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Sunday 14 April 2024 Third Sunday of Easter

‘Peace be with you’: comfort or challenge?

Acts 3:12-19(20); Luke 24:36b-48

By Adrian Cassidy

Erstwhile (lay) Church Leader, Twickenham United Reformed Church

Context: a largely middle-aged to elderly congregation of 30 with a commitment to community service and social justice

Aim: a call to ’Being Christ’ in our lives

Peace be with you! Comfort or challenge?


Our readings today, for very different reasons, are both open to differing interpretations – or misinterpretations, depending in the one case on one’s theological, and in the other on one’s moral, point of view.


Our Gospel reading, if taken as a literal and historically accurate account, provides, with its detail such as touching of hands and feet and consuming of a piece of fish, perhaps the most convincing evidence of the physical resurrection of Jesus’s body post-burial. So, is someone who affirms the resurrection of Christ without the resuscitation of the body to be deemed heretical? Not necessarily nowadays to be burned at the stake, but perhaps not acceptable as a Christian? Those of a certain age will recall the outcry in 1984 against the then Bishop of Durham who was quoted or misquoted as describing the resurrection as ‘not just a conjuring trick with bones’ – with a subsequent fire at York Minster alleged as God’s judgment!


On the moral front, Peter’s speech to the temple crowd following the healing of a crippled beggar commences with the identification of the Israelites as responsible for the rejection and killing of Jesus. This could be, and has been, used as a justification for antisemitism; starting with Jews being held responsible for the death of Jesus, and then extending to the hatred and blaming of Jews for a whole range of society’s ills.


So, what do you and I take as the prevailing message from these readings? Anything more than a predetermined theological stance, or the identification or invention of racial stereotypes? Surely, we should seek less self-justifying interpretations of biblical accounts. What phrases jumped out at you in today’s readings?


The then editor of a well-known daily newspaper once said that the mark of a good news report was that readers would be left knowing who to blame. Peter, despite the euphoria of the crowd following the healing of the crippled beggar, makes a speech that leads to his arrest as he becomes a threat to the religious authorities. Soon Stephen is to become the first Christian martyr, stoned to death by those same authorities. But Peter does not simply attribute blame for the rejection of Jesus on the crowd and their rulers. He goes on to identify Jesus as the resurrected Author of Life. He calls the crowd his friends, explains their actions were due to ignorance, and on account of them God’s purposes are fulfilled, evil wiped out and times of refreshment are at hand. In all this is not Peter showing the Christlike way, through both the healing of the cripple and the message of reconciliation and hope for the future. Peter provides both comfort and challenge to his listeners.


In our Gospel reading, Jesus appears to the disheartened, dejected, and frightened disciples. All their hopes have been dashed. Jesus comes to fulfil their needs at that time. What are his first words? ’Peace be with you.’ Then the assurance that everything that had to happen was not only in accordance with the interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures but corroborated throughout his ministry by his own words and actions. So much for the comfort. But now the challenge: the response to evil, repentance and forgiveness, was to be proclaimed by witnesses to the whole world. Who were to be those witnesses?


Do we accept both the comfort and the challenge? Or are we selective followers of The Way? The ‘peace be with you’ may provide immediate comfort. Even if not always material, it can provide ongoing strength to cope with adversity. But a challenge has to be accepted, as Jesus himself did on his path to the cross. The post-Jesus-physically-alive accounts in Acts furnish many examples of the early followers of The Way striving to emulate, yes to be the representative of the living Christ in all aspects of their lives. Success in human terms was never guaranteed and there were disputes and disagreements to be worked through.


Our contexts are different and varied, generally less dramatic, but still presenting the challenge of being Christ in our personal relationships and in our mode of living. Allocating time and money, identifying need, caring, challenging the unjust, responding to external events. We each identify our own.


‘Brother, Sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you…
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.’
(Richard Gillard)


Peace be with you! Comfort AND challenge!

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