Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35.
The risen Lord opens the scriptures, opens the eyes, and opens the way to a new life.
Acts 2:14a, 36-41.
The apostolic witness to Jesus’ resurrection continues in the Acts of the Apostles, now with the conclusion of Peter’s address to the Jews of Jerusalem on Pentecost.
It seems to be important for this sermon that Jewish people summoned to be baptized are identified as those who crucified Jesus. “…God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (verse 36, NRSV). The apostles call on them to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven” (verse 38). Even if they had been active in shouting for Jesus’ death, they can be forgiven when they are baptized into that death. Three thousand of these very people become the second installment of Jesus followers in response to Peter’s call (verse 41).
And this call and offer is not a random event; it is according to the long-term divine intention. “For the promise is for you [these Jews of many nations at Pentecost], for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (verse 39). The promise may belong to those who are descendants of Abraham, or more particularly to those included in the covenant of Sinai. In either case, the giving of the holy spirit is the fulfillment of a past heritage, now realized for those who are “called” by God to repent and be baptized.
Thus, the promise is an opportunity, not a natural fact of birth or ethnicity. The promise is for everyone whom God calls – everyone who accepts the new baptism now offered in the name of the risen Lord.
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19.
The Psalm reading is a remarkable glimpse into the inner life of the savior, when read as the early Jesus followers read it.
The snares of death encompassed me,
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish (verse 3, NRSV).
This is Jesus speaking in the agony of the cross.
The righteous servant of the Lord who is persecuted and abused to the point of death – this one who speaks in so many of the psalms – is suddenly recognized by early Christians as their Lord. Especially those psalms that speak of going down to Sheol, that is, of dying, are seized upon as divine scripts, prepared long ago in the soul of David, to be spoken by the suffering servant who would bring salvation to others.
Such speech seems very clear in this psalm.
O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
You have loosed my bonds (verse 16).
This is the saving action of the Lord. Action for which the speaker will fulfill the vows of thanksgiving (verse 14) made at the time that death approached.
The words of the psalms, therefore, offer the worshipers of Jesus a means of entering into both the agony of the death as well as the joy of the thanksgiving for the servant himself.
I Peter 1:17-23.
The Epistle reading elaborates on the new life that is made possible for believers in the Lord. The words of the psalms can lead them through death-to-the-old to the joy-of-the-new. “You have been born anew, not of perishable [that is, mortal] but of imperishable seed…” (verse 23, NRSV). That is, the new-born ones have a divine parenthood, not a merely human one.
Such immortal ancestry calls for a wholly new way of life. “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, …with the precious blood of Christ” (verses 18-19). Therefore, you should “live in reverent fear during the time of your exile” (verse 17), that is, until the Lord comes to fulfill all things.
In this new life, “you have genuine mutual love,” and you should “love one another deeply from the heart” (verse 22).
The Gospel reading is also a testimony to the transformation produced by the risen Lord upon willing followers. It is the superb story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus and encountering the Lord along the way.
This is a story about concealment and revelation. First, the two disciples are preoccupied by the disastrous events of recent days (verse 14). Without this deep concern for the hopes and defeats concerning Jesus (elaborated in verses 17-24), we may suppose that they would not have encountered the Lord. When Jesus does appear, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (verse 16, NRSV). But after he has heard them, he chides them for failing to recognize other things – specifically the prophecies of the suffering and death of the Anointed One. Jesus himself, yet unrecognized, expounds the revelations in Moses and the prophets that testify to himself.
After this prolonged Bible study, they sit down to a meal together. There the final revelation occurs. “He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them,” thus inaugurating the first post-resurrection Lord’s Supper, around that common table in the village of Emmaus. “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him,” though immediately afterward “he vanished from their sight” (verse 31).
The risen Lord comes in a physical presence, but after the initial revelation, the followers are left to proceed by faith – no longer by sight. When these newly awakened disciples rush back to Jerusalem, they find that the eleven disciples have also learned of the risen Lord, who has already appeared to Peter (verses 33-35).
The life of disciples after Jesus’ resurrection was an ongoing series of revelations and openings of eyes – guided by the scriptures, by appearances to the chosen, and by the communion of the Lord’s table.