Slyne with Hest
Continuing last week’s extract from Peter’s Pentecost speech, the apostle reads Psalm 16 and the opening of Psalm 110 as proof that the crucified and risen Jesus is ‘both Lord and Messiah’ (v.36; see Acts 2.31-35). As God’s vindication of the disgraced and rejected Jesus, the resurrection calls Peter’s audience to reassess Jesus’ life. It also invites those who contributed in any way to his execution to do the same about their own lives. This two-fold change of heart – towards Jesus and themselves – is what Peter means by repentance. Not only does this open up the possibility of receiving God’s forgiveness in the public act of baptism, it also offers to those who quenched Jesus’ spirit in death a share in the renewing Spirit released in his resurrection life.
Peter makes his appeal to everyone in his audience and more, well beyond those who might have been involved in what happened to Jesus a matter of weeks ago. Baptism draws them into the unfolding story of Jesus, and marks a real change of direction in their lives. The gift of the Holy Spirit promises to turn the hostility of a corrupt generation into the forgiveness of a hope-filled community.
Emmaus was a village to the west of Jerusalem. The two disciples may have been part of a wider group – like that of Martha and Mary earlier in Luke’s Gospel (10.38-42) – whose discipleship showed itself in hospitality. By not recognising Jesus at first, they remind us of Mary Magdalene in John 20. Disappointed at the collapse of their hopes, and ashamed by their friend’s execution, their powers of perception are in shutdown. There is also a deeper mystery at work. ‘Their eyes were kept from recognising him’ (v.16) suggests that they would only know the stranger’s identity when God chose to open their eyes.
The stranger draws out their story. Verses 19 and 20 give the familiar outline from the apostles’ speeches in Acts. Notice the emphasis on the testimony of the women who went to the tomb. The widespread reference to their witness in the resurrection stories is remarkable at a time when women’s evidence was not generally valued. A new movement, whose leading figure was shamed and humiliated by crucifixion, would hardly invent a group of women as witnesses. Their presence can only be a mark of authenticity.
The stranger points out that the disappointed disciples’ story is in fact rooted in Scripture, though he gives no details of particular passages. For these we must look to the apostles’ speeches in Acts. Jews at the time looked to their Scriptures to reveal the mysterious ways of God in the world. Reading backwards from Easter brings hidden truths to light, not least the way that the biblical pattern of suffering and glory in the experience of God’s righteous servants converges on the experience of Jesus.
The disciples’ eyes are kept from recognising Jesus in their Scriptures as well as in their companion. The light only dawns with another familiar pattern, the way he says grace and breaks bread before sharing it with them. Once again, a story that is told first by women is vindicated. The disciples’ return to Jerusalem to report what they have experienced anticipates what happens whenever the gospel breaks new ground (see Acts 10–11 and 15). We may be surprised that in view of the importance of Simon Peter to Luke, he includes no more than a mention of Jesus’ appearance to him (v.34).
The links between the lectionary readings
Transformation is one of the connecting threads in this week’s readings. The psalmist’s distress is transformed to thanksgiving and praise. Many of Peter’s audience at Pentecost reconsider their attitude to Jesus and themselves, and are baptised. 1 Peter’s readers have experienced what can only be imagined as a new birth through their faith in Jesus Christ. The disciples’ recognition of the risen Jesus in Emmaus begins to transform their disappointment into joy.
A personal prayer
Saviour, help me to recognise you this week, to listen to you and to learn from you, to respond to your promptings in my own life, by the power of your Spirit. Amen.
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