Easter 3, 2017
Were you alive when John F. Kennedy was President? If so, you remember him; you may well be able to say exactly where you were, what you were doing when you heard he had been shot. And if you remember him, whether you liked him or not, you may have had the experience of trying to explain how wonderful he seemed to many, how great was the shock of his death, how the world changed—of trying to explain all these things to younger generations who did not know him.
And if you are one of those who was born after Kennedy’s time, you’ve probably put up with someone trying to tell you about it, and by now you are resigning yourself to hearing yet another old person telling you how good Things Used to Be.
Whoever wrote the first epistle of Peter—it almost certainly was not the apostle himself—was probably writing near the end of the first century, maybe 50 or 60 years after Jesus was crucified. In other words, the death of Jesus was as long ago for the audience of Peter’s epistle as the death of JFK is for us. Maybe it was as hard, sometimes, for the writer of the epistle to get his hearers excited as it would be for me to tell you how we thought we had a new age dawning with Kennedy’s presidency. Really? It was a long time ago, and nothing much has changed.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus, the new communities to whom the epistle is addressed, and even us—we are in a period of waiting, of stress and hardship, of exile. Exiled from the prevailing culture by the choice to follow Jesus. Exiled from the teacher they loved by what they perceived as his death, uncertain how to go on. We get to say alleluia, but it’s hard to live in continuous, joyful ecstasy.
I read a book review which summed it up: the book is My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew, and this is what the NYTimes reviewer has to say:
[the author] writes: “I didn’t feel changed [after High Holy Days]. There was no revelation.” The admission underscores a truth about deepening one’s faith and observance: it’s hard. … living up to one’s faith is never easy, and opening your heart to the spiritual touch takes time. Often what you are supposed to feel and supposed to do get in the way. I think changing your life through faith is more like a ladder than a year of forced ritual”.
A ladder, or maybe we would say: It’s a journey. Our faith, our culture, are chock-full of journey images to help us think about life, about growth, about faith. I will spare you the literary ones—the list, like the road, goes ever on and on. Biblically, the first journey is to exile—leaving the Garden, leaving closeness with God; the rest is looking to return, looking for “a closer walk with Thee”. We are wayfaring strangers; we are looking for the way over Jordan, the way home. And sometimes, in the middle of life’s journey, it’s as if we woke up in a dark place, and don’t know where we are, nor how to go on.
That’s where Cleopas and an unnamed disciple found themselves, walking away from Jerusalem; we don’t know why. Are they part of the scattering that happened after the crucifixion? Still talking about it, but not ready yet to stay with the small community of followers to do the work Jesus gave them. They have heard about some women claiming to have seen Jesus risen, but they don’t quite credit it. In hindsight, when they have known Jesus in the blessing and breaking of bread, they tell each other their hearts were stirred even on the road. And they go back to Jerusalem, hear more stories from others of meeting the risen Christ, and so are re-gathered to follow Jesus.
Now, on that walk, Cleopas and companion get a lecture—a long one; if it’s 8 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, that’s a walk of at least 2 hours, maybe more. They get exegesis, salvation history, soteriology, and probably a lot more. But what they and the others are to do is surely not to put everyone through all that learning—not at first, certainly. And a lecture is not what we want; not when we are in a dark place, not when we are living in a world whose values are so different from ours as Christians, not when we are wondering if we missed something when the celebration of Easter didn’t change us.
Peter tells us what we want and need to hear for this time. It’s what Jesus told us before he died, at the Last Supper. Love one another as God loves you.
If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul
You can tell the love of Jesus, and say, “He died for all”.
Live “in reverent fear” of God, live with hope, be holy—live with God’s plans for us, not the world’s. And to do so is to love one another; love one another “with a pure heart, joyfully.” To love God is to love one another; to love one another is to love God; it is to learn to see Jesus walking with you on your road.
Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be. Amen
|Apr 30, 2017||Easter 3, 2017||Listen||Download|