The Second Sunday of Easter - Year A
27 Apr 2014
Padre Christian Hawley
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
Our Gospel reading today ends with John saying he wrote his gospel down so that we may come to believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through him we may have life in his name. The tomb is empty, and the Risen Christ is made manifest to us in the Holy Scriptures.
I forget that sometimes. After all the wonderful worship services last week, after all the beautiful flowers, phenomenal music, and amazing homilies, I forget just how central the scriptures are to our faith.
For all of us who were not locked in the safe house with the disciples, or lucky enough to poke the risen Christ like Thomas, all we have to go on, is the living Word of God set down by inspired writers like John.
However, just as I was about to profess my faith by liturgy alone last week as the choir wrapped up Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, a little voice, the voice of the confirmation class I'm teaching, reminded me of how important scripture is...
A couple of weeks ago the eight confirmands and I were going to town on some church history. We were talking about Justin Martyr, medieval crusades, Elizabethan settlements, the American prayer book, but then I get blindsided by a really insightful question. During our discussions about the Episcopal Church split during the American civil war, Abigail Cooper looked right at me and point blank asked, “So is the bible infallible?”
Initially I stared at her like there are lobsters crawling out of her nose, because I was so impressed with her insight. I was amazed how she recognized the link between how we interpret the Bible and how we live our faith.
After my initial dumbfounding by Abigail’s question I gathered my thoughts and attempted to answer her question on the bible’s infallibility. My first reaction was to say something witty and Anglican like, “only the parts of the bible in the book of common prayer are infallible.” However, such a good question deserved a better answer. So I said yes the Bible is infallible, but then keeping in mind the whole slavery question, I immediately added, “the bible is infallible as long as it is interpreted rightly. Which of course led to the follow up question of, “what does it mean to rightly interpret the Bible?” And that my friends, is a really, really good question.
At the time, I talked for a moment about context and hermeneutical lenses. I mentioned the need to understand historical settings, language limitations, and the complicated process of textual transmission. But those kind of interpretive tools treat the Word of God like any other piece of human literature, and there is a certain danger in stopping there with right interpretation.
Those dangers became readily apparent as I walked into Union Books a few days ago, and picked up Bart Ehrman’s new book “How Jesus Became God.” I flipped through this religious scholar’s new bestseller and read how Jesus never claimed to be God, and how the Resurrection was actually a group hallucination.
And as I stood there in that cozy little book nook, mouth agape at Ehrman’s line of thought, a little chill ran through me as I thought about today’s reading from John. If we treat the Word of God as a static text, written millennia ago for a people of a foreign culture ignorant of modern science, then Bart Ehrman makes a really compelling case. If the Bible is just another book, then Jesus is just another man, and the resurrection is just another ghost story.
However the Bible is more than just another human text. The Bible is an inspired text. A text inspired by the Holy Spirit, not just in its writing, but also in its subsequent reading and interpretation. The Bible is not a collection of dead letters frozen in time, and neither is it a tame text, comfortable text, or a predictable text. It is a living Word where the Holy Spirit is speaking to us just as clearly and unexpectedly as Christ did to Thomas.
The Resurrection was not a hallucination. I know that as surely as Thomas did when Jesus invited him to touch his wounds. John wrote his gospel so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the source of life. Our experience of the Word of God begins with written scripture, but its truth is most fully revealed as it interacts with the body of Christ with the Holy Spirit.
I believe in the Resurrection because, like Brett preached at the Easter Vigil, I have seen the risen Christ in the lives of his followers. My friend, Mark Moreland, a minister over at Central Baptist, mentioned during our sunrise Easter service, that all the proof of the Resurrection he needed was in the lives of the disciples. They went from a scattered and defeated flock, who just lost their shepherd at the end of the Gospels to these pillars of strength and confidence who then spread out across the world fearlessly proclaiming the risen Christ and the good news unto their death.
Compare the Peter in the Gospels, who is denying Jesus three times before the cock crows to the Peter we hear in the Acts today, explain the fulfillment of the scriptures by Christ to the Israelites. The Resurrection of Christ can be clearly seen in the transformation of Peter. And it can be clearly seen as the scriptures transform our community today.
I saw the Risen Christ speaking through members of our vestry during Good Friday’s seven last words. I looked upon Leslie Beale and Ellen Jenny and all those other inspired members of our parish as if they were Peter and I was an Israelite witnessing the Holy Spirit come into our midsts.
And I heard the Risen Lord clearly say, “Peace be with you,” in so many of the reflections from our Lenten Devotional.
How many of you read our daily Lenten devotionals that Deacon Amy put together? And how many of you saw the scriptures come alive in your own life? I got at least half a dozen emails attesting to this fact, and for those of you who came to the Holy Tuesday service know just how concretely the scripture came alive for me on a trail outside of Cade's Cove. The scriptures are the dynamic and living Word of God, they are not tame, they are not predictable, but they are life giving and life changing. We need to interact with them as often as we can.
I know I might send Amy into a conniption fit by saying this, but I wish we had a season of Easter Devotional, where we could continue with daily scripture readings and reflections by people in this community. Barring that miracle though, I urge us all to take on an Easter discipline of celebration, by continuing a daily scripture practice. Forward Day by Day is a great resource. Our own daily office, 7am here every weekday morning is an even better resource. But if neither of those work for you, I highly recommend reading through the Book of Acts this fifty days of Easter. Those particular scripture are life giving for the Body of Christ as we and the risen Christ working in and through our church.
The scriptures were written so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the source of eternal life. Thanks be to God for that gift, and may the Spirit guide our fingers to believe more fully by sticking them into the pages of our Bibles.