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Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36–41, 1 Peter 1:13–25 & Luke 24:13–35

The first reading this morning, from the Acts of the Apostles, continues on from last week’s reading. Once again, the passage is from the very first sermon that Peter gave, after he received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The crowd that Peter was addressing, was largely a Jewish one, comprised of Jewish people who had been dispersed throughout other regions of the Roman Empire. 

In this section of the sermon, Peter stated that it was Jewish people, like those he was addressing, who were responsible for Jesus being crucified. The author of the Acts of the Apostles, who was also the author of the Gospel of Luke, wrote that the crowd were “cut to the heart” when they heard Peter’s accusation, and based on their response to Peter, “Brothers, what should we do?”, it appears as though they felt some remorse over what had happened to Jesus. Peter’s answer to their question, was that they should repent, and be baptised in the name of Jesus. 

John the Baptist had preached a message of repentance and baptism to the Jewish people, but the difference in the message that Peter gave, was that the people were to be baptised in the name of Jesus, after which they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist had himself said, “I baptise with water, but one who is more powerful than me will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This message from Peter, signified a shift in baptism from a Jewish ritual to a Christian one.

In the same way that the first reading continued on from last week’s reading, today’s passage from the First Letter of Peter, also picks up from where it left off last week. Peter was writing to Christians who had recently migrated to northern Asia Minor, and who were experiencing persecution because of their faith. Peter was providing them with encouragement in the face of this persecution, and also with guidance on how to live in their new social setting.

In a manner reminiscent of what can still happen in our own time, people who had committed their lives to Jesus, could sometimes still feel a pull back to their old ways of living. Peter’s message to these Christians in Asia Minor (and still to us as Christians today) was to be like their heavenly Father—to be holy in everything they did. Being holy meant being totally devoted or dedicated to God, to be set aside for his special use and set apart from sin and its influence. To be set apart and different, not to blend in with the crowd, but also not to be different just for the sake of being different. God’s qualities in their lives, was what made them different from others. Their focus and priorities had to be His. All this, was in direct contrast to their old ways of living.

Our first two readings relate to what I refer to as “matters of the head”. They are intellectual arguments; starting with a call or direction to a particular course of action, and followed by a reason or explanation as to why that course of action should be taken; what the benefit to be derived from that action might be. Today’s gospel reading deals with what I call a “matter of the heart”.

The passage is the well known story of the Road to Emmaus. I won’t rehash the story itself, but what is important to note is that the two disciples, whom Jesus joins on their journey, don’t recognise Jesus. This is the same situation in the stories of Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus appearing to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, both stories that are recorded in the Gospel of John. In both of those stories, neither Mary Magdalene, nor the disciples on the beach, recognise Jesus when they first encounter him. What leads them to recognise Jesus, is an experience of Jesus.

Mary has seen Jesus in the garden, but doesn’t recognise him, assuming him to be the gardener. It is only when Jesus says her name, “Mary”, that she instantly recognises that it is Jesus. Likewise, the situation with the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, who have been fishing during the night without catching anything, is similar. When Jesus tells them to cast their net on the opposite side of the boat, the net is immediately filled with fish, and in that moment, the disciples recognise the previously unknown man as the risen Jesus.

The same is true for the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. They are sitting at the table with Jesus to share a meal, and it is only when Jesus takes the bread and blesses and breaks it, which he had done with his disciples on so many occasions previously, that they recognise the man as Jesus. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NRSV)

I imagine that the majority of Christians these days were probably brought up in the faith as children, and more than likely received some form of religious instruction – “matters of the head”, as I referred to them earlier. This is was what informed our faith, and it would have resulted in varying degrees, or depths of faith, depending on each individual and the instruction they received.

I wonder how many of us have had an experience of Jesus – a “matter of the heart” – such as that experienced by Mary Magdalene, the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, and the disciples on the Road to Emmaus? An experience that can’t be explained away by some reasoned or logical argument; an experience that has resulted in either a deepening of our faith, or an affirmation of our faith.

How has that experience changed the way in which we live our faith? Has it given us the confidence to happily proclaim and share our faith?

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