Last revised: May 27, 2018
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3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER — YEAR B
RCL: Acts 3:12-19; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
RoCa: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48
Opening Comments: Elements of a New Reformation
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day….
What would it mean to understand the Scriptures from the perspective of a suffering Messiah?
Reflections and Questions
1. The healing of a lame man is the occasion of another sermon from Peter that beautifully sums up the Gospel. Here are some brief amplifications from the perspective of cross-centered anthropology:
- “The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…” James Alison, Raising Abel, p.35ff., points out that Jesus quotes this Mosaic referencing of God in answering the Sadducees at their challenge about the resurrection. What does this formula about God have to do with resurrection? Could it be that for this God of Jesus, who is so unconditionally about life, that these dead ancestors aren’t dead? They are alive in God. This same God has the power to raise Jesus.
- “Author of life.” Is this another instance of Jesus as pre-existent with God as co-creator? Alison develops the notion of “Creation In Christ (excerpt)” (Raising Abel, pp. 49-56) very much in connection with his healing power. Especially in John’s gospel (chs. 5 & 9), Jesus heals someone and speaks about doing the continuing work of his Father. The implication is that healing manifests the continuing perfection or completion of God’s creating work. This is the only time in the NT that Jesus is called the Author of life, and it is connected with the apostolic power to heal in his name.
- “…you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” Luke’s Jesus is also the one who says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Girard has called this the true meaning of “unconscious.” We are unconscious about our responsibility for sacred violence, living under the mythological delusion that the gods desire this violence from us. It is a delusion broken once and for all by the cross and resurrection. (For more on this meaning of “unconscious” see Gil Bailie‘s Violence Unveiled, pp. 130, 133, 265.)
2. This lection contains the second of five sermons from Peter recorded in Acts, all of which express within them a common theme: humankind kills, God raises to life. It’s verse 15 in this passage, …and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. I pair the theme of these Acts sermons with Luke 24 in the long-time essay on my home webpage (now at a different location), the section titled “The Influence of Mimetic Theory on Hermeneutics and Preaching.”
1 John 3:1-7
1. James Alison, Raising Abel, pp. 90 and 173. The first reference comes in the context of what Alison calls “inappropriate vocations.” Our usual way of doing things in this highly charged mimetic atmosphere of today is to choose the handsome hunks, people like the rich young man who came to Jesus. But that’s not who Jesus chooses. Jesus seems to choose the opposite, those the world discounts, whose identity is held in heaven as an eschatological reality, as something yet to be revealed when Christ is fully revealed. After quoting 1 John 3:2-3, Alison comments:
This seems to mean something like this: our true identity is still to come, and we will only know it when the story which Jesus inaugurated is unveiled in all its fullness, when we will see what has been our real participation, our real creation in flexible imitation of his own. Once more it is seen that the coming into existence of the kingdom incorporates a whole lot of people of no importance, of no apparent worth, and even these people are knocked out of joint, called in highly inappropriate ways, so as to come to be something which they are not, something which is a being stretched out of themselves beyond their limits, or, as St Paul says…[quotes 1 Cor. 1:27-28]. (p. 90)
The second reference to this passage in Raising Abel I will quote at length, especially since it leads up to a quote from René Girard‘s Resurrection from the Underground. It’s context is in speaking about hope (the chapter I recommended Easter week that begins and ends with Mark 16:8):
Hope means that none of us have access to what our story is, we cannot wield it, grasp it, make a presentation of it. Rather it means that, in the face of death, whether in its physical form, or in the form of its violent and expulsive dominion, we hope that we will receive an ‘I’ in whose formation we have begun to participate, once we have become un-hooked from our old story. We always receive ourselves from what is other than us, whether that other be violent, or loving; but, as we begin to receive ourselves from the loving Other, in the form of our empowerment to construct a counter-story in the face of death, it genuinely is ourselves that we receive, and the story really will be ours. I think that this is exactly what John is saying, far more beautifully and succinctly, when he says:
Beloved, we are already children of God, although it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when Jesus appears and we see him as he is, we will be like him. Whosoever has placed this hope in Jesus is purified, so as to be pure as he is.
