THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

How old are you? Here is a test. Before there was "Power Point" to project text on a screen; before there were whiteboards with special markers for classrooms; way back in almost pre-historic times – there were blackboards. Remember? Well that dates you! Wasn’t it a break from class routine to be sent to the playground to clap the erasers together and send up a white cloud of dust? The erasers were full of chalk from the blackboards, the results of lots of erasures. What was written on the board was erased to prepare for a whole new lesson, or an entire shift in subject; from Arithmetic to Grammar; from History to Spelling. Once erased there was no computer reverse button to get the material back. It was all gone, somewhere in that white cloud of chalk in the school yard.

The first reading from Acts is the second part of a story. The first part (3: 1-12) tells how Peter and John stopped at the Temple gate to cure, in the name of Jesus, the crippled beggar. There was a crowd at the Temple that hour and the beggar was an usual sight to those entering and leaving. After his cure, Luke tells us, "He went into the temple with them–walking, jumping about and praising God" (3:8). That certainly would draw a crowd!

People had gotten used to seeing the crippled beggar and, because they generally associated sickness with a punishment for sin, they were also accustomed to seeing him as a "sinner." They were used to the sight of sin in their lives, the way we get used to sin in ourselves and in the world around us. Our own habits are hard to break. Our world has its intransigent habits too—war, violence, governmental and corporate cheating, lying, oppression and on and on. It’s all part of the daily landscape of our lives; we get accustomed to sin, it is in the air we breathe.

So, when Peter and John cured the beggar in the name of Jesus, the onlookers, so accustomed to the usual sight of the "sinner-beggar," now had to start getting used to another sight, the beggar standing up, jumping and praising God. What happened to that man’s infirmity? It was wiped out, erased from the blackboard of his life. If that were so, people would have deduced, the sin that caused the infirmity, would also have been erased. Peter and John, in curing the cripple, were proclaiming in that sign, the forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ.

That was the first part of the story; the section before today’s passage from Acts. Now that Peter has the onlookers’ attention, he does what good preachers are supposed to do: he shows them through the scriptures, how the same God of their ancestors, who brought them out of slavery and made them a people, had worked through Jesus and delivered them from slavery once again. The cure of the beggar was proof-positive that in Jesus God had broken the crippling effects of sin.

Peter tells the crowd that they had put to death "the author of live." And then he says, "But" – that’s where he begins to spell out what God did. "...but God raised him from the dead...." (I always look for the moment in scriptures after the human situation has been spelled out in all its weakness, sinfulness or need, when a "But" or "However" appears. That’s when God’s intervention and marvelous work is described.) Peter tells the listeners that, despite their ignorance in killing Jesus, "...God has brought to fulfillment what God had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets...."

Peter tells them that, in some mysterious way, God had this plan to bring life to the world through the death of Christ. Peter calls Jesus, "the Author of Life" and, in this case, life came to us through death. The consequence for us is that "...your sins may be wiped out." Did you catch that powerful image? – "wiped out." Just like Sister Albina did in our 8th grade classroom when she erased the arithmetic lesson and gave me the two erasers to clap together out in the schoolyard. All those words and numbers from the blackboard, gone in a white cloud of chalk dust. Same thing happens, Peter tells the crowds, when we turn to God asking for forgiveness—our sins are "wiped out." Or, as my three year old niece used to say, after she hides the ball under the blanket, "All gone!"

The gospel is also a sequel. Prior to today’s reading the two disciples met the risen Lord in the stranger on the road to Emmaus. They tell him of Christ’s death and their dashed hopes, "...we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel...." The "stranger" responds by interpreting the scriptures for them and then, when they are seated at table, breaking bread. Their "...eyes were opened and they recognized him...."

Today’s gospel picks up with the Emmaus disciples’ return to Jerusalem and their account about how they came to recognize the risen Lord on the road, "...in the breaking of the bread." Luke hasn’t forgotten the part about how Christ helped them see him by interpreting scriptures for them on the Emmaus road. He names both details from the Emmaus road: he first mentions the breaking of the bread and later in the story the tells how Christ once again, "...opened their minds to understand the Scriptures...." Once their minds are opened and the community understands why he had to suffer, the risen Christ mentions the purpose for all that has happened, "...that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name, to all the nations...." It’s all about forgiveness and sins being "wiped away." That’s the first message Jesus wanted preached and that’s what Peter is doing to the assembled crowd, in Acts, after the cure of the crippled man.

The community that has experienced the risen Lord is not to sit around locked in their enclosure feeling warm and cozy in their new faith. No sooner do they meet him than he sends them out to preach forgiveness. At Eucharist we have an "Emmaus Experience," for here, at this particular moment, on the road of our lives, we meet the risen Lord. Like the two disciples and then the assembled community, we come to see him here with us through the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. We are an Easter people. What do Easter believers look and sound like?

They live and speak forgiveness. In families they are parents who take back their prodigal children, or they are the ones who stay in touch with the member the rest of the family has cut off; they are the adult children who forgive the shortcomings of their parents and tend to them in their declining years; they are the family cooks who prepare special holiday, or birthday meals, hoping that a family that shares stories and breaks bread will hold together and forgive one another the petty and large offenses family members can inflict on one another.

Jesus’ mandate to preach, "repentance for forgiveness of sins," requires resurrection-believers to also work outside the home as voices and instruments of forgiveness. How will people ever come to know the forgiveness Christ sends his disciples to proclaim, but through us? People don’t get to meet the forgiving God Jesus preached by the water cooler at work. But they do get to meet us there. The words we speak and the way we act will put a face on God for them and they will come to know that that divine face is open to anyone seeking forgiveness. But they must first meet that forgiveness through us, and if they do, they will come to know that there is another way to travel the road of life – other than aggression, violence, lies, greed, lust, anger and revenge. Thus, people will meet God’s emissaries of forgiveness in us.

This Easter time reminds us that each of us can start all over again. We are offered forgiveness again for our sins, half-hearted attempts at change and for our fear of death that keeps us locked up in feeble attempts at self preservation. The disciples who heard the risen Christ charge them to go out proclaim, "repentance for the forgiveness of sins," knew that they themselves had been the first beneficiaries of the message they were to proclaim. All that had passed before—their betrayal and abandonments of Christ in his suffering—had been forgiven by Jesus’ greeting to them, "Peace be to you."

They would be ambassadors proclaiming that peace to "all nations." They weren’t to wallow in their past sins, they had been "wiped away." Now they had to announce the same possibilities to others.

Rev. Fr Jude Siciliano OP