A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (3:12-19)
Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. 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. And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
1 Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; *
you set me free when I am hard-pressed;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2 “You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; *
how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?”
3 Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful; *
when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.
4 Tremble, then, and do not sin; *
speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.
5 Offer the appointed sacrifices *
and put your trust in the Lord.
6 Many are saying, “Oh, that we might see better times!” *
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.
7 You have put gladness in my heart, *
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.
8 I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
A Reading from First Letter of 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. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (24:36b-48)
While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said 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; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that 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 said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
The ancient world was filled with stories about ghosts, visions, and apparitions. People seem simply to have accepted their existence. Even the Old Testament (1 Samuel 28) includes a tale about the doomed King Saul convincing the witch of Endor to conjure up the spirit of the deceased prophet and priest, Samuel. All the cultures in and around the land of Palestine took it for granted that such spirits of the dead existed and that they sometimes interacted with the world of the living.
It is no surprise then that, when St. Luke tells us about Jesus appearing to his disciples on Easter evening, “they thought that they were seeing a ghost.” In their minds, that was the only explanation for seeing someone whom they knew had died. They as yet had no sense of the new reality that they were encountering for the first time.
But, as they gradually came to take in what had happened, they were in for an even greater shock: one that would shake their view of what was possible and convince them of the great new thing that God had done. As the two men at Jesus’ tomb had asked the women early that morning, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Jesus’ followers were prepared for the experience of seeing the dead; they just weren’t prepared for the experience of seeing the living.
They were, Luke tells us, frightened and doubtful of what they were seeing with their own eyes and hearing with their own ears. They needed some convincing. So Jesus spoke to them again: “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Still, no dice. “OK,” Jesus said, “Let’s try again.” So he then asked them for something to eat. “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”
The story told in this last part of the gospel according to Luke and continuing in St. Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, is a story of people coming to faith. But it is not a story that excludes doubt. In fact, it is the doubting, the questioning, the challenging of the disciples that leads them into a deeper understanding of what God had done. And it was their hesitation to accept the new reality of the resurrection that led Jesus to provide them with additional ways of considering and experiencing who he was and is as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). From a certain perspective, their doubts made greater faith possible.
Often in the history of the church, people have held up firm, unquestioning faith as the ideal. Doubts have been looked upon as things to be overcome. Like many other people in our world, Christians have looked for certainty. They have wanted something to hold onto, a sort of spiritual golden calf, instead of having to deal with the living God who cannot be pinned down, who cannot be fully comprehended and understood.
Even today, churches that claim to offer certainty attract many adherents. Many people would much rather latch onto simplistic approaches and easy-to-repeat slogans than have to think for themselves. As Henry Ford observed, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
Those who take that easy road tend to be very adamant about their stance and very critical about anyone who dares to disagree with them. They try to justify themselves by claiming that their unquestioning approach is evidence of their strong faith. But maybe the direct opposite is true. Maybe, as writer Eric Hoffer insisted, “The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.”
Living in doubt, living with and in the questions, is an integral part of the life of faith. Certainly in our tradition, we accept that — at least theoretically; although some of us are more comfortable with that than others. We live our lives in God’s new reality: the reality of the resurrection of Jesus which, as I said on Easter, has begun the new creation: the resurrection of all in him.
The fullness of that new creation lies, obviously, somewhere in the future, and yet it determines how we live here and now. The goal toward God calls us and toward which we have vowed to work, provides us with our priorities and our values. As Christians, as people of the resurrection, we are determined, not so much by our past as by our future. It is that future, God’s future, that makes us who we are and sets before us the way that we are to live our lives.
Obviously, we cannot see the future clearly or with any degree of certainty, and that is where faith comes in – not the pseudo-faith that makes idols out of narrow ways of thinking and unwavering sets of rules, but genuine faith: faith, not in things or in words or in practices, but in the God who calls us to a journey, a journey in the Spirit, a journey to places that we cannot always see in advance.
That is what the church of the Acts of the Apostles discovered. When they were willing to let go of what they had thought of as certainties, they found that they could put their faith in the Spirit of God. This was the Spirit who enabled them to recognize the resurrected Jesus, the Spirit who called them forward into a journey into God’s future and led them into places and situations and ways of being disciples that they had not imagined.
We, too, are called to let go of many of those things in which we have come to place our trust and to place our faith in God alone. And when we do, we, too, will discover new ways of seeing the Living One who is with us still.
In the play The Lion in Winter, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of England’s King Henry II, declares, “In a world where carpenters get resurrected, anything is possible.” In faith, we open ourselves up to those “anythings” to which God calls us so that, like the disciples in our gospel reading, we might be faithful witnesses of the great things that God has done and the great things that God continues to do through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.