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Easter 5, Yr B (6.5.2012)
Acts 8.26-40: Philip and Ethiopian eunuch
Ps 22.24-39: All the ends of the earth shall turn to you, O Lord
1 John 4.7-21: on God’s love, our love for God and neighbour
John 15.1-8: Jesus as true vine
; remain in me and bear much fruit. (1014)

Risen Christ, your wounds declare your love for the world and the wonder of your risen life: give us compassion and courage to risk ourselves for those we serve, to the glory of God the Father.  

(It is going in the way with Jesus that makes the difference.)

          ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them.’ (Matthew 18.20) – a very apt verse for Eastertide.

          Let’s talk about sacraments.  One can debate about how many sacraments there are, but the groundbase upon which all will agree is that there are at least two.  These two are baptism and Holy Communion which are often called the Dominical sacraments, that is, the sacraments of the Lord because in the gospels Jesus is directly involved with both, namely, at his baptism and at the Last Supper.  Baptism is further emphasised in the addition made to Matthew’s Gospel when the command of the risen Lord to ‘go make disciples out of all nations’ is expanded by the words ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit’.  The reason for adding these words was most probably because there had been an argument about what name to use when baptizing converts.  By putting these words on Jesus’ lips the matter was settled for all time.

          Now the gospel writer who is concerned to tell the story of both Jesus and the Church is Luke in his work written in two parts, namely, the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  He is strikingly the one who associates Baptism and the Eucharist.  Thus Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, reads from the scroll of Isaiah in synagogue.  He then talks about Elijah and the feeding of the widow of Zarephath and then Elisha and the baptism of Naaman the Syrian, both times emphasizing the outreach to Gentiles.  So you have a feeding and a baptism, paralleling the Eucharist and Baptism.  In the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus the disciples know Jesus in ‘the breaking of the bread’, which is Luke’s term for the Holy Communion.  And now in today’s reading from Acts in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, we end up with the eunuch’s baptism.

          What I want to do now is to show you two things, firstly, how the Emmaus story and this story of a baptism are very closely related to each other and secondly, what Luke wants us to learn from them about knowing the Lord Jesus. 

          In Acts the Christians are known as members of ‘The Way’.  And I am sure that it is no accident that in Luke’s accounts, it is when people are travelling, that is, going in the way, that revealing events take place, as they do in the stories about Emmaus and the eunuch. First let me remind you about the Easter Day story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  They are travelling from Jerusalem when they are met by a stranger who asks them why they are downcast.  They tell the stranger all about Jesus and how they had set their hopes on him until he had been crucified in Jerusalem.  That should be enough to help you recall the story.

          Now let me show you how carefully Luke has made the two stories parallel to each other step by step for 14 points.  You may find it handy to follow the account in Acts in your pew sheet.  1) In both cases the two disciples and the eunuch are  travelling from Jerusalem .  That this is so is specified at the end in the case of the disciples that they return to Jerusalem . (Lk 14.13; Ac  8.27).  2) They both have some knowledge, the disciples have knowledge about Jesus and the eunuch has knowledge about scripture.  3) They are approached, the disciples by Jesus incognito and the eunuch by Philip who has been brought by the Spirit.  4) Jesus and Philip then join the travellers who need guidance, the disciples being unable to recognise Jesus and the eunuch needing help in understanding the scripture.  5) Jesus and Philip then ask the travellers about their perplexity.  6) At this point the travellers stop, the disciples looking downcast and it is implied that the eunuch stops so that Philip may come up and sit with him in his chariot.  7) The disciples ask a question concerning their knowledge about Jesus and the eunuch asks concerning the scripture he is reading.  8) Jesus and Philip then begin to expound the scriptures, Jesus begins from Moses and the prophets and Philip, starting from the Isaiah passage, preaches the good news, namely, Jesus.  9) They then stop together, the disciples requesting Jesus to stay with them and the eunuch requesting baptism.  [The eunuch says, ‘What prvents/hinders (kolouein) me being baptized?’  This verb turns up in early baptismal liturgies concerning the examination of baptismal candidates.]  10) Jesus enters the house with the disciples and Philip goes down into the water with the eunuch.  11) We then have the eucharist and baptism.  12) At which point the disciples’ eyes are opened and the eunuch comes up out of the water into new life.  13) Jesus vanishes from the sight of the disciples and the eunuch sees Philip no more, Philip having been caught up by the Spirit.  14) The travellers journey again, rejoicing.

          When we look at the stories, we see that the disciples know all about Jesus and the eunuch studies the scriptures, but this alone does not bring them joy; it is only in travelling with Jesus that the disciples are able to connect with the scriptures and the eunuch with the fulfilment of the scriptures in Jesus.  In the Greek text Philip is not said to preach about Jesus but he is said to preach ‘Jesus’, so that Jesus is made present in and through his preaching.  The point that Luke is making is that neither knowledge about Jesus nor knowledge of the scriptures will give life unless one goes in the way with Jesus.  And that still holds true for us today.

          And if we take Luke’s two accounts and boil them down, so to speak, to their basic structure it sounds very much like what we do Sunday by Sunday.  Like Luke’s accounts, we gather here, listen to the scriptures, hear a sermon which is intended to make Jesus better known, we then know Jesus in celebrating the Eucharist, and after that, like the two disciples and the eunuch, we go on our way with Christ, rejoicing this Eastertide and in every season.