Peter concludes his open-air sermon with a strong statement about the identity of Jesus: ‘God has made him both Lord and Messiah’, and a hard-hitting accusation: ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’ (v.36).
Events in Jerusalem before the Passover may have convinced members of this very crowd that Jesus was a rabble-rousing, blaspheming troublemaker who needed to be crucified to maintain peace with the Romans and a proper respect for their faith. Jesus’ resurrection disproves this assessment: God raised Jesus from the dead, showing clearly that their whole understanding of God’s will had been wrong.
How could they get it so wrong? They ask the anguished question, ‘What should we do?’ (v.37). Peter’s answer is surprising – he does not tell them to go away in sackcloth and ashes, but to be baptized and then they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is a promise for all who hear God’s call. Peter gives them an urgent yet open invitation.
New Testament 1 Peter 1.17-23
The writer continues to encourage his readers by changing their understanding of their sufferings. He evokes two aspects of Jewish culture and shared memory – the exile, and the practice of ritual sacrifice.
‘The time of your exile’ was originally the time in Babylon after Judah had been conquered (587/6–538 BC). ‘Exile’ thus becomes shorthand for living in a hostile environment while holding true to the faith (e.g. in the stories of Daniel). So, the readers are being encouraged to understand their sufferings as caused by being God’s people in a hostile context, but also to have hope that, just like the original exile, theirs is temporary – they have an eternal home with God, and they are not living outside God’s care. They are secure because they have been ransomed with the blood of Christ, who can be pictured as resembling the perfect sacrificial animal. The cleansing he brings is not temporary but resembles a new birth. How are they to live in the light of this? With reverent fear for God, who judges all impartially and with genuine mutual love.
Gospel Luke 24.13-35
In Luke’s Gospel, the risen Jesus makes his first appearance during this 10 to 12 kilometre walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
Two disappointed and heartsick disciples are making their way home when Jesus himself comes and walks beside them. Their eyes are kept (literally, ‘held back’) from recognising him. We are not told who or what prevents them from knowing – it could be God’s direct action, or the trauma they have experienced in witnessing his death, or a combination of both.
Jesus asks them what they have been talking about as they walked along, and there follows the almost comical scene of Cleopas and his companion recounting the story of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ to – Jesus of Nazareth! When he first asks them, though, they stand still ‘looking sad’, as if the horror of recent events has sapped all their energy. The word for ‘sad’ here could also be translated ‘angry’. Either way, they are overcome with deep emotion and say, ‘We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’ ‘Redeeming Israel’ could mean freeing Israel from Roman rule, but it could also indicate more far-reaching hopes, such as the idea that the Messiah would end all wars or bring about the end of time. Whatever they were hoping for, it all seems lost now.
Then the unrecognised Jesus begins to reframe their experience by explaining to them, from the Scriptures, that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer; it was in God’s plan and not a terrible accident. It is as if this unknown teacher takes their isolated beads of knowledge and re-strings them into a different sequence revealing a new pattern. Their hearts burn within them as they listen to him. It is this new knowledge, plus their own generous hospitality, that paves the way for the moment when they recognise him in the breaking of the bread.
The links between the readings
These readings encourage us to consider that we might have got things wrong and jumped to false conclusions. The crowd in Jerusalem had previously assumed that Jesus was a troublemaker; the readers of 1 Peter perhaps felt alone in meaningless suffering; the disciples on the road had assumed that Jesus was finished. All these thoughts were overturned by the reality of the resurrection.
Notes on Psalm 116.1-4, 12-19 and ideas for using it together.