Third Sunday of Easter

May 4, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Acts 2:1-4a. 36-41
Reading 2: 
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
Reading 3: 
I Peter 1:17-23
Reading 4: 
Luke 24:13-25
By Bruce G. Epperly

Salvation or wholeness comes in many ways. If God has a truly personal relationship with each of us, then there is no “one size that fits all” approach to salvation on the pathway to wholeness. Rather, there are many ways to experience God’s empowering and transforming presence.

Peter’s Pentecost sermon describes Christ’s saving work, embodied in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He is, according to Peter, the Messiah of Israel and God’s saving gift to humankind. His listeners are moved by his message as well as the wind and fire blowing through the city and ask, “What should we do in light of the gospel message?” “Repent and be baptized” is Peter’s response. Grace calls for transformation and finds its fulfillment in a changed lifestyle. While grace comes to all peoples with impartiality, we are responsible for how we appropriate God’s grace. The shape of grace depends on the quality of our openness and agency.

The Psalmist celebrates God’s faithfulness in crisis, and responds with worship and praise. Gratitude is the only appropriate response to divine deliverance. The Psalmist would affirm Meister Eckhardt’s affirmation that if the only prayer you make is “thank you,” that will suffice. But, thanksgiving is more than lip service; it embraces our actions in worship and in the world beyond the temple and church.

The words of I Peter continue the apostle’s Pentecost reflections on God’s saving work: the author believes that Jesus of Nazareth was destined to be our savior. Redemptive love is built into the nature of reality and Christ truly reveals and embodies this love for our health and salvation. This passage may be challenging to those who believe in an open-ended universe. But, I believe there is room in the passage for the vision of divine-human partnership of co-creativity. Jesus was not a robot and neither are we. In contrast to divine determinism, we assert that divine providence enhances, rather than excludes, human agency. Jesus’ Messiahship was not predestined but occurred in the fullness of time, in a concrete place and in the life of fully human and fully open being, in accordance with God’s vision of history. Christ is God’s “yes” to humanity, and in Jesus Christ’s “yes” to God, we find healing and wholeness. But this “yes” is grounded in the ongoing call and response that characterizes the God-world relationship.

Peter’s words about substitutionary, sacrificial atonement will also be problematic and for good reason to some readers. Notions of shedding precious blood for our salvation will be difficult for those who challenge transactional, violent, or vicarious notions of atonement. We need not jettison the importance of sacrifice in processes of healing and reconciliation; but we need to affirm that God saves in many ways that go beyond the revivalist notions of blood atonement. God provides many ways to reconciliation and wholeness, including pathways to follow and models to imitate, empowerment, hospitality, ethical transformation, and mystical experiences. No one model of atonement suffices to describe God’s love for the world, and this is good news, opening the doors of grace to people in every life situation.

Sacrifice is at the heart of reality and human experience, after all, Whitehead affirms that “God is the fellow sufferer who understands,” but this is the gift of healthy and freely-chosen sacrifice, given for the well-being of others, not compulsory or self-negating sacrifice. Embracing the suffering of others, whether in the spirit of Christ or the compassion of the Buddhist bodhisattva, involves the expansion, rather than contraction, of our selves. It involves growing in wisdom and stature, or “size,” to quote Bernard Loomer. Moreover, God’s suffering in Jesus is intended to alleviate suffering and not be a model or demand for self-inflicted suffering or acceptance of injustice.

A holistic faith embraces the imagery and practices of: 1) the way of Jesus, the pathway of healing, hospitality, and justice-seeking; 2) the Cross and the open heart of Jesus, calling us to compassionate love of self and others; and 3) the Resurrection and the resiliency of life in the face of death.

As a walker, whose days are defined by walks on Craigville and Covell’s beaches near my home on Cape Cod, I appreciate the phrase, “solvitur ambulando,” translated “it will be solved in the walking.” This is precisely what happened on the way to Emmaus. As their bodies move, so do the spirits of Cleopas and his friend. Their dialogue with Jesus awakens the energies of resurrection, and enables them to see their grief and disappointment in the larger panorama of divine grace and hospitality. As their unknown companion bids adieu, they invite him to supper, and then discover in the breaking of the bread that they are welcoming the Risen Christ. Apart from their willingness to companion a stranger, they would not have experienced resurrection at their dinner table. Jesus vanishes with the breaking of the bread, but leaves them with warm hearts and good news to share with Jesus’ other followers.

Life is Eucharistic. Christ comes to us in formal celebrations of communion. He also comes to us whenever we share meals with open hearts. Christ comes in the hungry stomachs of the poor and our hungers for healing. We will discover Christ in walking with those who hunger for grace. We will find our own wholeness as we invite Christ to be our companion on the daily journeys of life.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of over thirty books in theology, ministry, scripture, healing, and spirituality including, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God. He may be reached for conversation and speaking engagements at drbruceepperly@aol.com.