff

OLD TESTAMENT: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

To read the First Lectionary Lesson, click here

Remember that one of the emphases of Acts is evangelistic mission as well as to portray the authority and importance of Christianity. The passage that we read continues Peter’s “Pentecost Proclamation” that we began last week. That read appeals to the Jewish listeners to listen and consider the witness to “Jesus of Nazareth”. The idea of them being “cut to the heart” implies that they got the message and maybe even realized their own shortcomings or perhaps their own guilt over what had happened. Their question of “What shall we do?” is possibly rhetorical, but it makes a sincere request for instruction that will lead to forgiveness and restoration.

Peter’s response to “repent, and be baptized…” is essentially repeating John the Baptist’s early directive that we hear in The Gospels. But the context is, of course, very different in this Post-Easter and Post-Pentecost time. Here, “repent” means a reorientation, just as it did for John the Baptist. It means looking at the world differently and then being gifted with the Holy Spirit. Here, Baptism is not just individual repentance but initiation into the faith community, which we still assume today in our sacrament.

So, after Pentecost, Baptism initiates believers into a spiritual reality that John the Baptist could only predict. Prior to Pentecost, the community’s membership stood at one hundred and twenty (Acts 1:15) and now it stands at over 3,000. The community at this point has become a strong public presence in Jerusalem that will now be noticed by outsiders. Now, keep in mind that these were still mostly Jewish converts at this point. (In fact Peter himself would have been a Jew among other Jews.) They understood repentance (teshuva) not as some magical “born again” experience, but an act of one’s intelligence and moral conscience. It was more than merely confessing sins; it was changing one’s life and resisting and desisting the sin altogether. They also would have understood it more in terms of community than an individual penance before God. Think about the person delivering this message—Peter was the one that denied Jesus and then stood at a distance to watch the execution and now he is preaching a message of repentance. Based on this passage, we essentially live within the “end-times”. The potential of Easter on our lives has begun. This is a calling to claim our existence as the church of Christ. 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. Does that differ from our own interpretation of being “born again”?
  3. What does that mean for you to live within the “end-times”?
  4. How would we react to this message of Peter’s in today’s world?

 

NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Peter 1: 17-23

To read the Lectionary Epistle passage, click here

Remember that First Peter is one of the general (or catholic) epistles, so the “you” addresses a collective “you”, rather than a specific group of people. In the passage that we read, the claim that God is “Father” is directly related to the call in v. 14 for the readers to be “obedient children”. It is a reminder of God’s gracious relationship to the Christians and the call that they have to responsible and faithful living in the light of that relationship. The “exile”, here, probably refers to that time of waiting for the full revelation of Christ (which the writer and most of the readers or hearers would have assumed to be right around the corner.). “Living in exile” could mean simply living within a context into which one does not fit. The letter is to “the exiles of the Dispersion”. Exile may or may not be a matter of geography. It just means being out of place. And being out of place can alienate or it can draw a community together. The writer was calling the people to the latter.

God’s holiness requires Christian holiness for relationship. The reminder that Christians have been “sprinkled with Christ’s blood” is the initiation into the faith and obedience. Here, too, the time in which believers live is the “end of time”, but Christ has been known since the beginning of time. This letter is meant as a letter of encouragement for new Christians who may be faltering but who are destined to be God’s people from the very foundation of the world. They were destined to be redeemed. So it is essentially a call to “fear” of God, a call to being awe-struck by what God has done in one’s life.

Obedience is a major concern of this epistle. For the writer, faith shows itself and hope realizes itself through obedience. We tend to think of this as following some list of rules. What it really means is learning how to “be” a disciple. It is being who you are called to be.

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does the call to “fear” or “revere” God mean to you?
  3. This passage is essentially a call to obedience. What does that mean to you?
  4. What does it mean here to be “born anew”?

GOSPEL: Luke 24: 13-35

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

This is a familiar story, but it’s got so many profound meanings to it. Here are just a few points to consider: First, the village of Emmaus—this was a no-name village. It still pretty much is. There is a site that is assumed (just assumed) to be Emmaus that really is not very big at all.

