Updated: Jan 31
In terms of the Christian liturgical calendar, today is the 14th day of the Easter season, counting toward the fiftieth day, our Day of Pentecost.
In terms of the Jewish calendar, they maintain a ritual called the Counting of the Omer. An “omer” is a dry measure, which is a sample of first barley grain reaped in the spring. It is ceremoniously presented to the Temple priests on the second day of the Passover festival week. They then daily announce the count, as ritual custom paralleling the days from the release of the children of Israel from Egypt, until Moses brought down the Law. Each day of freedom, leading to the pact between them and God, is recounted each year, until they have recreated the fiftieth day, the day called Pentecost (which is Greek for 50th day).
Since the Jewish Passover week lasts parts of eight days, with the first Christian Easter Sunday – the first day of the week – being the first day after the Passover week ended, then Christian Easter Sunday was actually the 7th day of the Jewish Counting of the Omer. This means the Jewish Pentecost (the real 50th day) comes a week sooner than ours.
According to the Jewish (real) count, today is the 21st day of the counting to 50, not the 14th.
But, who’s counting?
If you carefully ponder the words from today’s reading in Acts, you realize that Peter was talking to Jews. He spoke to them on the Jewish Day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem. All those Jews were there for another week-long festival, that one called Shavuot.
The Festival of Weeks (the meaning of Shavuot) begins 50 days after the feast of the First Fruits, which always takes place on Nissan 16, the second day of the Festival of the Unleavened Bread. The day of the Feast is the day the Counting of the Omer begins.
Peter raised his voice for a large crowd of Jews, so they could all hear. Peter called them all “Brothers.”
Peter told the Jews coming into Jerusalem for a festival commanded by God, in His Covenant between Himself and the children of Israel:
“The promise of a Messiah is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away,” those Jews scattered to the far reaches of the known world.
Peter influenced 3,000 Jews to believe their Messiah had indeed come. I doubt 3,000 Gentiles (i.e. Romans) would have known what Peter was talking about.
Peter was still speaking primarily to the Jews, those who had begun the first Christian churches in the Middle East, when he wrote his first letter of encouragement, asking them to “hang in there” against growing persecution.
Peter wrote, “Live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” They were in exile from the Jews who did not accept that a Messiah had come. They were encouraged to fear God more than human beings of any denomination.
Peter went on to say, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors.” Their “ancestors” were the Jews who lost the land they once enjoyed, causing all Jews to be exiled, even in Jerusalem. The Jews who believed in Jesus were being “ransomed,” where the price they had to pay was their own blood. Their blood was sacrificed through the persecution of other Jews and those ruling all the lands those Jews lived in.
In a way, Peter was telling his Jewish-Christian “brothers,” “Life’s hard, then you die. Hang in there. Don’t give up.”
Peter wrote, “Love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, through the living and enduring word of God.”
So, if you caught that during the reading … that Peter was focused on the Jews more than the Gentiles, because the Jews were being persecuted for being Christians by Jews … then where do we Gentile Christians fit in?
Well, in the Book of Acts, Peter did add something about “all others.” He said, “The promise is for … everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
The “promise” is for sins to be forgiven, if people repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
But, the “promise” is not a one-way street. The “promise” had long existed between the Israelites and God, based on the agreement made when Moses came down with the commandments. The “promise” was agreed upon, that the Jews had to follow God’s Commandments, and a number of laws. Christians can have the same “promise,” with a clause that says, “as long as you honor the Lord God eternally,” and believe Jesus is the Messiah “promised” to the Jews.
Peter said the Jews were “ransomed … with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.” The lamb without defect or blemish is a statement about the “kidnapper” being that darned agreement, where the ransom is the “eternal” part of that Covenant. Once chosen by God, one is always expected to meet one’s end of the “promise.”
Jesus is the sacrificial lamb that frees everyone from sins. Jesus died just like many woolly firstling lambs were sacrificed, whose blood was then spread over the doorways of the chosen ones, to free the Israelites from Egypt.
Just because you jump onto the Christ wagon as a Gentile does not mean you are not also “ransomed.” The reward you seek is held in Heaven, until you pay up. You have responsibilities that must be upheld.
So what, if the Jews keep up with their end of the agreement, to always keep track of the dates and times of commanded festivals and celebrations? They signed up for that responsibility. We didn’t … right?
If we Gentile Christians want to be a week later in the start of our count, go for it! No need to count a measure of barley. It is better to count the number of days since Jesus was resurrected, right?
Just realize the eternal aspect that comes along with any agreement you enter into with the Easter Christ. Just like the Jews, you have to seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Just like the Jews, you have to commit to explaining scripture to those who do not yet understand.
