The Living and Abiding Word of God
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
April 6, 2008
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:17-25; Luke 24:13-35
“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?'” — Luke 24:32
Our story of the walk to Emmaus delivers several messages. Today I invite you to think about the one concerning the continuity of the new creation with the old, through the prophetic promise of the Old Testament and the Christian fulfillment of the New. We shall think briefly about the interpretation of scripture and the continuity and difference between the Old and New Testaments.
Luke tells us Jesus opened the text of the Old Testament to their understanding, and even though they did not recognize who this teacher was their burning hearts told them that they were hearing the true meaning of the text for the first time. This is the same text about which 1 Peter says that it is the “semen” whose proper understanding gives us life that abides forever. Listen to his statement:
“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is grass / and all its glory like the flower of grass. / The grass withers, and the flower falls, / but the word of the Lord abides forever (Isaiah 40:6-8).’ That word is the good news that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:23-25).”
So God saves us: “Through the living and abiding word.” For this reason we pay close attention to what our passages for today say this living and abiding word is. Firstly, it is the Bible interpreted by Jesus. Their burning hearts told Clopas and his friend that at last they were hearing what their Bible really says. Secondly, it says that their Bible, the Old Testament, it centrally about the Christ and tells them that it is necessary for the Christ to suffer on his way back to glory.
The New Testament of course does not yet exist, but when it comes into being we discover that on every page it says that Jesus is the Christ, the giver of new life, Jesus speaks and acts out the living and abiding word, in effect, that Jesus himself is the living and abiding word of God. Peter tells us that what this “living and abiding word” speaks, is the Gospel, and that means that as long as we listen to it by heeding Jesus’ every word, and imitating his way of being in the world, we stay alive. Grass withers, its flower fades, and we all return to dust, (this glorious Spring we are enjoying will eventually be Autumn, or that so much better American word, “Fall”) but Jesus our living and abiding Lord goes on like a perpetual Spring, bringing new life to light, and holding us in that life.
Once we have settled that Jesus is the giver of new life the most important question remaining is how we avail ourselves of his gift, how we gain access to him. There are actually two means described in our texts for today, one we have already covered, namely the proper interpretation of the Bible, the other is the eating with Jesus, where in the blessing and sharing of food the disciples recognize at last that their teacher and companion on the way is Jesus himself. So we have the two modes of Jesus’ self-giving to us, word and sacrament, the preaching and the Eucharist.
Of course, simply to understand who Jesus is does not bring us new life. It is a danger in our well-educated congregations that we think of faith in Jesus as a matter of assent to propositions, or the affirmation of certain claims about the nature of human reality that can be discussed and discussed and even acted on, but never allowed to touch our inmost being. We deal with words and ideas but never enter the relationship with Christ that changes us from members of the old creation to members of the new, never allow the power of new life in Jesus’ resurrection to change and transform us. So we have the appearance of faith but not its power. This kind of standoffishness is not possible in the Eucharist, because there, in silence, we reach out our hands and take him into our mouths.
Let me conclude with one of my usual peeves. I am dissatisfied with the way scripture is usually interpreted in our churches these days. Few of us preachers accept that the Bible must be read through the eyes of Jesus wearing the spectacles of the Cross and Resurrection. Through the Cross one sees the violence that the Bible attests and how it comes to a climax in the tortured death of Jesus, and one sees it not only in the Bible but also in the world. Violence is the bridge from religious fantasy to current worldly reality, from a fantastic reading of the Bible to a reading of the Bible as a sober and realistic account of the way things are.
Reading through the Resurrection on the other hand one sees that for those who accept the Cross’s truth of violence in the world, there is new life. When one faces the sin of ones own violence rather than denying it and covering it up with self justifications and self esteem that one knows deep down to be bogus, at that moment one experiences the first trembling of an eternal life, because one is hearing for the first time the truth of our torturing to death of young men (Jesus). The Word is a No! to that, and a Yes! to our coming out with young men (Lazarus) from the tomb.
When you hear this message do your hearts not burn within you, as you recognize the truth of the Bible, and feel the new and eternal life it brings? So now that we have listened to his Word, let us kneel together for the Sacrament and enjoy his palpable presence in the bread and the wine.