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Introduction To The Scripture For The Third Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-4,12-19; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Third Sunday of Easter - Year A


ACTS 2:14a,36-41 			The conclusion to Peter's sermon at 
Pentecost in call for repentance and baptism, and a promise of the gift of 
the Holy Spirit had spectacular results.  Thousands responded and became 
members of the new faith community.  These astonishing events emphasized 
that the early church saw the resurrection as proof that Jesus was God's 
promised Messiah.  Numbers recorded in scripture, however, are not always 
reliable.  It was not thought wrong to exaggerate to enhance the  
significance of a particular event: the larger the number, the greater the 
significance.    
	

PSALM 116:1-4,12-19  		This song of thanksgiving praises God for an 
apparent recovery from critical illness.  It may have been sung by an 
individual worshiper making a thank-offering in the presence of a 
congregation gathered in the temple court.


1 PETER 1:17-23.   			This letter may have been a manual exhorting 
newly baptized adults just converted from paganism.  It made the point 
that because of Christ's death and resurrection these new believers have 
been set free to be everything God created them to be.  They are to live 
the rest of their lives in reverence for God and showing love for each 
other.  Verse 17 may contain an early reference to the Lord's Prayer.


LUKE 24:13-35.  			This favorite resurrection story traces the 
disciples’ despair at the death of Jesus to the joy of knowing that he is 
alive and still with them.  Two significant facts about the early church 
come to the fore: 1) The apostolic community based its faith on the 
resurrection.  2) The community centered around the celebration of the 
continuing presence of Jesus in a fellowship meal.  Later, this observance 
developed into the ritual of the Eucharist.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.

ACTS 2:14a,36-41   The essential faith of the early church was that the 
resurrection proved that Jesus was God's promised Messiah/Christ.  (vs. 
36) He was no revered but fondly remembered rabbi whose resuscitation the 
apostles now proclaimed.  Even though we may now be reading the remembered 
tradition written down a generation or more after the event, the passage 
still rings with an immediacy and authenticity none can ignore.  The 
similarity of this passage to Paul’s declaration of the resurrection in 1 
Corinthians 15:12-20 reveals how closely the tradition had been maintained 
through the interval of several decades.
The conclusion to Peter's sermon at Pentecost had unprecedented results.  
A call for repentance and baptism, and a promise of the gift of the Holy 
Spirit followed his uncompromising declaration of what had happened to 
Jesus.  This would appear to represent a pattern of what happened when 
apostolic preaching hit the mark.  After all, mass evangelism was not the 
invention of the 18th and 19th century Protestants.
	
Peter threw out his challenge “to the entire house of Israel” represented 
by the multicultural throng assembled in Jerusalem that day.  The simple 
phrase “cut to the heart” provides a description of the overwhelming sense 
of guilt which swept through the crowd.  They pleaded for help and the 
apostles responded with John the Baptist’s prescription - baptism as a 
sign of their repentance and ethical transformation empowered by the 
Spirit.  (Cf.  Luke 3:3-14)
	
Thousands responded and became members of the new faith community.  
Numbers recorded in scripture are always suspect.  It was not thought 
wrong to exaggerate to enhance the religious or theological significance 
of a particular event: the larger the number, the greater the 
significance.  
	
This end to Peter’s sermon marked a new beginning for the Christian 
community.  Now that we have entered the third millennium of the so-called 
“Christian era,” what new initiative is the Spirit compelling the church 
to confront right now? Mass media reports instantly the violent deaths of 
tens of thousands in tribal conflicts, natural disasters and the 
devastating effects of globalizing economies on the sovereignty of nation 
states.  In such a situation, is there any hope in the church founded on 
the apostolic tradition for a new redemptive experience of resurrection 
through repentance and a Spirit-led new beginning to neighborliness, 
justice and reform?
	

PSALM 116:1-4,12-19   This song of thanksgiving praises God for an 
apparent recovery from critical illness that brought the psalmist near 
death.  It may have been intended to be sung by an individual worshiper 
making a thank offering in the presence of a congregation gathered in the 
temple court.  Across the centuries, its sense of devotion has provided 
many human hearts with solace in great crises and given voice to their 
thanksgiving when their trials are over.  
	
The first four verses set the scene vividly.  Now recovered from a 
critical illness, the psalmist voices the most sincere praise for God’s 
mercy.  In so doing he makes a vow to be as responsive to God as God has 
been to him (vs. 2).  The threat of death and being abandoned in Sheol 
(vs. 3) had been the cause of intense anxiety; but he prayed fervently for 
help and his prayer was heard (vs. 5-7).  
	
Perhaps because of textual difficulties, especially in vs. 10, the reading 
skips many of these intervening verses.  Some scholars have proposed that 
the psalm was originally two separate compositions and divided the parts 
at the end of vs. 11.

The poet’s gratitude for saving health finds memorable expression in vs. 
12-18.  A lovely Scottish Psalter rendition of this segment sung to 
Tallis’ Ordinal (#676 in the United Church Hymnary, UCPH 1930) has been 
used as a eucharistic hymn in traditional celebrations of the Lord’s 
Supper.  In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, a portion of the psalm was 
included in the traditional service entitled “Thanksgiving of Women after 
Childbirth commonly called The Churching of Women.”