When Peter wrote to the Christian Jews and told them they had “inherited the futile ways of your ancestors,” those trivial and useless ways were found popping up all throughout the Gospels. That followed all the miserable failure found throughout the Old Testament … until the Promised Land was forever lost. The Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, thus the first Christians, inherited a legacy that said, “If you do not hold up your end of the bargain, then there is no promise.”
The Pharisees had carried a torch of ineptitude, seeking to regain glory lost. However, they were not teaching anyone to be good and sin free. They didn’t know how. That meant the people grumbled about the hypocrisy; but the people never dared do anything about it. Everything about the Second Temple was a shell of what the original intent was. That was why Jesus came.
Everyone was out for himself. Everyone did what it took to get by; but, just to be on the safe side, everyone played the role of believer in God. The laws did set forth expectations: to learn the Torah and pay some tithes; so they tried to memorize text and give money.
When Jesus began his ministry, he traveled the lands of Judea and Galilee for three years. He opened some eyes and ears, while doing some miraculous healing too.
Then he died. He was unfairly killed; but Jesus had said Jerusalem was the city that killed its prophets.
Last week we read about doubting Thomas. He would not believe Jesus had come back to life after three days dead, unless he saw it for himself. Only if he physically touched the wounds in Jesus’ body would he believe.
Today, we read the story of Jesus appearing as a stranger on the road to Emmaus, as he walked and talked with Cleopas and wife, relatives of Jesus and Mary.
Cleopas told Jesus all about how it was discovered that Jesus was not in his tomb, and that some of the women said they saw angels there.
But, Cleopas added, “They did not see him.” I imagine the rumor that his disciples stole his body, to make it seem he had resurrected, had already begun.
Cleopas was saying, in essence, “You know stranger … it is kinda hard to believe that. Just because someone said it, doesn’t make it true. Even if it is someone you know and trust … someone you love very much.”
“You want it to be true, but … three days dead!?!? Then he came back to life and disappears?!?!?! Come on. That just does not happen.”
“They said it was so … but I can only say what they said. I cannot confirm the rumor.”
Jesus, appearing as a stranger, went off on Cleopas.
“Oh? So what then? Did you ever see the prophets who wrote the books you say you believe in? Did you ever see God?”
“Is seeing believing?”
The rest of the walk to Emmaus Jesus told Cleopas and Mary every prophecy written about Jesus living, dying, and resurrecting JUST LIKE IT HAPPENED.
Cleopas and Mary were amazed.
Their hearts were deeply touched by what was written and the meaning that was clearly there. They knew all the scriptures, but they had never before realized any of what this stranger had just told them.
When the three reached Emmaus, Cleopas and Mary headed to their home. Jesus kept walking down the road.
They asked Jesus to stay with them. It was late, and would be dark soon. “Stay with us, they asked him.”
They wanted him to tell them more about the meaning of scripture. Jesus could sleep over and then hit the road the next morning. Cleopas and Mary wanted this stranger to stay longer with them.
They knew the stranger was a rabbi, because he knew so much. They asked him to break the bread and bless the meal.
When Jesus broke the bread, blessed it and handed it to them, their eyes were opened and they saw it was Jesus.
But, at that point he vanished from sight.
In the practice of Zen Meditation, the objective is to reach Nirvana. However, by the time you think you have reached Nirvana, you are no longer there.
Cleopas and Mary reached a similar point of feeling. They said to each other, “Our hearts were burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us.”
Today, when we celebrate the Eucharist, when you hear how Jesus broke the bread and said, “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” realize this means: Read scripture and remember Jesus was prophesied. Read as if you are on the road to Emmaus.
The body of Christ is the Holy Bible. The mind of Christ opens eyes and ears to the meaning of that bread, that sustenance.
If you walk the road of Bible study, and if you say you believe in the Holy Bible, but you hear yourself saying …
“You know … there are a lot of people better educated than me … I just can’t see all the things they say is there.”
“I trust them to know, and I love them, so I believe they mean well, but ….”
“Unless I see what it means with my own two eyes ….”
Excuses, excuses, excuses … they take you away, so far from that which is “promised” in your agreement with God.
Let your ears hear Jesus tell you, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets declared!”
If you do not eat the bread, then how can you be thirsty enough to drink the wine?
The wine represents the blood of the unblemished sacrificial lamb, who shed his blood for you and for many, the blood of the new covenant. Jesus shed it so it would course through your veins and arteries, filling you with deep spiritual awakening. You have to act and digest the body first.
This is the countdown to the Pentecost, the 50th day.
The disciples turned from weak-kneed, fearful doubters into full-fledged Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, converting 3,000 pilgrims in a single sermon.
The purpose of the season is to become a matured fruit of the living vine. You must want that first fruit emotion burning within your heart, so you want to immediately run and tell your friends.
You have to do something that welcomes Jesus to come into your home, into your mind.
You have to eat the bread and receive the spirit.
No one can do it for you. The responsibility is yours alone, as part of the New Covenant with God, in the name of Christ.