One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Jesus has been raised. He was not in the tomb. Presumably, in spite of their fear and initial silence, the women did share the words of the young men in white who met them in the tomb on Easter morning. “Jesus is not here,” they said, “but will go ahead of you to Galilee, as he told you.”
We have moved out of the gospels and into the account of the Acts of the apostles. The disciples have regrouped and are back in Jerusalem. At the end of the second chapter of Acts there is a summary statement saying that in Jerusalem, “awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles”, and that Jesus’ followers “spent much time together in the temple.”
Today’s reading illustrates that point. Peter and John are shown going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, where an encounter leads to a wondrous healing and amazement among the people.
A man lame from birth is carried in every day and laid at a temple gate to beg for alms from those entering through the beautiful gate. In his encounter with Peter and John, the lame man gets much more than he bargained for. “I have no silver or gold,” Peter says, “but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he does. And then he dances and leaps and shouts!
This is a double story of healing and restoration: The lame man has been given a new life. Imagine, for a moment, this event from his point of view. Unable to walk, if he could move around at all it would be by dragging his body along through the dust, down on the level of dogs and dirty feet. Where would he have lived? Perhaps with his parents if they were still alive. Congenital disabilities like his were seen as signs of God’s displeasure, a punishment for the sins of one’s parents. So both he and his parents were likely seen as fringe members of the community of God’s grace.
His life of misery and humiliation has consisted of begging for enough to keep starvation away, and gratitude for those who carry him to the temple gates. The gates, though, and no further. The gates are as far as he would have been allowed to go, no closer approach to God was possible. Filth like his could not be washed away sufficiently. He could never be ritually or physically cleansed to the standards of religious inclusion. He could never get past the gates of glory.
Peter invokes Jesus’ name, and taking his right hand, raises him up. Significant language. They are the words of Resurrection. New life; truly.
Perhaps you have an affliction yourself – some shame, some guilt, some humiliation. What would it mean for you, to be taken by the hand and raised up, brought in, celebrated, welcomed? That is the effect of resurrection. For those who can’t see past the dirt, it is offensive. To those who can’t imagine themselves to be beggars at the gate, it is irrelevant or a folk tale. But to those who have been transformed – who have experienced new life – it is a joy and an astonishment.
This is a double healing.
Look at Peter. Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that we heard Peter deny Jesus at Pilate’s gate? Haven’t we been hearing again and again how Peter failed to understand Jesus and the lessons – the connections to God’s power – that Jesus offered?
Peter and John spent years following Jesus with puzzled looks on their faces and now, suddenly, they have come into the power of their conviction. Something has happened.
Something between his prior life and this day in Jerusalem has changed Peter’s life for good. Not that Peter becomes more prosperous, or returns to his family and lives happily ever after. This is not a fairy tale. Peter is involved in conflicts within the new faith, is uncertain of the way, or how to put Jesus’ words into practice; he is imprisoned, moves to another region – to Antioch to establish a Christian community there, and eventually, back in Jerusalem, he also is crucified.
But Peter has been changed, forgiven, transformed, filled. He uses this healing as an object lesson to create faith, to bring people in through the gates and to the font and source of healing. Jesus (of all people) doesn’t promise cures, the cross is proof enough of that. We don’t live forever in these bodies. But God promises healing, wholeness, peace, restoration. Those gifts aren’t nearly as flashy as gold and silver or a miraculous cure with all of the dancing and shouting that would naturally attend it. But wholeness is a lot to be offered.
Jesus has been raised. He is not here. But we are here. You are here. And that is enough. God will use your body, your mind, your prayers, your voice, your compassion, your self to extend the resurrection – so that you will live into it, and pass along the being of God. I don’t know how you’ll do it, or what exactly it will entail. I don’t know if you’ll do it intentionally or by accident. I don’t know if you’ll feel inadequate or self-conscious or stumble around for the right words. But I know from my experience of doing all of those things, that it doesn’t matter. Peter got that part right. It is not through our own power or piety. If God is able to use us for handing over healing and wholeness, for creating a new world by imagining it, then we too will be recipients of the gift. And we will discover more God in the process.
The man was raised to new life within his ongoing life – to new circumstances and possibilities. It’s important to see that. Resurrection life is not the same as if there had been no death. We live – each of us – facing death, knowing death, and yet choosing life. Recognizing the gift of that begins our transformation. New life comes in bodies and friendships and prayer and hope and God’s Spirit binding us together in one, in Christ’s body – broken and yet whole. The rest we take on trust and live out of thanksgiving for the treasure that is each new day.
I want to thank so many of you who have continued to send or bring in your financial offerings for the mission and ministry of West Denmark and the larger church. Not everyone is able to give financially in the uncertainty of these days, and some have given more than the usual amount. For your many gifts, for your generosity, and for your prayers we are grateful.