That is, we are already children of God, with all our scandalized living out, but we do not know our identity, and we cannot grasp it: it is eschatological, and we will receive it in fullness when the whole story inaugurated by Jesus stands revealed. Those who have placed this hope in Jesus, that is, have become unhooked from their identity so as to receive it from the flexible imitation whose fullness will be revealed at the end, all they are being purified, made really different, so that their desire will be transformed into that desire bereft of scandal, that love without rivalry, in which consists the purity of Jesus. We find something similar in the greatest theologian of the nineteenth century, Fyodor Dostoevsky, in his Summa, The Brothers Karamazov, when Father Zosima gives this spiritual exhortation:
What seems to you to be evil in you is purified by the mere fact of having noticed it…At the moment when you see with terror that, in spite of your efforts, not only have you not drawn closer to your goal, but you have even drawn further away from it, at that moment, I warn you beforehand, you will reach your goal, and you will see above you the mysterious power of the Lord, who, unbeknownst to you, has guided you with love. [p. 142, Resurrection from the Underground; p. 173 in Raising Abel]
1. James Alison, Raising Abel,” ch. 1, pp. 29-33. The visible marks or scars from the crucifixion, prominent in both this Lukan passage and last Sunday’s Johannine passage, are also crucial from Alison’s point of view. Once again, here is an extended passage:
When Luke and John tell us that the risen Lord appeared with the visible wounds of his death, it wasn’t merely a way of identifying him as the same person, but a way of affirming that he was so much the same person, that, in the same way as that person was dead, so was he. But that death is nothing but a vacant form for God, something whose reality has been utterly emptied out, which can only be detected in the form of its traces in the human life story of someone who has overcome death.The marks, then, of Jesus’ death were something like trophies: it was his whole human life, including his death, which was made alive and presented before the disciples as a sign that he had in fact conquered death. This not only meant that he had personally conquered death, which he had manifestly done, but that, in addition, the whole mechanism by which death retains people in its thrall had been shown to be unnecessary. Whatever death is, it is not something which has to structure every human life from within (as in fact it does), but rather it is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. None of us has any reason to fear being dead, something which will unquestionably happen to all of us, since that state cannot separate us effectively from the real source of life. This can scarcely be said with more precision than it is by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews:
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb. 2:14-15)
Now I insist on this, since it is the central pillar of the Catholic faith. From the presence to the disciples of the risen victim, the crucified one risen as crucified, the lamb triumphant as slaughtered, everything else flows. Without that insight, nothing unfolds, no clear perception of God, of grace, of eternal life, about what we must do, how we must live. This means that eschatology is an attempt to understand ever more fully the relationship between those empty marks of death which Jesus bore and the mysterious splendor of the human bodily life which enabled them to be seen. What type of life is it that is capable not of canceling death out, which would be to stay on the same level as it, but to include it, making a trophy of it, allowing it to be something that can be shown to others so that they be not afraid? It is about this that I wish to speak.
2. Gil Bailie, the Florilegia Institute (now Cornerstone Forum) tape lecture series on “The Gospel of Luke,” tape #12, now available online at his blog site; see Part 193 and Part 194 for this portion of Luke 24. Bailie does a wonderful job of setting up several themes for a reading of Luke 24. One major theme is the cult of death at the heart of every culture, with the empty tomb giving us God’s culture as the only one truly founded in life rather than death. The Christian faith is not to begin at a tomb of the sacred, enshrined like the pyramids. But as an example of how anthropologically powerful this tendency is for us, the Crusades were launched as an effort to free the Holy Sepulcher from the hands of infidels — as if the tomb hadn’t been empty! Why wage war to free an empty tomb?! As a contemporary example of the increasing cults of death in our world, Gil shares from a review of the movie based on Ann Rice’s novel Interview with a Vampire and from a story about the debut of Ms. Rice’s latest novel, where she began dressed in a bridal gown laying in a coffin, processed from a cemetery to a bookstore, and then autographed books for five hours. The two Columbine youths would be more recent examples of how our youth are getting pulled into these cults of death.
Another major theme which Bailie identifies in the Gospel of Luke is that of gathering and scattering. The old sacred mechanism for gathering around a victim is broken by the Cross, and the resurrection begins a new means for gathering around a Risen victim. The Culture of God is founded from the perspective of the victim rather than that of the persecutors. The day’s gospel lesson is an example of a first gathering of this new community. Pentecost will be Luke’s story of the ultimate regathering of God’s children, who have been scattered since the tower of Babel.
