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Easter 3, Yr B, 22.04.2012
Acts 3.12-19:  You rejected the holy and righteous one ... repent, turn to God, so sins wiped out.
Ps 4: Answer me ... have mercy & hear my prayer.
1 John 3.1-7: See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.
Luke 24.36-48: Law, Prophets & Psalms concerning me [Jesus] be fulfilled. (1519)

Risen Christ, you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope: strengthen us to proclaim your risen life and fill us with your peace, to the glory of God the Father.  

(In Christ God makes his forgiveness known.)

          When we came to England in 1960 and I started my doctoral studies at Nottingham University one of the books that I read was by Professor R. V. G. Tasker, a rather conservative Evangelical scholar.  One thing that he said has stuck with me ever since.  He said that in his judgment Luke’s gospel was not as satisfactory as the other three.  Why?  Because it does not present Jesus’ crucifixion as a sacrifice for sin, which to Tasker was a sine qua non, that is, an essential part of what he understood to be the gospel.  Now, there is no doubt that expiatory sacrificial language and imagery is used in the NT, by Paul and others.  But you have heard me argue that God does not forgive us in Jesus Christ, if by that you mean that there had to be a sacrifice before God could forgive us.

            I believe we are much closer to the mark if we say that in Christ God makes his forgiveness known; it is we who have to change, not God. This is evident in Luke’s writings, both in the Gospel and in Acts.  In Luke’s account of the Passion, Jesus prays to the Father, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’, and in today’s reading from Acts in Peter’s speech we have, ‘You rejected the holy and righteous one ... repent’

          We find the same theme at the cross in Luke in the words of acceptance to penitent thief: ‘This day you will be with me in paradise.’  This Lucan outlook is matched by the Fourth Gospel.  In John we find the words ‘Having loved his own he loved them eis telos’, that is, to the end, completely, and this is matched at the cross by ‘tetelestai, ‘it has been completed’ – namely, loving the disciples to the end, completely, for the cross is the final and total embodiment of that love.

          God has always been ready to forgive; we have only to acknowledge our need for forgiveness and want that forgiveness for it be readily available.  And that is what we find in both the penitent thief on the cross in Luke and in today’s reading from Acts.

          So Peter’s call as presented by Luke is to ‘repent and turn’, ‘turn’ to God.  Direct your attention to God (not elsewhere).  ‘You rejected the holy and righteous one’ – if you had not done so, real life would have been available to you. Do straighten up now and enter into that life, as the children of God we find in today’s reading from the 1st letter of John.

          I strongly disagree with what Nick said on Palm Sunday when in effect he said that nothing happened in the passion that was not willed by God.  As Roderick Strange, a Roman Catholic theologian, has said, Jesus came to bring life, not to die.  It was because the kind of freedom that Jesus offered was such a threat that, as our reading from Acts says, ‘You rejected the holy and righteous one’.

          Now let us turn to today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. In it the risen Lord mentions all the things in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms concerning him. 

          Week by week in synagogue the service would include a reading from the Law, one from the Prophets, and a Psalm.

          When completed the Jewish scriptures came to be referred to by Jews as the Tanak, which is an acronym. The T stands for the Torah or Law, the N stands for the Nebiim, or Prophets, and the K for the Kethubim or Writings.

          With some oral traditions going back to possibly the 16th century BC, what we call the OT began to be written down probably no later than the 10th century BC.  By about 400 B.C. the Law, that is the Torah, Genesis through Deuteronomy, was fixed as being canonical.  By ca. 200 BC the Prophets were also fixed.  The psalms were largely fixed by Jesus’ day.  The only part that was still more fluid was what came to be known as the Writings, which includes the psalms.  So you can understand why Luke presents the risen Jesus as referring to the things written in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, namely, the scriptures read week by week in synagogue.  Even with a limited level of literacy the Jews were known as ‘The People of the Book’ because of their familiarity with the scriptures.

          The impact of Jesus was such that those who followed him were sure that he was the Promised Messiah.  So they looked at their received tradition, that is, the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, to see where the Jesus they knew matched elements of this time-honoured tradition, for it was this tradition which they believed witnessed to their encounter with God down through the centuries.  And then, armed with these passages, they were ready to try to convince their fellow Jews that in Jesus they had found the true Messiah and that with him had come a whole new quality of life.

          In our present day culture there is no longer a general knowledge of the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, so while in the first century an appeal to scripture might at least potentially find a ready audience, today it is the quality of our life that must be so attractive that others will say, ‘I want some of that, too.’

          We are the Easter people, the people of the Resurrection, and we are empowered to show forth in our lives as members of the Body of Christ the very life of Christ that others may share it with us too.  If we are the people of the resurrection, then what is the resurrection? 

The expectation of a Resurrection from the dead came late to Judaism.  It arose only shortly before Jesus’ day during or just after the Jewish revolt under Judas Maccabaeus against the Seleucid Empire in the middle of the 2nd century BC.  It was always seen as being a sovereign act of God, not an inherent characteristic of human life, which is why you have always heard me say whenever possible that Jesus was raised, not that he rose.

When we look at the NT narratives of the resurrection in the four Gospels and 1 Corinthians, it is striking that in every case we find the announcement that the Lord has been raised before there is any mention of appearances of the risen Lord, and all of the appearances are to disciples.  So the appearances are not a proof of the resurrection as such but they are rather a fruit of the conviction that Christ has been raised.

So before the appearances the band of disciples had already been changed in such a way that they were sure that Jesus had been raised.  This means that when we talk about the resurrection it is not merely about raising Jesus but it is also about the raising up of a renewed community, the church.  

        This is why I would rather phrase it as ‘what is the resurrection event?’  For I am convinced that the event we call the resurrection includes the disciples finding themselves empowered by God’s Spirit with a unique and overflowing sense of love that sends them out to others.  This is the resurrection life in their midst.  It is this sense of the life of Christ that leads Paul to speak of the community as the Body of Christ.  This is for Paul much more than a metaphor; it is, simply speaking, reality.  There is this same experience of the corporate experience of the power of Christ’s love that is to be found in the Book of Acts.  When Saul the persecutor of the church is confronted by a light from heaven outside Damascus , he asks, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ and the answer is ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’, not ‘Jesus whose church you are persecuting’, for the community itself is part and parcel of the resurrection of its Lord.

          You and I are witnesses to the Resurrection.  It is a calling that we, as disciples of Christ, cannot ignore or reject even if we want to.    Our very presence witnesses either for or against the God and Father of our Lord Jesus in our every attitude, word and action.

St Paul tells us that we are the Body of Christ, and, as I have said, I am convinced that he means this literally.  That is, that collectively we are Christ in the world.  I am not Christ.  You are not Christ, but together we are Christ, the one body with many members, each having his or her own gifts to offer in love and service in order that we all together may show forth Christ to the world as the witnesses to and partakers of his resurrection.

Therefore let our light shine forth as those for whom the words of today’s psalm ring true: ‘the Lord has shown me his marvellous kindness’ and ‘You have put gladness in my heart’.  Alleluia, Christ is risen!