Grace Episcopal Church
The Third Sunday in Easter (A)
Acts 2.14a, 36-41 Psalm 116.1-3, 10-17 1 Peter 1.17-23 Luke 24.13-35
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
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 baptized 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 (Acts 2.37—39).
Let’s put our lesson from Acts into context. Last week we heard those parts of Peter’s speech omitted from today’s lesson. He raised his voice to a crowd which had gathered after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, a crowd which wondered first at the rushing noise and then at the speaking of believers in many tongues, each language heard being the language of the listener. But recall, as well, that in the Pentecost story the reaction of those described as “amazed and perplexed” includes the mocking dismissal by some, “They are filled with new wine.”
It is after this reaction of curiosity and wonder, and this level of dismissal that Peter speaks at length, quoting prophecies, pointing to Jesus as the fulfillment of these prophecies, and stating matter-of-factly that those in the crowd bear Jesus’ blood on their hands. It’s only then that the crowd includes many described as “cut to the heart”, many who now say “[W]hat should we do?”
Notice what Peter does not do. He testifies, certainly, to who Jesus is, and to how this identity fulfills not only God’s definite plan, but how this definite plan involves the response of all who now receive Peter’s testimony to this plan. In other words, Peter does not sugar coat any testimony. He does not seek to please his listeners. He does not argue with them in any way. What he has to say is, in fact, offensive. It is offensive at two levels; first, that those to whom this testimony is given have Jesus’ blood on their hands, and second that all who listen to him must change. They must change—repent—and act, be baptized, and it is then that the God who has come in power will be present in their lives in all of the ways in which God’s promises and plan will be fulfilled.
Not all respond. Some, no doubt, continue to mock. Peter focuses not on the scoffers, but on those who have been “cut to the heart”. And to those who do not scoff Peter says, quite baldly, that they must turn from their own ways.
The word for repentance used in the New Testament is a Greek word which means “turning around”. The word is, in effect, neutral of moral imperative. We’re certainly used to hearing injunctions to turn from wicked ways, but the act of turning is itself no more (and no less) than turning from any pathway which is not God’s, to follow Jesus upon the one true Way which He is.
Peter is bold, certainly. After all, he is alive in the Holy Spirit. And we are called to boldness, but also to gentleness—to be boldly gentle or gently bold—bold in not in any way diluting the message, the proclamation, and gentle is continuing to reach out to and care about and for those to whom we proclaim the Good news of God in Christ Jesus.
We shy from boldness, and so we either subdue our testimony, and make it very personal—speaking of our own way rather than of the Way—or we mistake accommodation for gentleness; we mistake “getting along” for “walking alongside”. Which brings us, of course, to what happens on the road to Emmaus. The two disciples are walking to Emmaus. And Jesus walks alongside them, as an unknown fellow traveler. First, He asks after their own conversation, their own journey. He finds out what preoccupies them, why they are journeying, what troubles them. It is only then that He begins to speak, and in doing so He never rebukes the disciples, although He could certainly have said something like, “Hey, clueless. Don’t you understand the story of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah? Didn’t the Messiah just come into Jerusalem as described by Zechariah? Didn’t Abraham at the sacrifice of Isaac say how the Lord Himself would offer the sacrifice? Why don’t you recall all of the things your own rabbi and master said about the Son of Man being handed over to the gentiles, to be condemned and killed, but to rise again? Your description of being astounded by the testimony of your sisters who were at the tomb early this morning means you have not been paying attention, that your faith is lacking.”
But Jesus does not rebuke the disciples. Rather, He just sets forth for them all of the revelation of God that has pointed to His own fulfillment of God’s plan in the cross and in resurrection. The disciples’ hearts burn, and having walked alongside the disciples in their unseeing, Jesus now is gathers with them in a sacramental setting of table fellowship. He takes and blesses the bread, and their eyes are open.
Let’s put Peter’s speech and the story of the Emmaus Road together. Our boldness involves proclaiming the message undiluted, which means also calling people to change and then to act. But our gentleness involves recognizing that we will often deal with people who do not see, who do not respond, and that while we must call on all to turn, to change, to repent, we can only do so while walking alongside them. Jesus, the sinless One, walks alongside the unseeing disciples. We—those who must ourselves turn from our own sins—walk alongside those who may not see, and we keep walking with them until at some point (by God’s grace) we can stop just walking. We can stop walking and gather in a setting of prayer, in a setting of worship, in a setting in which we invite Our Lord to join with us.
Some will scoff. Some will always scoff. But those who we walk alongside of, as they get to know us, and to witness the ways in which our lives have been changed by turning, by repenting, by walking not upon our own ways but upon the one Way which is Jesus’, may at some point sit down with us—if not at Jesus’ table then at a table in which sharing can involve proclamation. We may, by the same Spirit which descended in such power at Pentecost, ourselves be given the words to turn hearts, or to cause hearts to burn in ways that mean those with whom we meet will continue to journey with us.
And we never journey alone. Jesus walks our journey with us. We never testify alone. The Holy Spirit gives to us the words and insights we need for the opportunities for testimony in which we find ourselves. We may be boldly gentle or gently bold, but the message remains the call to turn, to follow Jesus. The message remains the same, that God loves all who He has made, and wills that all who He has made may turn to Him and be saved—especially those who journey in darkness. In Peter’s words, “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.” Thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.