3. Brian Robinette, Grammars of Resurrection, pp. 98, 106-7, 114, 302, 347. At the end of chapter 2, “The Im-possible Gift,” this passage is included with several others to summarize the point that a main point of the resurrection narratives is commissioning as witnesses:
Ultimately the resurrection narratives are commission narratives, narratives of sending and receiving, narratives that reveal the structure of being as “being given,” “being risen,” and “being sent.” Nearly every appearance story includes a word of command and commission. In Mark the women are commanded to “go, tell his disciples and Peter,” “so they went out” (16:7). In Matthew the eleven are told: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (28:19). And in Luke: “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised . . . and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them” (24:49, 50). The empty tomb narrative in John includes Jesus’ instructions to Mary Magdalene to “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (20:17). As we saw above, her announcement to the disciples (“I have seen the Lord”) indicates a fundamental shift in her understanding, just as it did for the eleven. She has received a new self from the crucified-and-risen One who, in the midst of her grief and misunderstanding, calls her by name and directs her to the community of disciples who will embody him and extend his mission in the world: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20:21). To Peter, Jesus says “feed my sheep,” “follow me” (21:17, 19). This connection between resurrection and apostolic mission is immediately evident in Paul’s self-understanding as well: “Paul an apostle sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1). All of this shows just how intimately the church’s identity is bound up with mission, how being reconciled and being-in-community is, for the New Testament, “being sent” in the world as an agent for justice, reconciliation, and peace. Mission in proclamation and praxis is not a secondary movement of the church, coming as a consequence of an identity already established within itself, but as the very way that identity comes about. (114-15)
In chapter 8, “The Gift of the Forgiving Victim” (heavily reliant on James Alison as the title indicates), this passage is cited with others to summarize the connection between resurrection and the forgiveness of sin as true, recovered memory of sin:
The resurrection awakens true memory. It unseals the collective amnesia that has allowed us to suppress the injustice of our violent exclusions and expulsions, showing once and for all that the effort to build our identities through the denial of hospitality to the human Other, with whom we are always in relation, no matter how much we willfully or casually deny it, is in fact a rejection of the divine Other. Again, it is crucial to understand that this awakening to sin — this awakening to authentic memory, the memory of guilt past is not prompted by divine retaliation. Judgment, to be sure, does come (this Jesus you crucified); but such judgment comes first with a word of shalom, revealing that peace is prior to violence, that creation is “from the beginning” a Gift, not an “eternal recurrence” of violence and suffering to willfully embrace, or to which we must become passively resigned. Consistently the risen Christ appears in the midst of panic and despair with a word of peace. “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Luke 24:36). “Do not be afraid” (Matt. 28:10). “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19; vv. 21, 26). With their original hopes crushed upon his arrest and execution (“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” [Luke 24:21]), the risen One appears to them in the midst of an unbreachable divide to restore communication with them and offer them a renewed innocence, a “second innocence.”
This new innocence is the offer of forgiveness. Just as Peter welcomes those responsible for Jesus’ murder to embrace the forgiveness offered to them by God, so too do we find running throughout the New Testament the intimate association of resurrection, forgiveness, and newness of life. In all of the appearance accounts the disciples are instructed with a ministry of baptism as the ritual-symbolic enactment of forgiveness. In Luke the risen Jesus charges the disciples with a ministry of “repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (24:47). Similarly, in John, Jesus establishes the community with a ministry of reconciliation: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (20:23). In Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (28:19-20). (301-2)
4. Andrew Marr, Moving and Resting in God’s Desire, p. 140. In commenting on the Ascension, Marr writes:
After his Resurrection, Jesus tried again to get across to the disciples what his Kingdom was really all about. When Cleopas glumly said that he and his companion had hoped that Jesus “was the one who was to redeem Israel,” (Lk. 24:21) Jesus, as yet unrecognized by them, rebuked them for their slowness of heart in believing what “the prophets have declared.” Then he “interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Lk. 24:27) Later, Jesus appeared to the twelve and explained that everything written about him in “the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” (Lk. 24:44) The special mention of the psalms is significant in that they include many laments over persecution from the standpoint of the victim. Jesus went on to say that when the scriptures say that the Messiah was “to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,” it means that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed” in Jesus’ name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Lk. 24:47) Proclaiming repentance and forgiveness is a very different proposition from starting a revolt to restore the kingdom to Israel. (140)
5. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from May 4, 2003 (Woodside Village Church); sermon from April 30, 2006 (Society of St. John at St. Mark’s Chapel, Palo Alto).
6. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Tom Truby, a sermon in 2012, titled “He Opened Their Minds and Their Imaginations Caught Fire!“; Lee Cheek, a sermon in 2018, “The Last Word.”
7. Nancy Eiesland, “Encountering the Disabled God” (no longer online), the Sept./Oct. 2002 issue of The Other Side. Eiesland sites this passage as a key for her in developing a theology of the “disabled God,” an empowering vision for disabled people:
Much of my life I waited for a mighty revelation of God. I did experience an epiphany, but it bore little resemblance to the God I was expecting or the God of my dreams….My return to intimacy with God began at an Atlanta rehabilitation hospital for persons with spinal cord injuries. A chaplain asked me to lead a Bible study with several residents. One afternoon after a long and frustrating day, I shared with the group my own doubts about God’s care for me. I asked them how they would know if God was with them and understood their experience. After a long silence, a young African-American man said, “If God was in a sip-puff, maybe He would understand.”
