Lectionary blog for Luke 24:36b-48
Texts for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2012
In his book “Luke for Everyone,” author N.T. Wright says, “People often ask me, ‘What after all is the point of Jesus dying and rising again? It’s no doubt very nice for him to be alive again, but what does it have to do with the rest of us?’”
What indeed? What is the point of the story of Jesus and why do we go to church? Are we here because it’s the tradition in which we were raised? Because church is a part of the civic fabric of our lives and we would feel a little lost without it?
Why, exactly are we in this community called a church and in a space set apart for getting together to sing strange songs while hearing short speeches and eating a meal that isn’t actually a meal, more like a snack, really.
What is it all about? Why are we here? Is it because we’re all from somewhere else and are a little lonely for a taste, a touch of home, and a Lutheran church is a part of home? Is that it?
Three verses in our Gospel lesson are there specifically to tell us why we’re here.
Verse 46: “and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
Verse 47: ‘and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem,
Verse 48: ‘you are witnesses of these things.’”
Three short verses; in English, a mere 50 words; yet they contain our reason for being and our call to action.
First of all, it is written. Luke wants the early church, and us, to know that what happened to Jesus was not a random act of ugliness, another in a long series of cruelties and indignities that powerful and corrupt people have foisted upon the weak, the innocent and the good.
Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection were a part of God’s long-term plan to deal with the very human problems of sin, evil, hatred, discord and death.
Wright points out that the basic human condition is that the history of the world is one long litany of bad things people as individuals and as communities and as nations have done to each other.
And all our attempts to bring an end to these bad things founder on our very human sense of self-righteousness.
A few years ago the president of Iran was invited to speak to the United Nations, and he used the occasion to accuse Israel of racism, prompting delegates of other countries to walk out and the United States to boycott the whole thing. It is a scene played out all over the world.
Wright says, “Each one claims that they have the right to the moral high ground and must be allowed redress, revenge, satisfaction.”
The only way forward is the way of the Christ, the way of the cross. Jesus came and lived among us and showed us that the one who had the most right, the best claim, to revenge, to redress, to satisfaction, chose to go another way. God, in Christ, turned away from revenge and embraced justice; turned away from our death, and through his own death, gave us life.
Verse 47 - “‘repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name throughout the world.’”
This is the world’s only hope, our only way out of the continual cycle of offense and revenge, of insult and retaliation, of wrong piled upon wrong in a deadly version of the children’s game of King of the Hill.
The only way to bring an end to the nations’ battling is through living out the gospel call for repentance and forgiveness.
Very often, we read this in a private and individual way. If I, DELMER, repent of MY sins, then God will forgive ME, DELMER, of MY sins. That’s one way to hear it, but not the only or the best way.
What about: WE must ALL repent of OUR wrongful ways, OUR destructive paths, OUR vengeful hearts.
WE are ALL called to turn from ways that lead to death, and WE are ALL called to turn to and follow ways that lead to newness of life.
And we are all encouraged, no commanded, to forgive the sins of others, to seek reconciliation instead of revenge, to look for life in the valley of the shadow of death.
What are we doing here? That’s in verse 48: “You are witnesses of these things.”
We are here,
in this place,
in this church,
to be reminded of the story,
to continually turn from death to life,
to receive forgiveness and to learn how to give forgiveness,
to support one another in our lives of faith,
to gather strength from the meal and the community,
and to push each other out the door
to be witnesses of these things in the world.
As Luther puts it in the Small Catechism, “We are called, gathered, empowered and sent,” by the Holy Spirit, into the streets, with the message of God’s amazing grace.
Christ is risen, Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
- What does it mean to forgive the sins of others?
- Is there someone in your life who needs your forgiveness?
- How can you support one another in faith?
Delmer Chilton is an assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, with responsibility for eastern and central Tennessee, northern Alabama and northern Georgia. Ordained in 1977, he has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.