1 PETER 1:17-23   As with many of the NT letters, no one can be completely 
sure as to this epistle’s origin or purpose.  It may have been a manual 
exhorting newly baptized adults just converted from paganism.  Its 
homiletic approach indicates that before being circulated to widely spread 
Christian communities, it began as a sermon.  A more recent parallel are 
the sermons of John Wesley which two centuries after his death are still 
normative for Methodist doctrine.  
	
Brevard Childs comments in *The New Testament As Canon* (Philadelphia: 
Fortress Press, 1984, 457) that “the letter assumes the great doctrines of 
the faith, but seeks to actualize the faith by primarily addressing the 
will.  The message does not progress by means of a tightly honed argument, 
but by a powerful use of repetition, by a constant appeal to Old Testament 
passages which evokes a virtual symphony of resonance, and by a direct 
appeal of repeated exhortation.”
	
The prophecy of Second Isaiah (Is. 40-55) lies behind this passage.  Vs. 
24-25 quotes directly from Is. 40:7-8.  The symbolism of the Passover lamb 
of Ex. 29:38-42, found also in Is. 53:6-7 and reiterated in John 1:29-34 
and 19:33-37 stands out clearly as the model by which the apostolic church 
interpreted the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice.  The ransom metaphor from 
several OT references, especially Is. 52:13-53:12, and Mark 10:45 also 
helps to create the vivid background against which the passage regards the 
death of Christ.  The pre-existent Christ now revealed in his death and 
resurrection so prominent in Pauline thought also comes to the fore in vs. 
20-21.  In a contemporary Internet discussion of the linkage between the 
Passion of Christ and the Jewish Passover, Bishop John Shelby Spong points 
out how the early church interpreted their experience of the Passion by 
drawing extensively on the only scriptures they knew, what we call the Old 
Testament.
	
While a great deal of it appears derivative, we must conclude that in 
expounding the meaning of the cross and resurrection, this passage 
presents us with a clear picture of normative teaching of the early 2nd 
century church.  The passage makes the point that because of Christ's 
death and resurrection, these new believers have been set free to be 
everything God created them to be.  They are to live the rest of their 
lives in reverence for God and showing love for each other.  It is even 
possible that verse 17 may contain an early reference to the Lord's 
Prayer.


LUKE 24:13-35   A few years ago, while touring Israel, my attention was 
drawn to a Canadian flag flying over the presumed site of the village of 
Emmaus.  Our guide informed us that a Canadian agency had undertaken to 
erect a tourist campground there.  Only a few kilometers west of Jerusalem 
on what is now the main road to Tel Aviv, it is apparently intended as a 
pleasant and less expensive place for young backpacking tourists to rest 
during their travels.  

This resurrection story of the walk to Emmaus has found great favour over 
the centuries because it is so human.  It traces the two disciples’ 
despair at the death of Jesus to the joy of knowing that he is still with 
them.  Several significant facts about the life of the early church can be 
recaptured from the story: It was a community based on faith in the 
resurrection.  The community fellowship centred around a communal meal 
celebrating the continuing presence of Jesus in the breaking of bread.  
Later, this developed into the ritual of the Eucharist.  Furthermore, the 
Old Testament scriptures formed the basis of the apostolic teaching about 
Jesus of Nazareth as the long-promised Messiah of Israel.
	
We know the name of one of the sad persons on this Resurrection Day walk, 
but little else.  Cleopas has sometimes been identified Clopas of John 
19:25, but there is no reason to do so.  On the other hand, Cleopas is a 
genuine Greek name, while Clopas has Semitic origins.  Was it another case 
of “Peter and Cephas?” If so, then the other person could have been Mary, 
his wife, one of the women at the foot of the cross.

The significant revelation contained here, however, is that an  
understanding of the meaning of the OT scriptures transformed the first 
Christian community’s view of Jesus suffering and death.  To this couple, 
Jesus was dead and his death had completely destroyed their hopes that he 
would be Israel’s traditional Messiah.  Jesus dispelled their 
disillusionment by opening their minds to the scriptures (vs. 27, 32).  
This is from Professor George Caird’s analysis of the passage:
	 
    “We look in vain for Old Testament predictions that the Messiah 
    must reach his appointed glory through suffering, unless we 
    realize that the Old Testament is concerned from start to finish 
    with the call and destiny of Israel, and that the Messiah, as King 
    of Israel, must embody in his own person the character and 
    vocation of the people of which he is leader and representative.  
    What Luke is claiming here is that, underlying all the OT 
    writings, Jesus detected a common pattern of God’s dealings with 
    his people which was meant to foreshadow his own ministry.”
	
Caird goes on to cite several ways in which Israel experienced suffering: 
through foreign domination (Dan. 7); punishment for their own sins (Hos. 
5:8-6:1; Is. 6:1-9:7); vicariously to make God’s name known to the ends of 
the earth (Is. 40-55).  Caird continues: 
	
    “In each case the common pattern is the Exodus pattern..., 
    annually celebrated at the Passover, [which] had become the 
    prototype of the messianic deliverance.  Thus Moses and all the 
    prophets could be said to bear witness to the one divine method of 
    dealing with the problem of evil.  But if Israel was called to 
    suffer in order to break the power of pagan despotism, to atone 
    for national sin, and to bear vicariously the transgressions of 
    many, then this must be par excellence the vocation of the 
    Messiah, Israel’s symbolic head and leader.  Thus the Cross, far 
    from being a cause for dejection, was a necessary element in the 
    divine purpose of redemption.”  (Caird, George B. *St. Luke: The 
    Pelican New Testament Commentaries* (London: Penguin Books, 1963).

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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