Today’s Acts reading is from the middle of a great story. We heard part of the story last Sunday, and another section of it the Sunday before. It started in chapter 3 with Peter and John going to the Temple for the evening service, and outside they see someone they’ve seen before, a lame man, a beggar who is always sitting there with his little cardboard sign. He says, “Spare any change?” They tell him they’re broke, but they have something better to give: “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
And he does; imagine that! -- even though he’s in his 40s and lame from birth. And they all head into the service together. But of course, everyone there knows the guy, because he’s been at that door begging for years. He can’t just slip in. And as people run over to gawk, pandemonium breaks out and everyone wants to know what on earth is going on. That was the part we read last week.
The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won, the song of triumph has begun, Alleluia! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Alleluia!
A priest I know tells the story of a young visitor coming to his parish’s Easter Vigil, and saying at the door on the way out, “That was incredible! That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But if you don’t mind my asking, who is this Jesus you kept mentioning?” It’s a good question.
The Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson, making reference to one of our readings tonight, has a wonderful comment about that question. He says that our Jewish ancestors, if asked who God is, answer: “Whoever rescued us from Egypt.” The Exodus is where they start it all. That is the main event in their understanding of the world: being brought out of Egypt, liberated from slavery and oppression. This mighty act is what gave our forebears their identity and the characteristic word they have to speak. Who is God? The Old Testament answer is: God is the One who did that! God is whoever brought us out of Egypt!
To the same question, Jenson goes on, the New Testament gives a similar, but fresh response. If you ask a Christian who God is, our answer should be: “Whoever raised Jesus from the dead.” The resurrection is where we start it all. The resurrection is the main event in our understanding of the world: the vindication of Jesus’ life and mission, the final defeat of death and sin, the irresistible beachhead of the life of the world to come as it invades our ordinary world. Who is God? God is the One who did that! God is whoever accomplished the category-shattering victory that has happened tonight. God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead.
Robert Jenson describes God by putting those two stories together, as our Bishop pointed out in the most recent issue of our diocesan newsletter, and it’s interesting that we, too, always link those two stories on this holy night. The Exodus, God breaking out his people from slavery; and the Resurrection, God breaking in to the old world of death and decay with the life of the world to come. Like our Jewish ancestors, for us, God is identified by his actions. We know him by what he has done. We believe in a God who acts in history, and tonight we come face to face with the most astounding act of history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.