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Bible Study Guide for Third Sunday in Easter Year A, April 23, 2023

April 23, 2023

[ Acts 2:14a,36-41,  1 Peter 1:17-23,  Luke 24:13-35,  Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17 ]

It is perhaps not shocking that the readings for the Third Sunday after Easter are centered around the events of Easter and their immediate aftermath, including one of my favorite stories from the New Testament, the appearance on the road to Emmaus. On the other hand, it includes an important discussion about Easter and the centrality of atonement to the Christian life, but with some language that I am a bit uncomfortable with, but these two readings hold deep and profound insights into the humanity and divinity of Christ.

The road to Emmaus is, to me, wonderfully human. We read ourselves into the Bible and so often our interpretations can vary wildly, but I adore both Jesus and Cleopas in this passage. Cleopas is afraid and misunderstands the resurrection. He is worried, in mourning and doubting himself and others due to this, and over thinking things -- entirely unable to see the obvious. I cannot stress enough how much I relate to that. Christ on the other hand is consoling, wise all while being a bit cheeky. Christ knows the Cleopas can’t recognize him and to me that gives the whole exchange a wonderfully humorous tone. I tend to focus almost exclusively on the majesty and transcendence of God, and I think many do. However just as Christ is fully God he is also fully human. If he were not, he could not take our sins upon himself. While we ought read the bible with reverence, over-reading the Bible as exclusively earnest in a way that is contrary to or not necessitated by the text is not spiritually healthy. Jesus occasionally does some rather strange and perhaps playful things, and personally I feel closer to Him for that and to love Him all the more for it. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche wrote “I would only believe in a God who could dance” But God did dance, and went to weddings, and he would while consoling his disciples, sometimes do it in cryptic or playful ways. And that in no way diminishes His transcendence, glory or omnipotence.

On the other hand the First Epistle of Peter has a few implications about the transcendence of God I find to be rather disquieting. For the most part Peter discusses the nature of Christ as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice. However, he also says that Christ was “destined before the foundation of the world” this gets unnervingly close to a position taken by some reformed theologians that God predestined who would be elect and who would be reprobate from before The Fall. I don't really know how to reconcile this image of God, to the one I believe to be omnibenevolent. I don’t like it, it makes me uncomfortable. One of my old theology teachers defended the doctrine to me, and while I adored him as a teacher and counted him as a friend I could never accept it. But it does have Biblical legs to stand on and it can’t be ignored, or dismissed out of hand. I have, since learning about it, preferred the notion of The Fall as a “Felix Culpa" a very old notion that the Fall is in its own way joyous as it allows God to save us and show his love for us so spectacularly. To me, this notion is at once enchanting and utterly baffling, but in its own way, that makes me believe it to be the truth. I don’t know what else I could expect from God than to be utterly rapturous and simultaneously incomprehensible. But just as Jesus has this jocular quality during the road to Emmaus we often overlook, we cannot forget this other side of God who stands outside of time and rules and orchestrates all things in His ineffability.

But we cannot diminish either (or any) side of God in any of His persons -- to do so is to try to cage Him, and twist him into something a bit more convenient. We must accept God and His Christ as they are presented and not try to sand them down. We must accept, love, and worship the familiar and the relatable as well as the majestic, remote and incalculable and find some way to hold them in an active tension. So that we can love God more and worship him more fully.

– Ben Watts


What aspects of Christ’s or of God's character do you have trouble reconciling?

What passages make you feel closer to God or to have insight into him?

How do we respectfully and reverently read passages that may support doctrines we disagree with?


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