Reading Ramblings – May 4, 2014

Date:  Third Sunday of Easter, May ,4 2014

Texts: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-14; 1 Peter 1:17-25; Luke 24:13-35

Context: The season of Easter continues for seven weeks, until Pentecost, a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover.  The Gospel reading continues to focus on the events after Easter morning, while the other readings flesh out the implications of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for you and I today. 

 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — Peter could have told the crowd anything.  He seemed to have them in the palm of his hand, convicted of their horrible guilt in crucifying the Messiah.  This was the point to press for personal gain.  Or perhaps this would be the logical place to emphasize a moral life, living ethically according to God’s revealed will, stressing personal effort and exertion as the response of guilt. 

But there is nothing more to be gained, and nothing left to be done.  Christ has done it all, and has given it all to us.  There is nothing but to confess that we are hopeless without him, and to accept his name on our hearts through baptism.  This is the heart of the Gospel.  Nothing else can be added to what Jesus has done.  We are free to respond in obedience, but this is almost irrelevant.  Christ has conquered all.  Believe.  Live.

Psalm 116:1-14 — A beautiful summary of what God has accomplished on our behalf through Jesus Christ!  Verses 1-2 extol the Lord’s goodness, then verses 3-4 explain the predicament—nothing short of death itself.  Verses 5-6 declare what the Lord did, he rescued the speaker from death itself, not because of any merit in the individual, but solely because of the Lord’s grace and compassion.  The result is that the speaker can rest, he no longer needs to fear or be anxious.  Verses 8-9 again state how the Lord has saved the speaker, and verses 10-11 state the speaker’s role in all of this—trust and faith in the Lord.  What is left to be done?  Nothing but to praise God and honor him in our lives!

Luke 24:13-35— Jesus’ appearances continue.  We only know who one of the two are on the road to Emmaus (Cleopas, v.18). Verse 13 indicates an association with the followers of Jesus.  They weren’t Apostles (as per v.33), but close enough to gain access to the Apostles to share the miraculous news of what they experienced journeying to and once arrived at Emmaus.  Jesus knew these men, and they certainly knew him.  But they did not know him to be the Messiah (v.19), indicating that he was a mighty prophet instead.  They know the events of the day that have thus been reported, but they are confused to say the least. 

These followers of Jesus had plenty of ideas about him, but none of these ideas perfectly matched who He was.  Not merely prophet, not merely wonder-worker, not merely crucified, not merely the redeemer of Israel.  Jesus is only recognized once He breaks the bread.  Verse 16 asserts that there is an active hiding of Jesus’ identity.  Only in the breaking of the bread are they allowed to truly perceive him for who He is.  Where is it that we can expect to meet and recognize our risen Savior?  At the table He himself sets for us at his altar. 

From the beginning the followers of Jesus have given place of honor to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  It is not a casual meal.  It is not something open and available to just anyone who decides they want to join it.  It is not an affirmation of human solidarity and community.  It is to be the recognition of the presence of Jesus himself.  Not symbolic.  Not representative.  Not picture-language.  Rather the living Son of God comes to us in with and under the bread and wine.  We eat and drink his flesh and blood, and whenever we come into the presence of God, we must acknowledge it.  Failure to do so puts us in harm’s way, as per 1 Corinthians 11:27-30.  You won’t hear many sermons these days about the risk of receiving Holy Communion improperly, even in those churches who limit access to the Lord’s Supper because of this risk. 

But when Christ comes to us, our response is to be as those people who heard Peter preach the first Pentecost sermon.  We must repent, recognizing our sinfulness and inadequacy and throwing ourselves on the mercy of God the Father through God the Son, as prompted by God the Holy Spirit.  There is a long tradition of doing this specifically through confession and self-examination prior to receiving Holy Communion.  We don’t simply show up Sunday and remember at the last minute that it’s Communion Sunday!  We are to have given prayerful thought and consideration to what—and who—we will receive! 

While private confession & absolution with the pastor ahead of time, combined with a declaration of intent to receive Holy Communion may no longer be common practice, we should take to heart the awesomeness of what we receive.  Our God comes to us.  He brings forgiveness of sins, and each person would do well to remember that this is what they receive with the bread and the wine.  It is not the only time or place where forgiveness is offered, but it is the only time that forgiveness becomes tangible, that we can taste grace, as it were. 

Receive it in awe and joy and wonder, and for that you must truly accept that you do not receive simple bread and wine.  The bread is broken, and our eyes should be opened just as the eyes of those two men in Emmaus. 

 

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