Each of last Sunday’s three readings juxtaposes the same three apparently unrelated ideas: Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, his bodily nature, and repentance. To see the connection is to see deep into the heart of Christianity.
Let us recall where we are. It is the third Sunday of Easter. The previous Sunday was still the Easter Octave: the direct celebration of Christ rising from the dead. During the Octave, the Gospel readings are the same every year: last Sunday was Doubting Thomas.
This Sunday, the third, is the last one in which we read stories about the Resurrection, though now the three years break up, to pick up the remaining stories from Luke and John. After this Sunday, on the Fourth Sunday we read different sections of John 10, the Good Shepherd; then on the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh we read selections from Jesus’s priestly prayer, John 13-17.
Easter is the season of Christ’s resurrection. But it is also the season of understanding the impact of the resurrection, its meaning for us. Throughout the season we read the Acts of the Apostles. Acts has been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit: in it we see the disciples filled with the power of the Spirit of Christ. The pattern of his life is repeated in theirs; his strength is present in their weakness. His resurrection bears fruit in their transformation.
That is why in the next weeks we will read about Jesus the Good Shepherd and his prayer for the Church: when we celebrate the power of the Resurrection, we celebrate Christ’s power for us. The resurrection is present in our lives.
And so this past Sunday we once more read about the power of God in the resurrection of Christ – and his power in the Church.
Our reading from Luke’s Gospel was the story following the road to Emmaus. At first glance it seems a bit of a catch-all. Jesus appears and again says “Peace be with you.” He proclaims the physical reality of the Resurrection: “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones”; he even eats some fish. Again he reads the Bible to them: “‘everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” And he concludes by telling them “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name.” What a jumble of themes!
Oddly enough, though, the same themes are in the reading from Acts. Peter is preaching at the temple gate. He too speaks of the physical reality of Christ: “you rejected the Holy and Righteous One”; here it is not the resurrection, but it is again the theme that we touch God in the physical body of Christ. Then he talks about the Bible: “In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets.” And again he concludes with repentance, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
And, strange enough, our reading from 1 John hits the same three points. First he stresses the physical significance of Jesus: “he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Then he talks about repentance and the Bible, together: “by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.” “Whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.”
The physical reality of Christ, repentance, the Bible.
Perhaps it is easiest to see the connection between the first two. It points in two directions. First, Christ is no ghost; Christ’s religion is no ghostly religion. To love Christ is to love him in the flesh; to reject Christ in our flesh is to reject Christ. The Christ who dies in the flesh and rises in the flesh calls us to a faith-hope-love that takes flesh.
Even more importantly, he comes to help us in the flesh. He who can raise the body can raise our bodies; he who enters into human life in Christ can enter into our human life. The grace of Christ is grace that enters not just into our ideas, but into our lives. The Spirit who raises Christ from the dead is powerful enough to raise us up to righteousness in the flesh.
It’s not primarily what we do for him, but what he does for us: and he comes into human flesh, to give new life, moral resurrection. Repentance is the fruit of the Resurrection.
But this takes flesh, even more, in the Bible. God speaks to us in human words, calls to us not just vaguely, like a ghost, but concretely. He speaks commandments – of many kinds: every line of the Bible is a kind of commandment. His word enters in. His word speaks specifically, calls us to a conversion that is not just in general, but specific, concrete. The God who takes flesh in Christ also takes flesh in his Word of Scripture, to enter in and call us to a very tangible, specific, real repentance.
Does your faith ever get a bit vague? How could you use the Bible to make it more concrete?