By All Accounts

SJF • Easter 3a 2011 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom our God calls to him.+
 One of the more interesting characters in television history is the inimitable Doctor Who. I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remember the low-budget Doctor of the 70s, you may perhaps be more familiar with the up-to-the-minute CGI and high-tech spectacle of the new Doctor. I mention this sci-fi TV series for two reasons. First, one of the unique qualities of this series is the way in which they’ve been able to explain having many different actors — three alone in the recently revived series alone — portraying the same character. The explanation is that the Doctor, while not precisely immortal, is very hard to kill; and when he is seriously injured, instead of dying, he “regenerates” in a new body, which may be quite different from the old body. It’s a very handy way to deal with actors who tire of playing the role and want to move on. So more than a dozen actors have come and gone, but the Doctor remains.
My second reason for mentioning Doctor Who is that the show is all about time-travel. The Doctor, you see, is a Time Lord, able to travel from the beginning of time to its end in his trusty blue box, the TARDIS, which because of a malfunction in its camouflage circuit is stuck looking like a 1960s London Police Box. Actors portraying the Doctor may come and go, but the TARDIS is always a blue Police Box — though in the last season I’m happy to note it regained its St John Ambulance First Aid sticker on the door, a detail for which I, as an officer of the Order of St John, am very grateful! The sticker is a fitting tribute to the Doctor, and that’s why it’s there, for he spends most of his time saving planets across the universe — including the earth — in one way or another, and so the TARDIS is a kind of cosmic emergency rescue vehicle.
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Now, you are probably beginning to wonder why I am talking about Doctor Who. Well, the reason I do so is related to the two things I noted about the series. Let me — as a demonstration of the point I hope to make — take the second first: time travel.
Our Scripture readings today present us with a very tangled time-line. Things are out of chronological order. Two of the accounts come from Saint Peter — and in both of them he is himself a time traveler, out of the normal sequence of things. The first reading shows him standing boldly and proclaiming the Gospel truth to the people of Jerusalem. Now, those of you who know your Scriptures will recognize that this is an event from just after the Pentecost descent of the Holy Spirit — the event that gave Peter the courage and the words to speak out. But our Pentecost celebration won’t come for five more weeks; and our Gospel reading also casts us back to Easter, two weeks ago in our time. It is set, as it says, “that same day” as two of the disciples are heading out of Jerusalem to the suburban village of Emmaus. In the verse just before this passage, we are told that Simon Peter has been to the tomb and seen that it was empty. But by the end of the Emmaus story Luke informs us that the Lord has appeared to Simon Peter. (And, as a side note, isn’t it interesting that Luke’s account does not recount the actual encounter between the risen Lord and Peter? It happens somewhere offstage — while Luke shifts his focus to these other disciples headed out to the suburbs and Jesus who walks with them. That appearance of the Lord to Peter is not in Luke’s text.)
But however it happened, the encounter of Jesus and Peter was not on its own enough to transform Peter into a powerful evangelist, ready to go out and address the people of Jerusalem and proclaim the Gospel. The beginning of Acts records him taking some leadership among the eleven, and praying, and proposing the selection of someone to fill the empty seat of Judas the traitor — but more has yet to happen to Peter to transform him into the dynamic leader who would proclaim the Gospel openly and fearlessly. That would take the coming of the Holy Spirit. We’ll hear more about that on our Pentecost Sunday. That is still a few weeks away, as we time-travel by what it seems is the only way we can — day by day and week by week!
But as we open the Scripture accounts before us, Peter seems able to move from time to time as easily as Doctor Who and his companions in the TARDIS. And in the second reading, from much later in Peter’s ministry, one of his letters, we can see him share his cosmic experience of the depths of time: not his personal experience, but his testimony to Christ, who is the true Time Lord (and Space Lord if it comes to it) — the one who saves not just a planet here and there, but the whole universe all at once — and who needs no blue TARDIS to do so. Peter affirms that Jesus is the one destined before the foundation of the world — and as the original text says cosmos that means more than just the earth — he is the one who at the end of the ages is revealed, and who was also there at the very beginning. It is through him that those who follow him have been born anew — regenerated — as Peter says, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
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Which brings me to that other point: the continuity of the character of Doctor Who in spite of the dozen-plus actors who have played the part. It is worth noting that the account of the road to Emmaus is a bit like one of the episodes in which Doctor Who regenerates, but in which it takes even his companions a while to realize “Who” he is. But more than that, as Peter reminds us, in both the account of his Pentecost proclamation in Jerusalem, and in that first epistle written later in his ministry, we too are regenerated in the baptismal gift of the Holy Spirit — given new life, being born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, by the living word of God.
So it is by all accounts — Peter’s two testimonies and the story of Emmaus, we are given the opportunity, through these proclamations, to set aside the foolishness of the past and allow our hearts to be set on fire by the power of God’s word, working in us, and to know him in the breaking of the bread.
We shall soon be sharing that bread as we have this morning been sharing the word — and isn’t it just another reminder of the way the timeline can be woven into braids to recall how Jesus quoted Deuteronomy, to say, that “one does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?” We have received that word this morning, in our hearing and meditation and reflection, and soon the bread will follow — not simply earthly bread any more than the word was simply an earthly or a human word — but as it was the word of God, so too this bread will be the bread of heaven, the Body of Christ, accompanied by his blood shed for us, the precious blood of Christ, the broken bread and the precious blood that saved the cosmos from destruction.
We have traveled in time this morning, sisters and brothers, from before the foundation of the universe to the end of the ages — in which we are blessed to live — accompanied by the One Who Is, by all accounts, the savior and redeemer of the world, even Jesus Christ our Lord.+