Third Sunday of Easter
Easter 3 Series A
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
When strange things happen, what do you do? When hard things happen, to whom do you turn? There is so much in the world and in the human experience that is confusing, troubling, or concerning, and we each have different tools and habits to get through conundrums. When life’s little questions arise, like, “What should I eat for dinner?” “Did I remember my sister’s birthday?” or “What is the meaning of the resurrected Christ?” we all use different tools and practices to muddle through to an answer. Maybe not the answer, but one that helps us now (breakfast for dinner is always acceptable). Whether by intention or negligence, our habits and disciplines always impact how we make meaning out of mystery.
The community of Christ-followers had much mystery through which to muddle in the post-Easter life of the church. Making meaning out of something as incomprehensible as the death and resurrection of the Messiah is a big deal! Making meaning requires the quiet pause of reflection – noticing what we see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. What just happened? Who was involved? How did I feel? But it also requires action, a pivot, a new hypothesis, and a directive. Acting without reflecting is walking in circles; reflecting without acting is digging ourselves into a bunker. Combined, action/reflection/action can lead us into deeper and juicier vocations, relationships, and meaning. The iterative process can help us answer the “So what?” question– what does this matter to me, how does this change me, and what are the implications in my own life?
When we’ve all recovered from the emotional roller coaster that is Holy Week and Easter, when the Easter Peeps are stale, and the bunny cake, if any, is left over is molding in the back of the fridge when our Lenten disciplines feel as long ago and forgotten as our New Year’s resolutions, how have we changed? What is the “So What?” What is the meaning of the Resurrection in our lives? To find out, let us follow the example of our scripture to act and reflect in the community of our congregation.
In the gospel story, we read in Luke today, we zoom into the scene of two people walking to Emmaus. They had probably gone to Jerusalem for Passover. It’s a long walk home, and they are discussing everything that happened over the weekend. The events and rumors that transpired over the Passover holiday, including the crucifixion of Jesus, were wild and widespread, and they thought it strange that the person walking beside them hadn’t heard.
The events had also been hard, confusing, and mysterious, and the scripture says, “They stood still, looking sad.” They explained to the stranger what they knew: A man named Jesus from Nazareth was mighty in action and preaching. They hoped Jesus would redeem Israel, but instead, he died in a crucifixion arranged by the religious leaders. And now something else weird had happened– some women they knew said they had met angels at the empty tomb, angels who said Jesus was still alive. All of this was mystifying. They had experienced a weekend of action. And now they were on a walk, reflecting.
The stranger-on-the-road-who-is-actually-Jesus responds with, essentially, a Bible study. He walks with them, talks about the scriptures, and interprets them from Moses and beyond. When the trio arrives at the village, the friends persuade Jesus to stay with them, maybe out of hospitality and concern for him, maybe because what he had to say was interesting and helped them process the weekend, and there they shared a simple supper. And perhaps it was the way he blessed the food or explained the scripture, or maybe they saw the wounds in his hands as he passed out the bread, but they suddenly knew who they were with. And he was gone when they realized that this was the Messiah. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” they asked each other.
With the action of the Passover celebration behind them, the disciples were able to reflect through kinship, scripture, and a meal. And out of that reflection and pause came a reveal, an insight, and then action. The disciples had just walked to a new village, but the meaning revealed to them gave them enough energy to return to where they had come from and tell others about their meeting with Christ. “He had been made known to them in breaking the bread.” By acting and reflecting, meaning was made from the conversation, the scripture, and the meal.
Do you think these disciples felt differently now that they had seen Christ themselves? How did their new sense of meaning and understanding change their lives, direction, and relationships? They shared their experiences with other disciples and were changed. While we are not told, hopefully, the disciples’ transformation led to action, reflection, and action of others around them. Do you think people believed their experience, just like the disciples had been “astounded” after hearing from the women who witnessed the empty tomb?
Most of Acts 2 is a sermon given by Peter, and we arrive at today’s lectionary selection at the conclusion of it. What comes before Peter’s spontaneous sermon is important because it’s the day of Pentecost: the sound of a violent wind, tongues of fire, and suddenly speaking in different languages, all enabled by the Holy Spirit. The crowds have lived through a great action, and Peter stands up to help the community reflect on it.
Like Jesus in the story from the gospel, Peter uses the Holy Scriptures as the basis of his speech. In the earlier parts of the account, Peter returns to the prophet Joel, who wrote that God’s promise, blessing, and outpouring of the Spirit is on all people, not just some: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Peter tells the crowd they are at fault for Jesus’s crucifixion and reminds them that Jesus cannot remain bound by death. He testifies that he has seen the resurrected Jesus and that the presence of the Spirit at Pentecost is the work of the risen Christ.
Then we get to Acts 2:36, today’s assigned reading. The people have experienced the Pentecost action, reflected with Peter using the Holy Scriptures, and now are called to act. They ask, “What should we do?” And Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized.” Peter does not simply remind them that they are perfect and loved by God and covered in grace (although they are); he also calls on them to act with conviction and sacrament. God saves, but the people must receive the Spirit through repentance and faith, faith leading to action such as baptism. Turn toward God through repentance and express your belief and trust in God through baptism.
The message is so true and timely for us today. We cannot stop with belief, although we receive the grace and love of God just by being us. We are also called by our Baptismal Covenant, by our community, by our scriptures, and by the example of Jesus to act, to reflect together, and then repent and live our lives in a way so full of the Spirit; people ask us about it.
It’s not an if/then– if you repent and are baptized, you will be saved– but a “So what?” I am saved, and so I can live without fear, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. In his letter to the early church, written in the same decades as the book of Acts, Peter says, “Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory so that your faith and hope are in God. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;” Put simply, the Holy Spirit through Peter’s words is saying, “You are loved, and so love.”
The Psalmist collects all these intentions to act because we have been saved: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” May we all do so, not because we must, but because we have, just like the two men going home that day, have taken action by reading the Word of God, reflected on what it said, and been moved to action again, and again, and again, together with God and each other. Amen.
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Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS