The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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
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
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
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
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.