Easter 7 • Acts 1:12–26 • May 20, 2012
By Travis J. Scholl
I sense deep sadness in Peter’s voice: “The scripture had to be fulfilled…for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry” (vv. 16–17). I sense sadness in Peter as he stands before the rest of his sibling disciples (the remaining ten, as well as other sisters and brothers, numbering “about 120”). He is preaching a word to make sense of the death that had left a hole in their fellowship. The sadness comes of the fact that they spent three momentous years with this dead man. They shared an incredible journey, and he was as close to them as a blood brother.
The death, of course, was the death of Judas Iscariot. Even more so, the hole he left was made sharp and painful by his betrayal.
Peter’s homily is perhaps a good case study on how to preach in the aftermath of emotional trauma, how to preach when the circle has been broken. Notice how he doesn’t spend much time recounting the past, or dwelling on the pain, or trying to explain it away. (Interestingly, anything we know about Judas from Acts doesn’t come from Peter; it comes from the narrator’s long parenthetical interrupting Peter’s homily.) Peter notes the pain simply and quickly as a reminder of the fulfillment of the word in their midst, then turns to the hope of their future.
In short, he uses the pain to focus on the resurrection, the death to focus on the new life. There is a lot for a preacher to learn in Peter’s little homily.
The sole reason Peter can preach a word at all in the trauma of betrayal and death is because of the other dead man they had spent three years with. The dead man who is raised from the dead. Peter and his sibling disciples have hope in the face of the one man’s death because they are witnesses to the other man’s resurrection.
I pray you do not have to use this text to make sense of a recent trauma or betrayal in the life of your congregation. Nevertheless, we preach resurrection in the face of all that is dying in the world.
In this sense, I find the context of Peter’s words illuminating. Verse 13: “…they went up to the upper room, where they were staying…” I don’t think it is a stretch that this is the same “upper room” of Luke 22:12. Today’s Gospel reading makes this connection more explicit by quoting Jesus in the upper room from John’s high priestly prayer. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). The sibling disciples have returned to the place where they felt the truth of their discipleship most intimately, to the place where the Lord of their fellowship washed their feet and gave them his own body and blood to eat and to drink.
In the context of Acts, it isn’t coincidental that the population of witnesses in this room has gone from its original 12 to now 120. The renewing of all Israel in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is already growing, and it will soon burst open in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. What is now hidden in an upper room will soon be revealed to the whole world.
But, here, in this room, there is still unfinished business. The circle must be made whole and unbroken again. And this business is the business of prayer. Everything these sibling disciples are doing in this upper room is permeated with prayer (see vv. 14, 24–25). Indeed, prayer is the never finished business of every disciple of Jesus Christ.
Of course, the prayerful lot will be cast on Matthias, who will promptly never be heard from again. Thus, we may ask: How is the circle now unbroken? The numerical symbolism is obvious enough. Israel has 12 tribes; the new Israel will have 12 apostles.
And yet, if I may push a questionable exegetical leap for a good homiletical purpose, I wonder about the phonic similarities of the Greek name Matthias with another common Greek word in the New Testament. Mathetes. The Greek word for, of all things, “disciple.” Could it be that Matthias is standing in for all the mathetes who will “become with us a witness to his resurrection” (v. 22)? Could it be that Matthias’s story is the story of all the sibling disciples who are yet to come in the Acts of the Apostles?
Could it be that the reason we never hear of Matthias again is because his story is our story, the story of the unfinished business yet to be done in the upper rooms where all the baptized gather even today?
Seems to me Paul would have something to say to that effect in just a short while (1 Cor 15:3–11). No less than the original disciples, we too, through the encounter with the word of the gospel, have accompanied Jesus from baptism to resurrection (vv. 21–22). We too pray for his indwelling presence. We too await the coming of his Spirit. We are Matthias, and his story is ours.