15 April 2018
Third Sunday of Easter
Easter 3B (RCL)
1 John 3:1-7
I’ve never particularly liked the Book of Acts. I know many people read it as a pattern for what the Church should be today. I find Luke’s history to be far to idealized to be very useful. However, reading Peter’s speech to the religious authorities this time, I have taken another tack. These speeches always sound to me like the worst of Christian supersessionism: You killed Jesus, therefore God has given the promises to us.
However, it is possible to read Peter as a Judean speaking to Judeans. Or, to bring it forward into our context, a Christian speaking to Christians. He is speaking truth to power, and calling power to account. If all of the speeches are read this way, Acts begins to make a little more sense for us. Our (American) understanding of Christianity has gone of the rails in some very real and destructive ways. Peter, having just made a lame man walk in the name of Jesus, is upbraiding the religious authorities of his day for their failure to pay attention to the beggars at the gate of the Temple (at the door of the Church).
We also read a passage at the end of Luke’s Gospel (the first volume of Luke/Acts). This passage is the continuation of the Emmaus story. Two disciples are walking despondently away from Jerusalem when they are joined by a stranger, who explicates scripture to them, showing that the Messiah must be killed and rise again. They invite the stranger in for supper, and as he prays over the bread, they recognize Jesus.
Racing back to Jerusalem, they meet up with the other disciples and Jesus is standing in their midst. They think they are seeing a spirit (that word just cannot be translated ghost). Jesus replies with a very simple request: have you got anything here to eat? In Luke’s Gospel, every important teaching or revelation takes place at a meal. They give him a piece of broiled fish.
I think Luke is chiding the early Christian church (or at least some branch of it), for a retreat into the world of the spirit. The revelation of the risen Christ must happen in the material world, where people eat broiled fish, just as Peter healed a lame man. Then, there is this interesting slip in verb tenses: These are my words to you, while I was still with you — as if he were not there now. Again, he opens their minds to understand scripture, and goes on to say, “Thus it has been written that the anointed will suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day, and in his name transformation of heart toward the forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” He refers to himself in the third person — this is the community’s discourse about Jesus, and it is a revelation of the risen Christ. “And your are martyrs of these things.” The Church will recapitulate the story of Jesus.
And Peter might very well stand in our midst and chide us for a retreat into the realm of the spirit, distorting the Christian message to be about getting into heaven in a future world. And Jesus might well ask us, “have you anything here to eat?” The revelation of the risen Christ happens in the realm of broiled fish.