Reading Ramblings – April 26, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020 – COVID-19

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

Context: The grace of God is the gift of God. It is not something we demand or earn but something freely offered. The readings all focus in on this reality, whether it’s two followers of Jesus who receive him when they thought He was dead and gone, or the psalmist emphasizing God’s grace when he turned to God, or Peter’s injunction to the crowd on Pentecost Sunday to simply repent and receive. The tradition in the 3-year lectionary cycle is to draw readings in the season of Easter from the Book of Acts rather than the Old Testament as normal, and we are also spending our time in 1 Peter this Easter season in a sort of lectio continua fashion.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 – We’ll hear most of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost Sunday and Holy Trinity Sunday, but here we see the conclusion of that sermon. First the crowd was cut to the heart. More than an intellectual assent, and more than an emotional response. It wasn’t simply logic and it wasn’t simply emotion. Rather, Peter’s Holy Spirit-inspired words convicted these people, personally, of the need of a response. What Jesus did requires a response from everyone who hears about it. There is nobody who can stand to one side of the account and say it has no direct bearing on them. There is nobody Jesus did not die for. There is nobody who can say his empty grave doesn’t matter to them. It matters to everyone, and the crowd on Pentecost recognizes this and their response is one bordering on despair – what shall we do? If the Son of God died not just for you but because of you, what hope can possibly remain? The same hope that remains today – to accept that his death for you and because of you is God’s gift to you. Receive the gift! It truly is for you!

Psalm 116:1-14 – God listens and responds. Always. The crowd crying out in anguish to Peter’s sermon has the ear of God attending to them. And if you have the ear of God the Father always inclined toward you, could there be any other response but to be in constant joy and praise and thanksgiving of this reality? God’s attentiveness to our needs has truly rescued us from the reality of death. We need not fear death – or anything else in life – because we know God has conquered all things on our behalf. This should not make us reckless or careless – we still are sheltering in place and practicing social distancing! – but it should leave us at peace knowing God is with and for us always, in sickness and in health. Verses 12-14 make me that much more anxious for us to gather again together and sing those words in praise and thanksgiving to our God!

1 Peter 1:17-25 – God turns us to him so we can hear his offer of grace and salvation in the Son of God through God the Holy Spirit. And in faith we can call upon God the Father knowing He hears us and we are never out of his eye. But He has saved us not just from something – sin and corruption and death, but for something – holiness. The life of faith is the growing up into the holiness. But that honor – to grow in holiness – was bought with a terrible price. With the very blood of the incarnate Son of God. It is his sacrifice that makes our holiness possible, that wins our forgiveness and freedom from death and Satan. Our lives should be lived out in this reality, which should in turn guard us against the desire to live sinfully as we once did or might be inclined to were we not followers of Christ.

Luke 24:13-35 For such a well-known story, there is difficulty in knowing where exactly the village of Emmaus was or is. The traditional place – renamed Nicopolis during the Byzantine Empire and afterwards renamed an Arabic variant (‘Imwas) of the name Emmaus – is much farther away than Luke states. Luke states it as being 60 stadia away from Jerusalem, or about seven miles. Emmaus-Nicopolis however is roughly 19 miles away, and it would have been a very difficult thing for the two men Jesus accompanied on the road to accomplish the return trip the same evening.

Another possible site is 30 stadia from Jerusalem rather than 60, and is recorded by Josephus as a place given to Roman military veterans after retirement. The distance is not right, but one explanation could be that Luke’s distance refers to the total round trip distance covered by the two men rather than the one way distance. The Roman road leading west from Jerusalem to two different Emmaus’ is still visible today though it has fallen into disrepair.

Many people hear this story and want to know how it was the two men did not recognize Jesus sooner. Luke simply states that their eyes were kept from recognizing him. The Greek is more forceful – their eyes were held back or restrained from recognizing him. It wasn’t that Jesus was not recognizable but they were deliberately prevented from recognizing him, presumably a work of God the Holy Spirit. But why?

The passage we read in John last week about Doubting Thomas emphasizes Jesus’ physicality. He was not a spirit or a vision or a hallucination but an actual physical person they could touch. Likewise, Jesus travels a good distance with the two men. Nothing in his manner suggested to them He was anything but a human being – physical. Kicking up dirt and dust as they walked, gesturing, perspiring. All very physical. It is only when He breaks bread they realize who He is – their eyes are freed to see him for who He is, and of course this is how Jesus is best and most fully known – in his sacrificing of his body for you and I, his body broken by death on the cross for you and I, a sacrifice and brokenness embodied in the Sacrament of Holy Communion as instituted by Jesus on the night of his betrayal.

Literally as the two men see Jesus breaking the bread they are freed to see him for who and what He truly is, the one who was sacrificed and broken but now lives. Not as a ghost or a spirit or a wishful imagining but as an actual resurrected person.

So it is for you and I. Jesus is not just an idea or a concept for us to intellectually evaluate and critique. He is an actual person of flesh and blood that we are invited into a relationship with. A person we can only know best in terms of what He has done for us in giving his life and taking it back up again.

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