The Easter season moves along... The book of Acts and Luke's gospel keep us in Jerusalem a bit longer, while John's epistle stirs or memory...
Acts 3: 12 - 19
“To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you…”
Interesting details in this story from Acts that amplify some of the themes that we discussed last week. Our text begins - how typical - after a critical action has taken place. Peter has just healed a beggar who had been lame since birth. In his declaration to his Jewish brothers and sisters who have gathered around them at the ‘Beautiful Gate’ to the Temple – where Peter and John, good Jews, were going to pray - Peter uses the same Genesis formula, that is, “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob,’ that Jesus uses when addressing the Sadducees who challenge him about resurrection. Not surprising. This passage is all about resurrection, about new life, which the beggar has the opportunity to experience, being brought back into ‘the land of the living’ so to speak, no longer an outcast. That is consistent with Jesus’ point in using the same formula in his argument: God is still the God of these spiritual forefathers, implying that all are alive in God.
This healing act, then, is one more drama in the bigger story of God’s ongoing healing of creation. We are called to this ministry of healing (salvation) – sent, actually – and cannot rest until the work is completed.
1 John 3:1-7
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. “
There is a scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - and, funny how science fiction always finds a way to creep into this blog – wherein Spock - realizing that he must sacrifice himself in order to save the ship - grabs a stunned McCoy, places his Vulcan fingers against the doctor’s temple, and utters a single word… ”Remember.” (And, I just bet you Trekkies out there just heard that line echo in your head, uttered in Nimoy;s voice) This is a great analogy. (Well, maybe not great, but a good one) It is vital to Spock’s existence – we learn in the sequel – that McCoy hold within himself, this memory, this essence of all that Spock was, and as we find out, will yet be. Memory is critical to arriving at fully authentic life.
For me, the Johannine letters utter this word – remember - constantly, and with the same basic premise in play. We are already children of God. The lives we lead; imperfect, full of bad decisions and bad acting that bring hurt and pain to creation, are redeemable, because somewhere within us is the memory of our true identity. And, it is the hope that that memory spawns, that makes it possible for us to do those random acts of kindness, to make sacrifices for benefit it will bring others, to rise above our fear-filled instincts and behave – even for fleeting moments – as if we knew who we were all along, and that living as if we were already in the new age, was a natural to us as breathing. In spite of us, the God working within us, uses us – as we see in the Acts lesson – to heal the world.
James Alison, in his book Raising Abel, quotes The Brothers Karamazov, where Fr. Zosima – not Spock – utters these words: “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 God, who unbeknownst to you, has guided you with Love. (p. 142, Resurrection from the Underground; p. 173, Raising Abel). God remembers for us, when we cannot.
Luke 24: 36b – 49
And here we get Luke’s turn on the story from John’s gospel last week. It is important for those who have gathered behind closed doors to see those wounds, to touch them, and not because resurrection from the dead was anything unusual – any theos anir worth his salt in the first century could perform that miracle. No, they needed to know that the victim who accepted the violence of the system was the same person that was standing before them. (And, eating the piece of fish helped. Eating – as we have learned from the gospels, and especially with tax collectors and various other nefarious types – was Jesus favorite pastime. So, in the scene I am directing in my head, he would eat the fish and someone would say, “yeah, it’s him.”)
That identity is critical for the meaning it bears. This is the defining moment of the Jesus movement. The defining moment for God. Jesus suffers everything that the system can bring to bear against him, including, finally, a horrific and humiliating execution. He is its victim, he is all of its victims. And, what is his response?
Luke has already hinted at this. It is in Luke’s gospel that Jesus utters the words, “...forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (And, that does NOT mean that they do not realize they are killing the Son of God, and boy, will they be sorry when they find out. It means that they cannot help but do what they do because of the violent system which both controls their actions and rationalizes the necessity for the violence in which they are complicit).
And, Jesus is out to break that system. It is why his response – as it is in the later Gospel of John – is to say, “peace be with you.” The willing victim sets a trap for the world and the rules by which it operates. He returns with an offer of peace. He returns with a word of forgiveness. He does not seek vengeance. He does not seek retribution. He extends his hands in greeting to friend and enemy alike, and the power of darkness to dominate is negated once and for all. Your power lay in your ability to destroy, to kill, but, you cannot kill this, try as you may.
Oh, and darkness still tries, and harder than ever. And that is because it realizes its demise is nearer than ever. Which again, is why salvation – healing – is all about this moment. The empty tomb doesn’t mean that someday we follow Jesus to heaven. The empty tomb stands as a reminder that you cannot contain the spirit of God; you cannot contain love. There is nothing you can do to stop it.
This passage concludes with Jesus ‘reminding’ us of the work we have now to do. We are sent to all the nations to proclaim peace and proclaim forgiveness – to heal the world, to name the darkness and to keep it on the run, until it has no place left to hide. What a day that will be.