How old are you? Here is a test. Before there was "Power Point"
to project text on a screen; before there were whiteboards with
special markers for classrooms; way back in almost pre-historic
times – there were blackboards. Remember? Well that dates you!
Wasn’t it a break from class routine to be sent to the playground to
clap the erasers together and send up a white cloud of dust? The
erasers were full of chalk from the blackboards, the results of lots
of erasures. What was written on the board was erased to prepare for
a whole new lesson, or an entire shift in subject; from Arithmetic
to Grammar; from History to Spelling. Once erased there was no
computer reverse button to get the material back. It was all gone,
somewhere in that white cloud of chalk in the school yard.
The first reading from Acts is the second part of a story. The
first part (3: 1-12) tells how Peter and John stopped at the Temple
gate to cure, in the name of Jesus, the crippled beggar. There was a
crowd at the Temple that hour and the beggar was an usual sight to
those entering and leaving. After his cure, Luke tells us, "He went
into the temple with them–walking, jumping about and praising God"
(3:8). That certainly would draw a crowd!
People had gotten used to seeing the crippled beggar and, because
they generally associated sickness with a punishment for sin, they
were also accustomed to seeing him as a "sinner." They were used to
the sight of sin in their lives, the way we get used to sin in
ourselves and in the world around us. Our own habits are hard to
break. Our world has its intransigent habits too—war, violence,
governmental and corporate cheating, lying, oppression and on and
on. It’s all part of the daily landscape of our lives; we get
accustomed to sin, it is in the air we breathe.
So, when Peter and John cured the beggar in the name of Jesus,
the onlookers, so accustomed to the usual sight of the
"sinner-beggar," now had to start getting used to another sight, the
beggar standing up, jumping and praising God. What happened to that
man’s infirmity? It was wiped out, erased from the blackboard of his
life. If that were so, people would have deduced, the sin that
caused the infirmity, would also have been erased. Peter and John,
in curing the cripple, were proclaiming in that sign, the
forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ.
That was the first part of the story; the section before today’s
passage from Acts. Now that Peter has the onlookers’ attention, he
does what good preachers are supposed to do: he shows them through
the scriptures, how the same God of their ancestors, who brought
them out of slavery and made them a people, had worked through Jesus
and delivered them from slavery once again. The cure of the beggar
was proof-positive that in Jesus God had broken the crippling
effects of sin.
Peter tells the crowd that they had put to death "the author of
live." And then he says, "But" – that’s where he begins to spell out
what God did. "...but God raised him from the dead...." (I always
look for the moment in scriptures after the human situation has been
spelled out in all its weakness, sinfulness or need, when a "But" or
"However" appears. That’s when God’s intervention and marvelous work
is described.) Peter tells the listeners that, despite their
ignorance in killing Jesus, "...God has brought to fulfillment what
God had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the
Peter tells them that, in some mysterious way, God had this plan
to bring life to the world through the death of Christ. Peter calls
Jesus, "the Author of Life" and, in this case, life came to us
through death. The consequence for us is that "...your sins may be
wiped out." Did you catch that powerful image? – "wiped out." Just
like Sister Albina did in our 8th grade classroom when
she erased the arithmetic lesson and gave me the two erasers to clap
together out in the schoolyard. All those words and numbers from the
blackboard, gone in a white cloud of chalk dust. Same thing happens,
Peter tells the crowds, when we turn to God asking for
forgiveness—our sins are "wiped out." Or, as my three year old niece
used to say, after she hides the ball under the blanket, "All gone!"
The gospel is also a sequel. Prior to today’s reading the two
disciples met the risen Lord in the stranger on the road to Emmaus.
They tell him of Christ’s death and their dashed hopes, "...we were
hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel...." The "stranger"
responds by interpreting the scriptures for them and then, when they
are seated at table, breaking bread. Their "...eyes were opened and
they recognized him...."
Today’s gospel picks up with the Emmaus disciples’ return to
Jerusalem and their account about how they came to recognize the
risen Lord on the road, "...in the breaking of the bread." Luke
hasn’t forgotten the part about how Christ helped them see him by
interpreting scriptures for them on the Emmaus road. He names both
details from the Emmaus road: he first mentions the breaking of the
bread and later in the story the tells how Christ once again,
"...opened their minds to understand the Scriptures...." Once their
minds are opened and the community understands why he had to suffer,
the risen Christ mentions the purpose for all that has happened,
"...that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached
in his name, to all the nations...." It’s all about forgiveness and
sins being "wiped away." That’s the first message Jesus wanted
preached and that’s what Peter is doing to the assembled crowd, in
Acts, after the cure of the crippled man.
