IN THE Gospel, Jesus ate a piece of “broiled” fish. This is not a spelling error, or an archaism for “boiled”: it means “grilled”. It dropped out of British English usage (where it should have stayed) in the 19th century, but survives in the United States.
The everyday act of eating opened people’s eyes to the physical reality of Jesus’s resurrection, just as looking at his hands confirmed the reality of his suffering. Next, listening to his teaching opened their minds to the scriptures.
Jesus was not doing this, then, only for the Eleven and their companions. He set an eternal standard. We should not decide scripture’s meaning without asking Jesus to open our minds, which he does. The readings from Acts and Luke are each expressions of one man’s understanding, reached by exactly this method. So it is not surprising that their approach is similar. Peter appeals to “our” ancestral faith as he offers his hearers both a challenge and a reassurance. In the Gospel, meanwhile, Jesus continues the work that he began at Emmaus, explaining how the scriptures point to the resurrection and to the meaning of that event.
Both the NRSV and the RSV see Acts 3.19-20 as one continuous statement, but the lectionary cuts it in half; so we hear the command to repent, but not the “times of refreshing” which are to follow in consequence. This is unfortunate. When we spread the Christian message, it is important not to let repentance for sin predominate over the blessings of faith.
Psalm 4 offers a constructive model. It begins with personal experience of God’s help when in dire straits, and ends with reassurance — not trivial — that faith in God enables us to sleep soundly. Many people struggle to sleep when pressured or anxious. In darkness, we ought to find rest, but it is not always so. When darkness is a place of fear, we need reminding that God is the creator of that darkness (Psalm 104.20). Then we can balance our insecurity against the promise that all shall be well.
I have learned from our beagle, Phoebe, that dogs have two ways of sleeping: one with an eye half-open, able to wake in an instant; the other, when they feel completely safe and protected. Then they close their eyes fully, giving off a wonderful “sleepy smell” to signal to others that they, too, can “lie down and sleep in peace”.
One of the things that makes Easter harder (in my opinion) than Christmas to put into words is that it urges us to take thought for “the life of the world to come” (as the Nicene Creed puts it). If our faith is predominantly tied to this earthly existence, this is challenging. We need to develop confidence in the promises explored by John the epistoler; and to feel comfortable talking about that life of the world to come.
John is frank about the gap between what we can and can’t know: “We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” This emphasis on our identity as God’s children is touching. It is also heartening for those who are uncomfortable when scripture speaks of “men” as if it included women, too. The Greek word is neither masculine nor feminine, but naturally inclusive.
As so often with scripture, the beauty of an idea can distract us from the detail of a passage; and 1 John 3.1 is a good example. If we are too quickly seized by the thrilling idea of being God’s own children, we risk missing the epistoler’s careful emphasis, reassuring us in case it all seems too fantastical. Yes, we can be called “God’s children”, but he must repeat it: “That is what we are.”
In the next verse, even this gives way: it is wonderful to be God’s child, but what lies in store is as yet unknowable, and that will be still more glorious. We shall see God. That promise — which later came to be called the beatific vision — is dependent on our growing into God’s likeness.
During Lent, we worked on repentance. In Eastertide, we should work with equal commitment on growing in likeness to God, specifically through the example of Jesus, who opens the scriptures to show us the way, the truth, and the life — and who, as he tells us in this Gospel, expects us to be witnesses to his resurrection.