3rd Sunday of Easter – April 30, 2006
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
“THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB, THE GOD OF OUR ANCESTORS, HAS GLORIFIED HIS SERVANT, JESUS” (Acts 3:13)
This week’s text from Acts comes from the second of six kerygma speeches found in the book of Acts. The first five are given by Peter, the last given by Paul. “Kerygma” is the Greek word for proclamation. This week’s kerygmatic speech begins with Peter’s claim that Jesus’ death and resurrection were meant to happen as foretold in Jewish salvation history beginning with Abraham on to all the prophets — even though the crowd he was speaking to and their Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and demanded Pilate crucify him. Paul tells the people they did this in ignorance. All is not lost, Peter says, all they need to do is “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins be wiped away.”
In these seven verses Peter gives Jesus four different descriptive titles – God’s servant who was glorified, the holy and righteous one who was denied, the author of life who was put to death, and the Messiah who had to suffer and die. They are all part of a developing Christology that gives meaning to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and serves as a basis for our faith.
DEDUCTIVE OR INDUCTIVE REASONING?
When Peter claimed that Jesus’ death and resurrection were foretold in Jewish salvation history through the scriptures, it was not by any deductive reasoning process that he made this claim. Nobody could have deduced from the Old Testament writings the coming of Jesus in the way and manner in which he did. The kerygmatic statements found in Acts are all inductive statements, made only after the resurrection of Jesus. It was only after their experience of the risen Lord that Jesus’ followers were able to look back into Jewish salvation history through the scriptures and piece together the connecting points of Gods promises and covenants with the Jewish people and how Jesus came to fulfill them and in the process change our understanding of God and human beings.
It should be noted that not all of the Jewish scriptures contributed to our understanding of Jesus. In truth, some of it had to be completely ignored, especially the text that portrayed God as a violent, hating, vengeful God.
ACTS 3:16 – THE MISSING VERSE:
I always take notice of any verses left out of a text selection. This week the lectionary dropped verse 3:16 from the reading. Why? We are never told. I do know that when verse 3:16 is dropped from the text, we lose the text’s context in Acts, the reason and the place where Peter delivered this speech.
Peter’s speech is part of a single unit in Acts which presents a series of related events (Acts 3:1- 4:31) that begins with a dramatic cure of a lame beggar which leads to the disciples, Peter and John’s, first arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin.
The narrative begins with Peter and John going to the Temple to pray at the 3 pm prayer time. This is the first time the disciples return to the Temple after Jesus’ death. As they are about to enter the Temple grounds a lame beggar, someone who was crippled at birth and well known to Temple goers, asks Peter and John for alms. Peter and John stopped and looked at the beggar “intently.” Peter told the lame beggar they had no money to give him but Peter did what he could: he invoked the name of Jesus and commanded the man to rise and walk. Then Peter took him by the hand and helped him up and he began to walk. Not only did he begin to walk, he started to leap and dance praising God loudly, following Peter and John into Solomon’s Portico, the large court at the main entrance of the Temple.
Now the Sadducees, the priest and the captain of the Temple guard were not pleased with Peter and John’s performance, especially since they invoked the name of Jesus, claiming he had been raised from the dead. They had Peter and John and the dancing cripple arrested and held overnight in jail. The next day all three were brought before the Sanhedrin, the same ruling body that condemned Jesus to death two months earlier. We will need to wait until next week to tell the outcome of this story, when our lectionary text from Acts covers Peter’s first trial statement.
HE STOOD IN THEIR MIDST AND SAID TO THEM, “PEACE BE WITH YOU.” Acts 24”36
Both Luke and John’s gospels have full Easter Day activities that start at dawn and end at night with a surprise appearance of the risen Lord. This week’s Gospel is Luke’s account of the Easter Sunday night visit by Jesus.
Luke’s Easter Sunday morning begins with the women finding Jesus’ tomb empty and two angels announcing Jesus’ resurrection, telling them to go and tell the disciples the Good News. The women do as the angels directed them to do but the disciples did not believe. Then Peter goes to the tomb and finds it empty, then “went home amazed at what happened.”
Then the story shifts to the story of the two disciples’ encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus when they come to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. This week’s gospel picks up with the two Emmaus road disciples, Easter Sunday night, back in Jerusalem with the other disciples. The other disciples tell the Emmaus disciples that Jesus had truly risen, for he appeared to Simon (Peter). Then the two Emmaus disciples tell what happened to them.
While all this is happening, Jesus appeared, stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” These are the same words John reports Jesus saying in his Easter night visit. The disciples were both “startled” and “terrified” thinking “they were seeing a ghost!” Jesus asks, “Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts?…..touch me and see because ghosts do not have flesh and bones….” Then Jesus says a remarkable thing, “Have you anything to eat?” They gave him some baked fish and he ate it!
WHAT IS A BODILY RESURRECTION?
Most Christians today are functioning Greeks when it comes to understanding the after life. The idea of a bodily resurrection just goes over their heads. It’s much easier to believe we leave our perishable flesh and bones in our graves to be food for the worms, while our spirits go to their heavenly rewards. This is a classic Greek understanding of the divide between the material world and the spiritual world. This may be easier for our modern minds to understand, it is not what is proclaimed and believed in the New Testament.
The New Testament authors based their claims of Jesus’ bodily resurrection on a Jewish understanding of resurrection, not the Greek. In Jewish thought all souls are embodied spirits. The body and spirit cannot be separated and remain a human souled person. Therefore there cannot be a resurrection from the dead for a human being without its body. Nor can there be only an individual resurrection from the dead. For the Jews, the resurrection of the dead was always a communal experience. Jesus’ resurrection though singular because he was the first, also begins a communal resurrection of the human family.
Still, this is not easy to explain to our modern mind especially since we know after death our bodily matter (flesh and bones) deteriorate into the earth and rejoin the earth’s ecosystem to be reconstituted into other life forms, perhaps even human. Frankly, I don’t know how it works. However, I do know what it means to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Just for starters, it means our physical death is not the last word. It is the cure for our fallen and broken world. It means whatever demons people are struggling with, be they addictive behavior, emotional or physical illness or broken relationships, they don’t have the last word. Anyone and everyone is redeemable, no sin unforgivable, no wrong that can’t be made right.
It means that the “powers and principalities”, the nation states and terrorist groups, religions and ideologies, who rule in our world by fear and greed, by hatred and violence will not win, and can only lose because the long arch of human history bends towards peace, justice and love.
It means that Jesus is what God is in human form. And God in unconditionally loving and unlimitedly forgiving. It means that Jesus is what being human is at its best and because of him we can be our best also. It means I will know God’s mercy by the measure of mercy I give to others. And I’m sure it means a lot more to me and our world than I can possibly understand. And because of this it is worthy of my faith, my life’s passions and energies and my life’s blood.
THEN HE OPENED THEIR MINDS TO UNDERSTANDING THE SCRIPTURES Acts 24:45
After eating the fish Jesus explained to the disciples using inductive reasoning from their experience of witnessing the resurrected Lord how all of the scriptures pointed to his death and resurrection. He told them that the truth of his victory over death and all that it means must be proclaimed to all the nations beginning in Jerusalem. The Gospel text ends with Jesus telling his disciples to stay in Jerusalem where Jesus will send them the “promise of my Father” who will “clothe (them) with power from on high.”