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Acts 2:14a, 36-41

For the second week in a row, the lection from the book of Acts eavesdrops on a portion of Peter’s sermon from the day of Pentecost. The larger Acts 2 reading, including the details of the event of Pentecost (the outpouring of the Spirit in the upper room and the miracle of each hearing this sermon in their own language) is reserved for the culmination of the Easter season on Pentecost Sunday. Today’s reading includes the conclusion of Peter’s sermon and the response of those who heard it.

Preachers who preached the preceding passage (Acts 2:14a, 22-32) on Easter 2 will have the easiest time making sense of this week’s lection in the larger context of Peter’s sermon. As mentioned in Tim Hahn’s commentary on last week’s reading from Acts 2, preachers must treat this text delicately, with awareness of the anti-Semitic history it carries. In particular, preachers should use caution with pointing blame or filling in the “you” in verse 36. Remember that Peter lived with his own guilt and sense of culpability, having denied knowing Jesus in his hour of greatest need.

Peter’s appeal to repentance and forgiveness feels almost out of place on this third Sunday of Easter. After all, aren’t we finally on the other side of the relentless repenting and self-examination of lent? What has changed from the season of Lent to the season of Easter is that we hear this appeal to repentance in light of the witness of the resurrection, which Peter names earlier in the sermon (2:24, 32). “But God raised him up, having freed him from death…” (2:24).

Throughout the Easter season, the empty tomb remains the focal image of the season from week to week. Repentance and forgiveness, framed in light of the resurrection, is the turning away from all that keeps us trapped in the power of death, all that keeps us wrapped in grave clothes, all that keeps us inside the tomb where the stone has already been rolled away. Thus, the repenting and turning away doesn’t end in lent but continues into Easter, as we see the stone that’s already been rolled away and hear the proclamation week after week, “Christ is risen.”

Using the image of the empty tomb as the lens through which to hear this call of repentance, the preacher might explore what is still keeping us trapped in the power of death this third Sunday in Easter. In John’s account of the resurrection, Peter sees the grave clothes that had wrapped Jesus’ body lying neatly folded in the tomb. John gives specific details about them, slowing down his account of Easter morning and forcing us to notice them. What are the grave clothes that Christ has already cast aside that we might still be wearing? Is it shame? Is it self-comparison? Is it self-centeredness? Like Lazarus, do we need others to help us remove the grave clothes that bind our hands and feet? Is participating in freeing others from death another form of repentance and forgiveness?

Another angle of the same image requires taking a long stare at the tomb, where the stone already rolled away. How might people in our congregation, still trapped in the powers of death be lingering inside of the tomb, even though the door is no longer sealed? Do we ignore the voices of those on the outside of the tomb, those in our community, calling us into shared life together? In what specific ways are we tempted to stay inside of the cold, but predictable security of the tomb?

Hearing all these things, the crowds who heard Peter’s sermon were “cut to the heart.” The crowds were not defensive or combative, not clinging to the trappings of death, but eager to shed their grave clothes. They ask Peter and the other apostles, “What should we do?” (2:37). How can we leave this behind us? How can we follow this Jesus whom death could not contain?

His response is direct—Repent and be baptized, so your sins may be forgiven. In baptism, we join the community of the Resurrected one, the community that is always reminding us that we have already died and been raised. In this baptized community, we are continually transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, shedding the trappings of death over and over again that try to keep us in the grave. When we fail to believe that life outside the tomb is really worth it, we lean on this baptized community to come looking for us in the tomb and to help us unwrap our grave clothes. When the Great 50 Days of Easter feel no different than the 40 before and the words of proclamation are stuck in our throats, it is this baptized community that proclaims the mystery of our faith for us: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.