23rd April 2023
Today’s gospel tells of two disciples who – even though they had heard tell that some people were saying that Jesus had risen from the dead – had decided to give up on the mission Jesus had launched and to go home. They were sad, disheartened and despondent. Staying longer in Jerusalem was pointless. The transformation of their futures that Jesus had promised was not going to happen. There was going to be no dynamic shift in power between those in authority and those who were followers of Jesus.
In many ways there despondency echoes my own despondency about the likely hood of a climate safe future. I may hear stories that tell me that elephants can transform their ecosystem making it more climate friendly. I may hear tell that this year remembrance poppies will be plastic free. I may read of growing sales of electric cars. But none of these gives me the confidence that radical change is going to happen.
What was it that overturned the feelings, the attitude of the two disciples?
We hear that as they walked they were joined by a stranger who first of all patiently listens to their sorrows and complaints. He then patiently goes through the scriptures explaining how they point out that the messiah was destined to suffer before establishing an era of glory. These words, this careful dissection of the Bible doesn’t seem of itself to convince the two disciples -although it does pique their interest such that they invite the stranger to continue the conversation over supper. Rather it is seeing Jesus blessing and breaking the bread that transforms them. It is this personal, intimate action that sets their hearts ablaze with confidence, that overturns their understanding of what has happened to Jesus, that transforms their state of mind.
Now they are in doubt that a) Jesus has risen from the dead, and b) that all that he promised of a transformed and glory filled future was an achievable reality! Not words but actions, not theory but experienced love is what is important. Filled with a new born fervour, the two disciples hot foot back to Jerusalem. They want to share their news, they want to be with the Jesus-friends, they want to be part of this soon to be transformative movement.
These two disciples are not alone in their experiences. The passage from Acts reports that in a single day 3000 people wished to join the movement. One wonders what was the message that Peter preached that won over so many hearts. From the brief description, it embraced forgiveness -freedom – from their sins, the power of the Holy Spirit, and an escape route from a corrupt age. Or maybe it wasn’t so much what Peter said, as the people’s experience of fellowship with the growing band of Christian disciples.
Reading on in Acts we hear that this newly formed (but growing) community shared what they had in common. Those who were poor and struggling perhaps to find food and accommodation, were provided for without having to endure the steep prices and unfair practices of corrupt traders and landlords. Those who were widows with no family no longer had to live in a world that ignored them. Those with wealth no longer has to worry about it being lost or stolen. Those who were ill no longer had to go with out care, or subject themselves to unscrupulous quacks. The growing Christian community cared for everyone, shared resources, treated people with an equity that was not depended on being the right sex, the right skin colour, the right family background. This was a counter-cultural and highly attractive community. This was surely the salvation that converts desired.
Can we offer the same sort of salvation in our generation? How can we create communities and groups where we feel the love and fellowship that those first disciples experienced? How do we create or take advantage of opportunities to share with one another and with ‘strangers’ – those who are not regular church goers, or traditional believers? How can we make worship a personal experience and a community experience of being in the presence of God? How do we begin to live lives that are counter to the unfair practices of our current world? Lives that provide for those without, befriend those who are bereft or lonely, stand up for those who are disadvantaged or dispossessed?
I don’t think the answers are straightforward or will come easily, but they will be resonate of the Easter message is one of renewal, transformation and joy.
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd, “Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptised, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
2 The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.
3 Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: *
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”
10 How shall I repay the Lord *
for all the good things he has done for me?
11 I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the Lord.
12 I will fulfil my vows to the Lord *
in the presence of all his people.
13 Precious in the sight of the Lord *
is the death of his servants.
14 O Lord, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.
15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the Lord.
16 I will fulfil my vows to the Lord *
in the presence of all his people,
17 In the courts of the Lord’S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
1 Peter 1:17-23
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognising him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.