Bible Study: 3 Easter (A)

May 4, 2014

Susan Butterworth, Episcopal Divinity School

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

This passage, which appears in Acts 2 after the people in Jerusalem have witnessed the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the speaking of many languages, is the beginning of Peter’s teaching on Pentecost. Peter has explained that scripture, properly understood, foretells that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has raised from the dead. Repentance is one of the central themes of the Book of Acts. Peter teaches that repentance followed by baptism is the path to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Another essential theme of the Book of Acts is the expansion of the church from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and eventually throughout the Roman Empire. The passage ends with the beginning of that expansion, as 3,000 persons in Jerusalem are baptized.

Repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are linked in this passage. Repentance can be defined as turning away from what one has been and done, a renewal. Look at the renewal of baptismal vows found in the Book of Common Prayer. How can the intentional renewal of baptismal vows remind you of the gift of the Holy Spirit within you?

Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

This psalm of thanksgiving speaks of God’s saving response to the psalmist’s call for help. The psalmist promises to give public witness to God’s salvation. In verse 13 – “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants” – the word “precious” should be read in the sense of “costly.” The death of those who are devoted to God is a serious matter. For the Christian, the psalm’s celebration of deliverance from death takes on a new meaning. The images of death and supplication in verses 2 and 3 foretell the suffering of Christ. Salvation and freedom from the bonds of death can then be read as references to Christ’s resurrection.

Imagine that this psalm was a part of Peter’s “many other arguments” in Acts 2:40. How might Peter have used this psalm, familiar to the Jewish pilgrims present in Jerusalem at the Pentecost, to teach how traditional scriptures can be understood as foretelling who Jesus is and how people should respond to him?

1 Peter 1:17-23

These verses of 1 Peter, Chapter 1, are sometimes referred to as “the charge to the baptized.” Peter addresses a church in exile, a community whose status is shaky in the Roman Empire, and alludes to biblical Israel’s exile in Babylon. The community is to live in reverence and faith, knowledge and hope of salvation through Christ’s sacrifice, in obedience to the truth, and in love for one another. This behavior is the only possible response to understanding the gospel’s call to baptism and life in Christ, for “you have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Consider Peter’s instructions for living a faithful life in exile. How do these instructions apply to living a spiritual life in a secular world? Which of these instructions do you find easiest to follow? Which most difficult?

Peter states that we have been born anew through the living and enduring word of God. Some of the meanings of the word of God might be: the spoken word of God that has the power to create, as in Genesis; the word made flesh through the incarnation of God as Jesus; the Bible itself as word of God.

What does the word of God mean to you? Is the word primarily one of the ideas above, or a combination of more than one, or something else?

Luke 24:13-35

This passage, the meeting on the road to Emmaus followed by the supper at Emmaus, is among the most beloved passages in the gospels. The passage describes one of the early resurrection appearances of Jesus after the discovery of the empty tomb. It is a passage of great joy and hope.

The followers of Jesus are deep in gloom and unaware of the salvation that is right around the corner. Jesus walks with them but does not reveal his identity right away; he teaches them the meaning of scripture and then breaks bread with them. Only then do they recognize him and proclaim, “The Lord has risen indeed!”

The meeting on the road is such a beautiful metaphor for what might happen when we meet a stranger on our own journey, a stranger who is able to open our eyes to the grace that we have not imagined or been able to see. The passage is also a beautiful metaphor for what happens during the Eucharist. The service of Holy Eucharist is a walk with Christ. We come from the dusty road of our weekday lives. We greet each other and walk together in community for a time. The scripture is opened to us in the ministry of the word. Then the mystical moment comes when we break the consecrated bread and realize that we are in the presence of the risen Christ. Finally we go out, strengthened and ready to be faithful witnesses.

The empty tomb might represent your own discouraged heart. When a moment of grace appears, you may be so lost in your despair that you may not recognize it right away. Can you think of a time when a stranger appeared who was able to walk with you and help open your eyes to grace?

“Be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.” What do the words of this antiphon mean to you in your personal devotions? What do they mean in the context of this passage from Luke? What do they mean in the context of worshiping in community?

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