Easter 3: A baptismal call to peace

You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.(1 Peter 1:18-23)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."...Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.(Luke 24:13-35)

In our passage from 1 Peter today, we read, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

1 Peter is a letter that was written to encourage the newly baptized in their new life in Christ. This weekend, it is also a letter that encouraged our Confirmation class as they affirmed their baptisms on Saturday evening. They stood up in front here, and one-by one, they each affirmed their own new lives in Christ, professing their faith and recommitting themselves to their baptismal promises.

They promised, according to the rite, that they would continue in the covenant God made with them in holy baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

These promises that we hear at every baptism and affirmation of baptism are, when you really think about it, broader statements about what it means to be a Christian. They are an outline of what it means to have faith and to be a Christ-follower.

Certainly many, if not most, of these promises appear in today’s gospel reading, and I would encourage you to re-read the Emmaus story sometime this week, through the lens of these baptismal promises.

But for today, I would like to focus on that last promise in the list, the promise to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

What a week it has been. I came home after high school group last Sunday night, and turned on the television to check on baseball scores. But when I turned it on, I found there much more than I had bargained for. And so what a week it is to talk about Emmaus, about the presence of the risen Christ, and about the baptismal call to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

It is not difficult to find ourselves into the center of today’s Gospel, on that road, walking away from the city, from its chatter and buzz about the death of a person of significant political threat.

If Jesus were to come up to us on the road this week, and innocently ask us, “What are you discussing as you walk along - what is the news of the week, my friends?” we might respond to him with the same incredulous tone of voice that Cleopas used when speaking to Jesus on the road: "Are you the only stranger in the United States who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? The things about Osama bin Laden, and his death at the hands of our soldiers?” And if Jesus asked, “What about these things?” we might answer, “Some of us rejoiced, some of us prayed, some of us felt scared. We had hoped that this moment would be the one to redeem all the lingering grief of 9/11, and now we all are waiting, waiting to see if this news brings comfort or uncertainty, peace or retaliation.”

And just as those two disciples pulled off the road and stopped for the evening, so also did a group of people from this congregation stop in their tracks and gather earlier this week for an evening of prayer. We gathered to pray for peace. We folded peace doves, we blessed our enemies, and we prayed for the nations of the world. But mostly, we gathered, like those disciples, inviting Jesus to come among us and to stay with us.

And we recalled last week’s gospel story, where the disciples were locked away in an upper room for fear of the tumultuous world outside, and the way that Jesus appeared among them, greeting them with the words, “Peace be with you.”

More than any of the disciples, and more than any of us, Jesus knows what it’s like to stand at the center of political turmoil, national fear, and a world that too-often resorts to violence. And yet he comes to the disciples and to us not in fear but in peace. He walks with the two men along the road and joins them for supper in Emmaus, not because he is afraid of the dangers of the road, but because his very presence at that table gives them peace.

Amongst other things we are celebrating this weekend we also celebrate Mother’s Day. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote her “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” as a reaction to the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian war, as a call for women to stand up for the cause of peace. The proclamation reads:
Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
Not your usual Mother’s Day brunch fodder, is it? These are powerful words of peace that give us permission to grieve, and even permission to fear the uncertainty of our world, but they also remind us that the strongest response to grief and fear is not violence, but rather peace.

Christ at Emmaus urges us to this same end. The risen Christ appears to the disciples in word and at table, not bearing the imprint of the violence enacted against him, but rather bearing to them the imprint of the God of peace. In this Easter season, we do well to remember that Christ’s resurrection is a symbol of God’s dream for the world, where the wolf and lamb dwell with one another, where violence against neighbor and creation are no more, where there is no more death or captivity, but only freedom and life.

All of the promises made in baptism, all of the promises that our young people made last night, all of these elements of being a Christian - we make these promises as people of this resurrection. As our young people have publicly affirmed their baptisms, so also do we have the opportunity - each and every today - to inwardly affirm our own baptisms, remembering that each one of us is a new creation in Christ, claimed and called, blessed and named. We are Easter people, who know that our burial with Christ in baptisms is also our life with Christ forever.

Our own baptisms, whether of water or of tears, “have purified [our] souls by [our] obedience to the truth so that [we] have genuine mutual love.” We are thus called by those baptismal waters to “love one another deeply from the heart,” because “[We] have been born anew, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Today, we have heard God’s word. We will gather at the table to break bread with our risen Christ. And with each new day that rises, we can dive deep into the waters of baptism once again, affirming as the whole people of God our baptismal call to love the world as Christ as loved. God bless us as we go forth as people of the resurrection, called to love and to serve, and called to be bearers of God’s divine peace. For the Christ whom we follow is the same Christ who says to us, “Peace. Peace be with you.”

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