The community that has experienced the risen Lord is not to sit
around locked in their enclosure feeling warm and cozy in their new
faith. No sooner do they meet him than he sends them out to preach
forgiveness. At Eucharist we have an "Emmaus Experience," for here,
at this particular moment, on the road of our lives, we meet the
risen Lord. Like the two disciples and then the assembled community,
we come to see him here with us through the scriptures and in the
breaking of the bread. We are an Easter people. What do Easter
believers look and sound like?
They live and speak forgiveness. In families they are parents who
take back their prodigal children, or they are the ones who stay in
touch with the member the rest of the family has cut off; they are
the adult children who forgive the shortcomings of their parents and
tend to them in their declining years; they are the family cooks who
prepare special holiday, or birthday meals, hoping that a family
that shares stories and breaks bread will hold together and forgive
one another the petty and large offenses family members can inflict
on one another.
Jesus’ mandate to preach, "repentance for forgiveness of sins,"
requires resurrection-believers to also work outside the home as
voices and instruments of forgiveness. How will people ever come to
know the forgiveness Christ sends his disciples to proclaim, but
through us? People don’t get to meet the forgiving God Jesus
preached by the water cooler at work. But they do get to meet us
there. The words we speak and the way we act will put a face on God
for them and they will come to know that that divine face is open to
anyone seeking forgiveness. But they must first meet that
forgiveness through us, and if they do, they will come to know that
there is another way to travel the road of life – other than
aggression, violence, lies, greed, lust, anger and revenge. Thus,
people will meet God’s emissaries of forgiveness in us.
This Easter time reminds us that each of us can start all over
again. We are offered forgiveness again for our sins, half-hearted
attempts at change and for our fear of death that keeps us locked up
in feeble attempts at self preservation. The disciples who heard the
risen Christ charge them to go out proclaim, "repentance for the
forgiveness of sins," knew that they themselves had been the first
beneficiaries of the message they were to proclaim. All that had
passed before—their betrayal and abandonments of Christ in his
suffering—had been forgiven by Jesus’ greeting to them, "Peace be to
They would be ambassadors proclaiming that peace to "all
nations." They weren’t to wallow in their past sins, they had been
"wiped away." Now they had to announce the same possibilities to
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
|The fact is
that anybody who has survived his [her] childhood has
enough information about life to last him the rest of
his [her] days. If you can’t make something out of a
little experience, you probably won’t be able to make it
out of a lot. The writer’s [preacher’s] business is to
contemplate experience, not just be merged in it.
.through the mouth of all the prophets. . ."
I do not think that anyone would deny that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. models for us the prophets of the Old Testament. I get
goosebumps reading these words of King: "Time is cluttered with
wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence.
For the salvation of our nation or mankind, we must follow another
way. This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts. .
.But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our
obligation to love. . .This is the only way to create the beloved
For all the tensions present in our country today, including
racism, I am devoting this column to a new pastoral letter released
on February 14th of this year by Archbishop William E. Lori of
Baltimore. The letter is titled, "The Enduring Power of Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence." Archbishop Lori hopes
to lift up these principles of nonviolence and help them find their
way into the consciousness of the church – "the whole church,
myself, my brother priests, the leadership of the archdiocese, those
involved in ministries." The Beloved Community is a nonviolent one.
Archbishop Lori writes, "All of us need to walk this path of
nonviolent hope. Indeed, we should not imagine that Dr. King’s
principles apply only to troubled urban neighborhoods or solely to
our African-American brothers and sisters. Violence, racism and a
host of social problems exist in different forms and degrees
throughout our suburban and rural areas as well. No family, no
neighborhood, no community is immune from violent crime, domestic
violence, drug abuse, racism and many other social problems that
give rise to an angry and violent way of life. How often, for
example, do immigrants face discrimination, hatred, denied
opportunities and even unjust deportation? Think of how vitriolic
and coarse public rhetoric has become in politics and the media, a
coarseness that often spills over into private conversation. Instead
of trying peacefully to reach the common ground of understanding,
people far too often and far too quickly resort to abusive language.
They may not kill their neighbors with bullets but they do ‘kill’
them with words and gestures of disrespect. The commandment, ‘Thou
shalt not kill,’ pertains to all forms of violence against others,
including the violence of economic inequality." AMEN.
To read the principles and entire pastoral letter, go to:
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From the Acts of the Apostles:
said to the people.... The author of life you put to death,
God raised him from the dead;
this we are witnesses.
After curing a crippled beggar, Peter announces what the first
generation of Christians and we believe: Christ is raised from the
dead and a new age has dawned. The old order of death is passing
away. Jesus is alive and his followers are showing in their words
and actions bold signs of his healing presence working with them.
So we ask ourselves:
- Can I name some ways I witness to my faith in the risen
- How am I a sign to others of Jesus’ healing presence in the
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
"One has to strongly affirm that
condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that
humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out." ---Pope
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Jerry W. Connor #0085045 (On death row since 4/30/91)
- James Thomas #0404386 (2/24/95)
- Tony M. Sidden #0368820 (3/15/95)
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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