Monday, 2 May 2011

3rd Sunday of Easter - Year A

Acts 2:14.22-33; 1Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

On the day of Pentecost Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd in a loud voice: ‘Men of Israel, listen to what I am going to say … .’

It was important that Peter stood up with the Eleven, the whole Church, because the message he was about to preach was not his own - it was the solemn proclamation of the whole Church.

It was important also that this be done 'in a loud voice'. The Church must speak fearlessly and with unmistakable clarity.

And furthermore it was vitally important that this first declaration of the Gospel, of the Catholic faith, should have been made to the whole world. As Luke spells out clearly for us (2:6): Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven … .

The Catholic Church is universal; that’s what the word catholic means. Therefore she wants the whole world to listen to 'what I am going to say'.

And how does Peter begin? As the Church always begins, with the word 'Jesus' - Jesus the Nazarene … .

A few miles away, on their way to Emmaus, a couple of disappointed ‘former’ disciples, in answer to a stranger’s question, begin their testimony with much the same words as St Peter: All about Jesus of Nazareth….

Actually, their story is remarkably similar in structure and content but these disciples lack two essential ingredients. Firstly they appear to give their account of events without any reference to the Scriptures and, secondly, they are not convinced of the resurrection. Without this dimension their story does not bring joy, encouragement or peace - only downcast faces. What’s more, it leads them away from the community of the Church, away from Jerusalem.

Indeed, they had heard rumours of the resurrection, some women from their group had gone to the tomb and seen a vision of angels 'who declared he was alive'. But these rumours were not enough. They needed to see, to experience the Risen Lord for themselves. As yet they were like those who had gone to the tomb after the women but 'saw nothing'. Their eyes had not yet been opened.

We can only imagine the manner in which Jesus spoke those words: 'You foolish men!' to Cleopas and his friend. I imagine it would have been in somewhat the same tone with which Jesus had chided Philip: Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you do not know me?

The problem here was that, although these two men knew the Scriptures, they didn’t understand them, and therefore they didn’t relate the events which had so disappointed them to the word of God. It was a classic case of St Jerome insight: ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.’

St Peter, with the benefit of his Easter faith, on the other hand, now sees all that happened as completely in accordance with what scripture had foretold. He speaks of Christ’s resurrection using the words of Psalm 16. He refers to King David and the promise God had made him that one of his descendants would succeed him on the throne, and speaks also of the promised Holy Spirit.

Jesus sets about instructing the demoralised disciples and soon their hearts are ‘burning’ within them. Jesus shows them that all is as it should be and that the word of God had foretold everything from the beginning.

What Jesus actually said to the two men is not recorded. What we do know is that he brought them to understand and believe the scriptures and to grasp the truth that the passion of Christ was a necessary forerunner to his entry into glory.

But one further surprise awaited these men: While he was with them at the table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him… .

What a shock! It had been Jesus all the time, the Risen Lord! He had shown them the ‘word’ and the ‘sacrament’ and then disappeared. Instinctively they knew there was only one thing to do. They must seek him in the ‘community’ and: They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem.

There they found ‘the Eleven assembled together with their companions’ – the Church – which verified for them the Good News: Yes it is true. The Lord has risen … .

The disciples who had so forlornly walked away from the mystery had returned. They were home, in the only community on earth that knew Jesus had risen from the dead. Alleluia!

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