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
Last Sunday, both our second reading and our gospel story emphasized the physical reality, the corporeality, of the risen Jesus. In response to Thomas’ doubts and insistence, Jesus invites him to go ahead and thrust his finger into the wounds in his hands and his hand into his side – whatever it takes to enable him to believe.
Today’s gospel account continues that same insistence on Jesus’ physical presence, even though we have switched our gospel selection from John to Luke. Jesus speaks to his disciples gathered together, he shows himself to them, and he even invites them to touch him if they want to. Since they are still not convinced, he asks for something to eat. They give him a piece of broiled fish, and he eats it as they watch.
Luke describes them at first as being “startled,” “terrified,” and “frightened,” and then as being “disbelieving and still wondering.” But then, who wouldn’t be? This is not something that they – or anybody else for that matter – had ever seen before. They were witnessing and coming into contact with a totally new reality: God’s new creation. Here was a whole new way of being. It put them in contact with what is sometimes called “an alternate reality.” It was an experience that can be referred to as “mystical”: one that we know is absolutely real, but one that we cannot completely comprehend, one that can leave us in wonder and in awe.
Albert Einstein, even with all his remarkable ability to comprehend and explain the universe, consistently affirmed the existence of what lies beyond human comprehension and our ability to quantify and explain. Although he lived as a secular Jew, not engaged in the formal practice of the Jewish faith, he retained the sense of a reality far greater than humans can ever comprehend. He once reflected (Einstein: His Life and Times): “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the sower of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.”
The practice of our faith, and in particular our acts of worship, offer us the opportunity to enter into that alternate reality: into what Einstein called the “impenetrable…, the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty.” And, if we really want to live the faith that we profess, those experiences, made available to us in worship, are essential to us on a regular basis. For the life to which Jesus calls us is about that alternative, that higher but absolutely real, way of seeing and living. It is about living, here and now, in what Jesus calls “the kingdom of God” or “the reign of God.”
The call of Jesus, both in the years before his death and resurrection and in the centuries that have followed, is a call to enter into the vision of that kingdom: the world as God wants it to be, the world as God intends it to be. And it is a call to determine to live even now as if that kingdom has already come in its fullness.
That determination doesn’t deny at all the reality and the value and even the sacredness of the world in which we live our daily lives, insisting that only that so-called “other world” is of lasting value. Instead, it holds the two of them together aa being two different but complementary ways of perceiving the one place of God’s presence, the place of God’s ongoing work of creation and giving of life. That is the two-fold nature of the place where today’s gospel story takes place.
Worship draws us into that room with those early disciples on that Easter evening, to join with them in standing firmly in this world and yet, at the same time, entering into an experience of a different way of seeing and being: the new life into which Jesus has entered, the new life into which we are called to live with him.
Our worship, and in particular our weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, is intended to do just that. It holds up to us, week after week, Jesus’ vision of God’s reign. It invites us and challenges us to enter into and live in that reign here and now. And it looks forward to the fullness of that reign as we gather around the Lord’s table and share together in the Sacrament that is a foretaste of God’s eternal banquet.
Many people who consider themselves to be people of faith rarely, if ever, participate in this weekly gathering. Among other things, they see it as something that interrupts their regular, daily routine and all the activities and concerns that fill their lives the rest of the week. And they are right: it does interrupt the rest of life – and that is exactly what it is intended to do. If we enter into it fully and intentionally, worship has the power to stop us in our tracks, to interrupt the way that we usually see the world and live in the world. It carries us beyond our usual understanding of the world and holds up to us that alternate reality: the reality that is just as present all the time as the risen Jesus was, standing before and with his disciples on that first Easter evening. It raises to our consciousness the divine reality and the divine presence in which we live each and every moment of each of every day, and calls us to live more and more fully in that divine reality and presence. That is why this weekly gathering is so critically important for anyone who really wants to be a follower of the crucified and risen Jesus.
The great 20th-century American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr (Justice and Mercy) prayed in this way: “Give us grace to apprehend by faith the power and wisdom which lie beyond our understanding; and in worship to feel that which we do not know, and to praise even what we do not understand; so that in the presence of your glory we may be humble, and in the knowledge of your judgment we may repent; and in the assurance of your mercy, we may rejoice and be glad.”
Today’s gospel story invites us into that Easter scene and into that room with the first disciples. It invites us to see the risen Lord present and living in the world each and every day. And it invites us to join with them in being witnesses to the world of that alternate reality and of God’s gift in Jesus of new and greater life.