Christ is risen!
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Acts 5:27-29
“We must obey God rather than any human authority.” That’s quite a courageous thing to say for Peter, don’t you think? He certainly came by the idea honestly, from his crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, who had done exactly that, and paid the ultimate price. Peter’s obedience led him along the same road, a journey which also ended with a cross.
The problem has come – frequently in the history of the church – when, in many and various ways, people decided that ‘obeying God’ was of greater value than the lives of other people, and led to horrific ends for others; the list of crimes is long and the sin of our history runs deep. The blood of millions, directly and indirectly, runs through the centuries, shed by people who believed for the most part that they were doing God’s will, acting in the name of Christ, and torturing and murdering other human beings.
Peter and the apostles were not guilty, but it didn’t take very long before their descendants in the faith had bloody hands. And Jesus wept, as Jesus weeps still, weeps the tears of the God who desires life, abundant life for all people and the whole of creation. Thankfully, the love and the grace, the compassion and the mercy, of God run deeper still, swallowing all our dread dis-ease and bearing it all away.
The key, I believe, in reading and understanding the above testimony from Acts, is in reading and digesting the words (as with any passage from the Bible) through the prism of the Living Word, Jesus the Christ. As Christians, we must always interpret scripture using scripture, and that scripture which is most important to us, as St. Paul first insists, and then the Gospel writers, the Evangelists, with him, is that part of the story which is the resurrection story, including the Cross, of course.
We cannot understand the Bible, including the Book of Acts, including Peter’s courageous witness, apart from the lens of Cross and Resurrection, by the grace of God listening most intently for the Living Word of God, Jesus who was crucified, but who is now risen from the dead. If we approach the Bible as sacred scripture dropped somehow from heaven, we are in grave danger of bibliolatry. We do not worship the Bible; we do not bear witness to new life made possible by the death and resurrection of the Bible. Rather, we worship God in Christ, and proclaim the joyous Easter Gospel of Christ risen triumphant over sin, death, and the power of evil. The Bible is a gift from God, a most holy and beautiful gift, but it is not the focus of our Christian faith; that is Jesus only. Unless we are aware of this reality, we risk facing the same question which the angels asked of the women at the tomb: Why do you seek the living among the dead? (Lk. 24:5)
Remember this? “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” How do we interpret these brave and faithful words? Did Jesus torture or murder anyone in his passion for obedience? Did Jesus sit back and let socio-economic systems torture and murder for the sake of profit maximization, devour people and spit out their bones? No, that’s a huge part of the reason he was executed, exactly because he spoke out loudly and clearly against such systems, systems in which we, in the global north particularly, participate.
We too are called to follow our Lord in obedience to God first, always, before any human authority which is contrary to the Gospel of life abundant for all people and for the whole of creation. But we are not called, ever, to ‘glorify God’ or ‘defend’ God by lashing out in anger or violence, using torture and murder, even if it’s just spiritual torture and homicide.
It’s too much to ask, though, really. How can we possibly live such an obedience? We can’t. Not alone. Thankfully, we don’t have to do so. In the power of the Holy Spirit, in the sacred mystery of baptism, joined to Christ’s death and resurrection, empowered by the sacred mystery of Christ present in bread and wine, we can live as disciples, as a community which is together the body of Christ in the world. That’s the only way. Anything else is moral scorekeeping and subject to human authority, our own.
Bearing all this in mind, it’s clear to me why we need a week of weeks (forty-nine days until the Day of Pentecost) to celebrate fully the wonderful power of the resurrection life which is ours as we participate in the life of our risen Lord Jesus. Easter is a season, not just a day, and it glows/pulsates/vibrates/shimmers/thrums with the light and life of the one in whom we live and move and have our being, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (I Cor. 15:57)