I was overwhelmed by this image: God in a sip-puff wheelchair, the kind used by many quadriplegics that enables them to maneuver the chair by blowing and sucking on a straw-like device. Not an omnipotent, self-sufficient God, but neither a pitiable, suffering servant. This was an image of God as a survivor, as one of those whom society would label “not feasible,” “unemployable,” with “questionable quality of life.”
Several weeks later, I was reading in Luke’s Gospel about an appearance of the resurrected Jesus (24:36-39). The focus of this passage is really on his followers, who are alone and depressed. Jesus says to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see.”
This wasn’t exactly God in a sip-puff, but here was the resurrected Christ making good on the promise that God would be with us, embodied, as we are — disabled and divine. In this passage, I recognized a part of my hidden history as a Christian.
The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognized as a deity whose hands, feet, and side bear the marks of profound physical impairment.
This was my epiphany. The resurrected Christ is a disabled God — one who understood the experience of the others in my Bible study in the rehab center, as well as my own. Encountering this disabled God became for me the source of a “liberation theology” of disability. Jesus Christ, as a living symbol of the disabled God, shares in the human condition; he experiences in his embodiment all our vulnerability and flaws. In emptying himself of divinity, Jesus enters the arena of human limitation, even helplessness. Jesus’ own body is wounded and scarred, disfigured and distorted.
8. As above with the Acts 3 text, I cite my home webpage, the section titled “The Influence of Mimetic Theory on Hermeneutics and Preaching,” where I pair Luke 24 with Peter’s sermons in Acts.
Reflections and Questions
1. In 2012 I shared significantly about our adoption of our two sons from Africa, for the first time in a sermon. One of our adopted sons suffered more severely in his time in war-torn Liberia; his suffering is not easily relieved and has threatened to overwhelm our family at times. We have had to rely on the ‘extended family’ of friends, church family, blood family, and health professionals to help us bear the suffering — and to seek healing and new life in the face of it.
Easter season is an important time for me in this faith journey of international adoption. The resurrection stands as a promise that new life is possible — a hope that I cling to when things at times feel hopeless. We have to keep trusting that healing will come for our one son whose suffering is not easily relieved. It is also the time to open ourselves to understanding this mystery of following a suffering yet risen Messiah. On Easter 2012, I interpreted Mark’s sudden ending as a way of signaling that mystery. The women stand for all of us in being slow of heart to understand that the Messiah had to suffer — and that if we are to follow him, we must expect a way through suffering, too, until that wonderful day when all suffering will finally cease.
The lessons today from both Luke’s Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles are more direct about the suffering Messiah. The latter is the central theme in his Easter afternoon and evening stories. Jesus must help both the disciples on the way to Emmaus and those in the closed room that the Messiah had to suffer, for they are, like all of us, slow of heart to understand. He interprets to them in all the Hebrew scriptures how it is that the Messiah had to suffer. For more on the exegetical issues see my comments on the Easter B Gospel.
The theme of the Easter Gospel was extended this third week of Easter through sharing our experience with adoption, with one added element: continuing education that I had begun with 3D Ministries about sizing for missional ministry. Their contention is that the ideal size for missional ministry is the size of a house church, 20-50 people. It’s not that all congregations now need to be house churches but that larger congregations need to organize into smaller configurations for mission. Many contemporary churches have long been on the path of “small group” ministry. But 3D Ministries argues that these are typically too small for mission — as our family found in adoption. We needed ‘help from our friends’ in order not to be overwhelmed. The resulting sermon in 2012 uses a 3DM tagline as its title, “Small Enough to Care, Big Enough to Dare.”
2. Gil Bailie calls attention to the ending, in which the apostles gather joyfully at the Temple in Jerusalem. Much is often made of Luke’s more positive use of the Temple in Jerusalem. But we should be careful not to be too positive about it. Luke’s Jesus also adds extra lamentations over Jerusalem, including the final one on the way to the Cross to the “Daughters of Jerusalem” (Luke 23:28-31). Bailie puts this in the context of a biblical version of his Florilegia Institute theme of “Keeping Faith and Breaking Ground.” God’s way is not to completely trash what has come before.
I would build upon this with James Alison’s strong theme of God’s transforming our sacrificial institutions into self-sacrificial ones that feature a life of service. God is not violent, even to the point of not destroying our institutions in order build new ones. God can take our old ones and transform them into something else. If Jerusalem and its Temple are to be destroyed, that is the consequences of our violence, not God’s. The apostles can still gather at the Temple, singing joyfully, because God is in the process of transforming it into something else.
3. The most common choice for the sacrificial victim involves an immediately visual marker. This may be someone of a different race or visibily different ethnic background. Within homogenous communities this has most often been someone with a visible disability, as simple as a limp. Nancy Eiesland’s concept of a “disabled God” (above) is a poignant one in the context of mimetic theory.