Monday, April 25, 2011

Third Sundy of Easter Year A

Third Sunday of Easter A

Acts 2:14a,36-41: Psalm 116: 1-3, 10-17; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24: 13-35

Revised Common Lectionary)

In his Acts of the Apostles, the writer of Luke implies that Peter is addressing some of the same people who played a crucial role in the execution of Jesus as members of the mod who shouted for his crucifixion. "What shall we do?" they implore Peter. Do three things: repent, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is his basic, three-step initiation into this dynamic, new community/movement of God at work in the world, uniquely through Jesus.

The psalmist recalls a time of profound
personal crisis that even led to his despair of the whole of humanity. But he kept his trust in God and now he cannot think of enough ways to praise God.

The writer of Peter embeds the
details of the actual life of Jesus of Nazareth into God's cosmic plan for humanity. His death was necessary. His being raised from the dead is the convincing evidence of God at work.

This story of an encounter with the Risen Christ in Luke is unique to his narrative, the longest in all four gospels, and a small gem of story-telling.  He begins by telling his reader about "two disciples," whom he does not identify right away, taking the long, sad journey out of Jerusalem after the tragic events of Thursday and Friday.  They had  heard the reports of Mary Magdalene and the other women about an empty tomb that morning, but Luke emphasizes that they "refused to believe."  Luke lets his reader in on the identity of the "stranger" who joins them as they travel, which makes the fact that they did not recognize Jesus because "their eyes were kept from recognizing him," even more pointed.  Now we are told one of the two followers is Celopas, who had been present and heard for himself the report of Mary Magdalene and the other women.  Cleopas is stunned that the "stranger" seems oblivious to all that has happened in Jerusalem in recent days.  The stranger's question-- "What things?"-- puts the two informed but unbelieving followers in the position of explaining to Jesus all that had happened to him!  He lauds Jesus as a "prophetic man mighty in deed and word before God and all the people" as he describes what had happened.  But Cleopas also expresses disillusionment, because Jesus had not fulfilled in the ways they expected the promise that he would "redeem" his people, as Luke so eloquently writes the father of John the Baptizer, Zechariah, had prophesied, (1:68).  They also relay the reports of the empty tomb.  The "stranger" declares:  "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets had declared."  The "stranger" identifies the heart of the paradox they had not grasped: "was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into glory?"    The "stranger" continues walking with them and interpreting the scriptures to them, but they still did not recognize him.  They invited him to come to supper with them.  It was at table, "when he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his them," (Luke parallels his exact same words of Jesus at the Last Supper [22:19]), that they finally recognize him, and he immediately "vanishes."  They remark among themselves how their hearts were "warmed" as he "opened the scriptures...."  They soon left to go back to Jerusalem, now as witnesses themselves:  "The Lord has risen indeed...."  They can now tell of their experience with the Risen Christ in the interpretation of scriptures and the "breaking of the bread."

Fleeing Hitler's persecution of the Jews, Erich Auerbach found refuge in Turkey during the war. While there, he wrote his seminal explanation of the Western imagination, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. He makes some important observations about the impact of Christianity. In one place, he offers an observation about the Acts of the Apostles, from which we will read through Eastertide. He writes: "But Peter and the other characters in the New Testament are caught in a universal movement of the depths which at first remains almost entirely below the surface and only very gradually-- the Acts of the Apostles show the beginning of this development-- emerges into the foreground of history, but which even now, from the beginning, lays claim to being limitless and the direct concern of everybody, and which absorbs all merely personal conflicts into itself. What we see here is a world which on the one hand is entirely real, average, identifiable as to place, time, and circumstance, but which on the other hand is shaken in its very foundations, is transforming and renewing itself before our eyes." "They reveal their identity as a movement, a historically active dynamism, through the fact that time and time again the impact of the Jesus' teachings, personality, and fate upon this and that individual is described." (p.43) 

 Nicholas Lash in his Theology on the Way to Emmaus, discusses how one makes the personal transformation from a 'listener' to a 'teller' or her own story. "...[T]he language in which the disciples tried, after his death, to say what they had come to 'see' is also evidence of resurrection.... It constitutes an invitation to us to see what they saw; an invitation to construe Jesus' history (and hence our own and that of every human being) as a story the sense of whose ending is given by the incomparable power of God's transforming grace." (p. 181)  

In another place in Emmaus, Lash writes: "the Christian is the teller of a tale, the narrator of a story which he tells as his story, as a story in which he acknowledges himself to be a participant."  (p.102)  Luke tells an amazing story about two followers who "refused to believe" until they participated in the communal activity of interpreting the scriptures and "breaking the bread" made them tellers of their own stories."  It is only when the individual appropriates the "historically active dynamism" of the story of Jesus as her own story as a "participant" that it matters to her personally and can matter to any who hear her story.  The Christian story is latent until someone tells it as her story of "the incomparable power of God's transforming grace,"  (as Auerbach wrote).  That's just the way it happens, Luke makes clear.  Until then, it's just information, common knowledge, rumor, speculation, possibility.