Today we begin our journey through the Acts of the Apostles. Peter, it tells us, on the Day of Pentecost immediately goes out to preach the Gospel to the children of Israel. In the first reported sermon, he sumerizes the story. What is perhaps to our modern ear the most striking sentence is when he says,
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
Keep in mind that Peter is speaking to them with the goal of having them become believers in Jesus. So it might seem odd to us that he accuses them of killing Jesus. Our tendency is to avoid offending anybody. But Peter is dealing with a much more basic principle, truth. Remember, he is simply summarizing the events and it is a statement of fact to say that this crowd in Jerusalem was the same crowd that yelled crucify him.
Has this passage been misused in the past as an excuse for antisemitism? Of course it has. But that does not rob it of its power to call each of us to follow the example of Peter and speak the truth.
This past week as the Church was celebrating Holy Week and Easter, here in Richmond we were marking the 150 anniversary of the events surrounding Lincoln's visit to Richmond which was preceded by the burning of Richmond. I am proud to be a native Virginian, and my name, Wayne Lee Ball, couldn't be any more Southern. In school, however, I never remember them pointing out that it was the confederate troops not the "Yankees" who burned the city's business district to the ground. In their zeal to rob the union army of supplies the fires that were intended to burn only some warehouses touched off our most famous conflagration. We ended up destroying our own city. The local paper at the time described, "confederate authorities, wantonly and recklessly, applying the torch...." There was no attempt to explain away or excuse the actions.
St. Peter describes in suscint and clear terms the history. He addresses them as "children of Israel" to show respect for their participation in the covenant, but at the same time he is blunt about the wrongs his people committed. And let us not forget that they are his own people. Peter is no Gentile. He refers to the Gentiles as "lawless men", men without the Torah.
St. Peters reminds us that we are to preach love but never at the expense of an honest recollection of history, our own individual histories and our communal history. Only in acknowledging or sins, individual to national, can we find forgiveness and the healing the ressurection brings.