So why were they going there? We don’t really know. Frederick Buechner interprets Emmaus as “the place we go to in order to escape—a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole damned thing go hang. It makes no difference anyway,”…Emmaus may be buying a new [outfit] or a new car or smoking more cigarettes [or eating] more than you really want, or reading a second-rate novel or even writing one. Emmaus may be going to church on Sunday. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had—ideas about love and freedom and justice—have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish [people] for selfish ends.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume IX, Luke & John, p. 482.)

And then someone approached them. You can bet they were a little wary at first. “What are you talking about?” the stranger asked. “Good grief,” they must have thought. “Where has he been? I mean, EVERYONE is talking about it.” So they told him the story of Jesus—at least they way they thought they understood it. And then this stranger began to interpret things to them. Who was this? And that evening, as they all sat around the table together, this stranger picked up a piece of bread, blessed it and broke it. And as he handed it to them, they saw who it was. Seven dusty miles and it was not until this moment that they saw what they almost missed. They could not wait to tell others. The Lord has risen indeed!

For these two disciples, none of this day was planned as a sacred moment. But somewhere in that act of sharing bread with a stranger they saw the Christ. And then…he was gone. Because you have to remember that God’s presence is always a bit elusive for us humans, always dancing in and out of our awareness. The mystery of God’s transcendence is never static or predictable. But in the midst of our ordinary and sometimes mundane lives, we are given glimpses of the holy and the sacred. They come without warning. They come without bidding. Sometimes they come when we’re not quite ready, maybe even when it’s a little inconvenient for what we’ve planned in our life. But life is not just about those pinnacles of holy sightings. If we spent all of our lives on the mountaintop, we would certainly get a bit of altitude sickness. Life is an ordinary road on which we travel. It’s got hills and valleys and a few potholes along the way. And every once in a while, holiness enters and dances with us. And then we must return to tell the story of what happened to us on the road to somewhere else.

But the point is that Jesus appeared in both places—the place that we go to retreat from the world and on the road itself. Jesus appears in the ordinary and the sacred; in the mundane and in the special. And if we don’t recognize the presence of the Risen Christ, the presence waits around until we do, even continuing to give us clues until we catch on.

Then, there were two people on the road—Cleopas and “the other one”. Now Cleopas is not that well known. He is not mentioned in canonical Scripture again. Church tradition claims that he was the father of one of the disciples and/or the husband of one of the women at the cross on the day that Jesus was crucified. Eusebius, the 4th century church historian claims him to be the brother of Joseph of Nazareth, which, I suppose, would make him Jesus’ Uncle Cleo! It really doesn’t matter. It’s the “other one” that should concern us. Usually when there is no name given, then the “other one” is us.

And another thing to consider is that maybe the “unknown” characteristic of the town matters too. Maybe the message is that its not about the destination, but about the road itself and the way we encounter the Risen Christ on that road. The point is that life is ordinary, with hills and valleys and a few potholes along the way. And in the midst of the ordinary, the holiness of God dances in and out of our lives. But the gift of holiness is not private. It is something to be shared. It is something on which we are invited to feast. So, upon seeing Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to spread the news.

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What is that “place” to which you retreat?
  3. Where do you see yourself on the road?
  4. How aware are you of the holiness dancing in and out of your awareness? What gets in your way?

  

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would be seen as it is. (William Blake)

 

Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of creating things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead [God] set before your eyes that things that [God] made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? (St. Augustine of Hippo, 5th century)

 

For lack of attention, a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day. (Evelyn Underhill) 

 

Closing

God, you call us to leave our comfortable ways, to sing new and unfamiliar songs. You ask us to invite absolute strangers into your house even though we feel awkward. We are slow to do what you ask…Lead us on a new path, your path. When we hesitate, stumble, and even reverse direction, reach back—grasp our hands—pull us forward. And when we start to grow deaf to your voice, call out to us—bellow out to us. Make us hear. Overwhelm us with your love. Surround us with your peace so that we have no choice but to share it with those you have put into our lives. Amen. (From “God of Risk”, by Deborah Bushfield, in Alive Now, May/June 2009, p. 38.)

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