1 Peter 1:17-23
Hearts on Fire
Whether the context is positive or negative, the phrase “hearts on fire” speaks volumes. It can reference a zeal for some religious or political cause: She’s on fire for Jesus. Or, it could speak to conviction of sin: His heart burns with guilt. In many ways the lectionary texts for this week speak to both possibilities. You have commitment and you have guilt. You have purification and you have wonder. And the fire comes as we continue the Easter Journey.
Again the lectionary turns to Acts for the first reading of Scripture, and we attend once more to Peter’s Pentecost sermon. He tells the crowd, which has been drawn by the proclamation of the gospel in many languages, that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36 CEB). When the crowd hears this word, they are, Luke says, “deeply troubled.” This phrase, “deeply troubled,” speaks of conviction and guilt. We might call this “spiritual heartburn,” and as a result they call out – “what should we do?” Peter’s answer is – “change your heart.” Change the way you think and feel and live. Other translations use the word “repent” here to indicate the desired result, but the translators of the Common English Bible seem to get it right – it’s about the heart, the essence of the person. It must be changed if one is to “be on fire” for the reign of God. In this response to their question, Peter continues, inviting the inquirers to not only repent (change the heart), but to be baptized (a different image of purification), and as a result they will be forgiven (taking away the cause of the spiritual heart burn) and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (remember John the Baptist declared that the coming one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, thus bringing into the conversation once again the presence of fire). And Luke writes that a huge number of persons responded that day by being added to the community – likely through baptism.
In 1 Peter the images are a bit different, but fire is present. There is a word about judgment (God judges impartially according to one’s deeds) and about ransom – not through a payment that is perishable (silver or Gold, which can be melted by fire), but that which is imperishable (fire-proof!). There is a word here about the God one came to rust because God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory. Therefore, one’s heart can be set on God. From there the word is one of purification. It is by obedience to truth and mutual love – but remember that purification (refinement) is a process that involves fire, such as the fire that refines silver and gold. This fire of the heart, which purifies the heart, makes it possible for one to experience “genuine mutual love,” which allows one to love deeply from the heart. Putting the analogy a bit differently, the author speaks of being born anew – not of perishable, but imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23).
It is in Luke’s story of the encounter at Emmaus that the phrase “hearts on fire” comes into play. In verse 32, two disciples, who had been journeying to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, pondering the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty, reflect back on the encounter with a person who seemingly knew nothing of the cross but who then explained to them the scriptures. When this mysterious traveler first joined up with them on the road to this town, which is unknown to history and archaeology, he expresses no knowledge of Jesus and the events surrounding his death. These followers of the crucified one share their shattered hopes and dreams. They had hoped that Jesus, who had been “recognized by God and people as a prophet” would redeem Israel – but instead the religious authorities had handed him over to be crucified. It’s interesting that in both Acts and Luke’s Gospel the onus is put on Israel and not the Romans, even though it was the Romans who had the authority and the means to execute Jesus. They had heard news that some of their women had been to the tomb and found it empty, while hearing news from angels that Jesus was alive, but it doesn’t appear that the news had sunk in. It was mere rumor, nothing to draw hope from. It was then that Jesus began to explain to them that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer so that he might enter glory. He did this by explaining to them the message of scripture beginning with Moses (Torah) and then going through the Prophets.
Finally they arrive at Emmaus, and they prevail upon their mysterious companion to share a meal with them. It is then that Jesus reveals himself to them in the breaking of the bread (after which he disappears). It is important to note the sacramental nature of this event – for it is a reminder that we too may recognize him in the breaking of bread. The Eucharist contains both the story of the cross and the resurrection.
After he had disappeared, the rather stunned travelers (one of whom was named Cleopas) say to each other “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us on the road and when explained the Scriptures for us?” (CEB) They had been experiencing grief and bewilderment, but now their hearts are full of wonder and joy. Their joy at encountering the Risen Christ is confirmed when they return back to Jerusalem and discover that they aren’t the only ones who have had such a heartwarming experience. Simon (Peter) also had encountered the Risen Christ.
As we continue the Easter journey toward Pentecost, we are invited to answer the question: When and where are our hearts on fire?
*Note: For more on the reading from the Gospel of Luke see: Journey to a Revelatory Meal -- http://www.bobcornwall.com/2014/04/journey-to-revelatory-meal-lectionary.html