Commentary

Return to God that my sins may be wiped away

Originally Appeared in : 9808-4/12/18

On the day of his resurrection, that first Easter, the Risen Christ accompanied two of his disciples, one of whom was Cleopas, on their way to Emmaus. So, disheartened were they by the gruesome death of Jesus of Nazareth and so baffled were they by reports that “some women from our group” had found his tomb empty and that they “had seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive,” that they simply did not recognize the stranger in their midst. Later, they recounted that their hearts were strangely warmed as he opened the Scriptures to them and showed them how the prophets had foretold that the “Messiah would have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory.” Then he joined them at supper and “they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.” And then he vanished. When they returned to Jerusalem and joined the Eleven in the Upper Room and heard them say, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.” And so, they shared with the Eleven their encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus.

 

“Then Jesus appeared in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.” 

 

It was no ghost who appeared to them, but the same Jesus, bearing the wounds of his Passion, yet glorified and able to appear suddenly in closed rooms, behind locked doors and to disappear in an instant. They were astounded and confused but they knew one thing: In no sense was Jesus of Nazareth dead; he was and is alive in every way. This knowledge and faith transformed them—from fearful and dejected followers of a seemingly failed leader into bold “proclaimers” of the   Gospel—as we see in the case of Simon Peter.

 

Saint Peter’s great Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem a few weeks later is not sugar-coated. With a great deal of courage Simon Peter, who only weeks before had denied Christ three times, now indicts to their faces the people of Jerusalem and Judea for their role in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, “whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence when he had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death.” 

 

Peter ventures to accuse them so bluntly because his main point is the Good News that “God has raised” the holy and righteous Jesus of Nazareth, his beloved Son, from the dead and made him the source of life for all who believe in him—all of us whose sins nailed him to the cross. Peter understands now what he could not see before, that the Messiah had to suffer, that it was in accordance with God’s will as proclaimed by the prophets (especially Isaiah) that by his stripes we would be healed. Having said all that, Saint Peter echoes the preaching of Jesus: “Reform your lives! Turn to God, that your sins may be wiped away.” 

 

Redemption and forgiveness are possible in the Risen Christ—as Saint John tells us, “If anyone should sin, we have, in the presence of the Father, Jesus Christ, an intercessor who is just, an offering for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” 

 

Like the Jews of Jerusalem who heard Simon Peter, we are called to do what he proclaimed: “Reform your lives! Turn to God, that your sins may be wiped away.” Like Saint Peter, we are called to accept the Lord’s for­giveness and put away our cowardice in order to become bold proclaimers of the Gospel. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are accompanied on our journey by the Risen Christ, who warms our hearts by opening the Scriptures to us and reveals himself in the Breaking of the Bread.

 

Father Douglas K. Clark is pastor of St. Matthew Church in Statesboro.

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