By Derek Weber
Just like last week, there is a comfortable familiarity in the lectionary gospel selection. Even though this is Year A, Matthew’s year, the gospel text for this week is from Luke. It is, of course, the story of the walk to Emmaus. It is a powerful story and surprisingly easy to relate to our twenty-first-century experience. We also walk with an unrecognized Risen Christ; we also are more aware of his absence than his presence. But when we catch a glimpse, we are likely to run miles to tell everyone we know that we have seen him, that he was revealed to us in the breaking of the bread, in the ordinary, mundane tasks of living in this world made more vibrant and alive because of that glimpse. It’s a powerful story and certainly still worth telling.
But we’re asking you to resist this year. Resist the familiar and let an old fisherman have a word. The epistle lesson walks us through this short Eastertide series called “Revive Us Again.” Who better than Peter, the one who needed Resurrection almost as much as the crucified Jesus did?
Acknowledging the debates about the authorship of this letter, it is easy to see at least the spirit of Peter in this letter. He’s hanging around the edges, it seems. And here in our text for this week he wants to talk about permanence. Ironic, don’t you think? The rock that cracked under pressure is now contrasting the perishable with the unperishable. Or he is inviting us to be set in the unperishable rather than the perishable.
The letter begins with imperatives, four of them identified by Joel Green (Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 2, p.413) and others. This is the third of those four. And it is an imperative to live in reverent fear. We all took a pause at that, didn’t we? Fear as a motivator is at best a double-edged sword and at worst the source of all that is wrong with the faith today. So why would Peter or whoever wrote in his name use such a tactic—especially when you look at the other imperatives in this first chapter of the epistle? First, “believe in him and rejoice” (v.8). Second, “become holy in every aspect of life” (v.15). And fourth, “love one another deeply from the heart” (v.22) All of which we can embrace wholeheartedly and proclaim powerfully. But fear?
“If you invoke the Father, the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile” (1:17). There are a lot of different ways we can approach this verse. On one level, it is simply saying “Don’t go around calling God your Father if you aren’t going to live as though God was your judge.” Take it seriously, in other words. Let it mean something, this relationship with the Almighty; something transforming; something encouraging; something that calls you up short when you venture too close to the edge of temptation.
Reverent fear isn’t about terror or terrorizing. It is about being aware of the implications of your actions, your choices, your words, your life. It is a way of saying that your life matters. So, Peter says, set your life in something that survives, something that matters, something imperishable.
Peter says an amazing thing in that perishable/imperishable bit of his argument. He says that you were ransomed from futility, not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with blood. At first glance, you might think he got the terms mixed up. What could be more imperishable than gold, for heaven’s sake? Even when currencies rise and fall, gold continues to be a safe bet for assets. But Peter doesn’t think so. His long-term planning has gotten really long-term. And even silver and gold won’t sustain you; it won’t last. What will last is blood – which means a relationship with the one willing to shed blood on your behalf, the one who shows you what really lasts.
Through him, the letter argues, we can be set in stone. Again, the irony is this argument about foundations comes in the letter that bears the name of the one called “Rock.” If anyone knows how difficult this is, it would be Peter. So, whether Peter wrote these letters or was the inspiration for them, there is a depth here that could only be lived experience.
“Through him you have come to trust in God” (1:21). Through him: Jesus came to introduce us to the God we thought we knew. And because Jesus said the Father and I are one, we began to realize, says Peter, that to trust in Jesus was to trust in God. And then God did this amazing thing we call Easter. And now we know, that to put our trust in Jesus, is to set our faith and hope deep in the rock that is God.
That’s important: faith set in God; not in our own ability to respond to God or in our own steadfastness, but in the consistency of God. It is important because without that understanding, the next imperative is impossible. This setting of faith and hope in God manifests in our lives as love. This relationship, this being embedded in the foundation of God, purifies your soul so that you can love. Pay attention to how Peter describes the process. This isn’t love that you generate so that you can be a part of the foundation of God. We don’t love our way into relationship with God. If that were the case, none of us would ever get there. And none of us could love like we’re called to love. It is beyond our abilities. But because of the relationship that Jesus handed to us through his suffering, we can be purified enough to love. It is a response to, a result of the relationship with God, setting our faith and hope in God, that enables us to love. It is the outgrowth of that relationship.
That’s what being “of Easter” means. We are made new in the Resurrection and enabled to love like never before. “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God” (1:23).