THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – April 26, 2020

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-33
A reading from the first Letter of St. Peter 1:17-21
A reading from he holy Gospel according to Luke 24:13-35

Dear Friends in Christ,

Have you ever noticed that the beginnings of faith often have to do with giving up suppositions about Jesus?  Along the way you have to let go of so much and deal with disappointment.  In the beginning you might have thought you believed, only to have an epiphany, as it were, that told you that you had no idea.  Or, better, that your preconceptions centered on such a limited portion of the truth and often involved misconceptions.  We are dealing with Mystery, after all.  Why should that be a surprise?

If I have a favorite Gospel passage, it is today’s.  I pray with it at least weekly.  Each time I find something new at which to marvel.  I turn to the passage in times of desolation.  I rest in it in times of great elation.  I have come to accept that to be a believer means to journey with Jesus on the way.  Pause for a moment.  Reflect.  When and where did your faith life begin?

The two people on their way to Emmaus are introduced to us as disciples.  That designation means that they had made their decision to follow, that is, to be with Jesus.  They are different from those others designated as crowds that milled around Jesus, listening to him, observing him in action, but remained uncommitted.  We are given a hint about what the two thought about Jesus, that he was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.  They had been impressed by the power of his preaching and thrilled by how his preaching translated into action.  They may have concluded that there had never been another as wonderful as Jesus who could give them reason to hope during their time of domination by Roman rule.   Jesus seemed to fit so many of the qualities that they expected to see exhibited in one who would redeem Israel, that is, set Israel free from their oppressors.

What had gone wrong?  The two are conversing and debating about their Jesus experience.  Some things he said and did had fit their preconceptions of the Messiah.  The poor did have the Good News preached to them.  It had been thrilling to see multitudes rapt in attention to his every word.  Some wanted just to touch his clothes.  There had been reports of miracles.  But being condemned and crucified like a common criminal were not concepts associated with the Messiah.

When you began to believe, what did you imagine Jesus would do for you?  There are not a few today who extol a Jesus who will bring wealth and power to those who turn their lives over to him.  Did such thoughts draw you to Jesus in the beginning?

The Stranger who joins the two on their way to Emmaus invites them to go deeper into their disappointments.  He gives them an opportunity to acknowledge their grief even as he invites them to let go of their assumptions and enter the new Way.  Do not miss the important information.  Their eyes were prevented from recognizing (Jesus).  It happens in Luke’s and John’s Gospels that disciples do not recognize the resurrected One in their first encounters with him.  What really is happening is that these disciples are coming to see him for the first time with insights that alter all their previous experiences of him.  Invariably there is much they have to let go of.  Isn’t it curious that the two say they have heard the astounding news reported by some of the women in the group?  The empty tomb.  Angels announcing he is alive.  Amazing news, yes; but it is not enough to convince them.

Hang on now.  There is an abrupt transition.  The Stranger does not mince words.  How foolish you are.  How slow of heart to believe!  The Stranger tells them they have missed the whole point of the mission and the message.  The Jesus moment was one of God’s entering into the human experience, inviting people to live a new life.  It was as if God were saying again, in the words found in Hebrew Scripture, Let me be your God and you will be my people.  Let us live in a union that you could never have dreamed of or imagined, if only you will not be embarrassed by this different kind of Messiah, different from your expectations, and will walk with the Christ in faith.  Here is the shocking transition that, if accepted, alters forever the meaning and role of suffering in life.

The common belief regarding suffering for some, even to this day, is that it is a punishment for sin, either one’s own sins or those of one’s ancestors.  The horror of crucifixion paled in comparison to the obvious meaning that God was punishing Jesus on the cross through the hands of those who crowned him with thorns and drove in nails.  How foolish you are.  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?

Ponder that for a moment.  Unfortunately, we hear texts over and over again.  Gospels are proclaimed.  We hear opening words, recognize them, know the rest of the story, and muse off about something else until the proclamation is over.  I remember once looking out at the Assembly while reading the gospel that spoke of Jesus calming the wind and the waves and being shocked by a man yawning.  What is so shocking?  In a simple turn of phrase, suffering, far from being a punishment for sin, becomes a means of entering into glory.  A suffering Messiah is the Christ.

What about disciples?  What comes to them if they follow Jesus?  The challenge is that Jesus must be all in all for them, that is, for us.  I wonder if the two disciples remembered that Jesus had warned that, if they would be his disciples, they would have to take up the cross every day and follow him.  Had they been present for the encounter between Jesus and the rich person who wanted salvation?  That person had followed all the commandments from youth.  What more had to be done?  Go sell what you have and give to the poor.  Then come and follow me.  That person went away sad because that was asking too much.

The two disciples had to let go of their assumptions and preconceptions.  It is not an exaggeration to say they had to go back to square one.  They had to read the Scriptures in a new light.  They had to see that discipleship was not for self-aggrandizement but for imitating Jesus in love.  There was so much that had to die if they were to live.  And there was the cross at the center of it all.

It is curious, isn’t it, that with all the insights that the Stranger made available to them, they still did not recognize him.  The recognition of the truth burning in their hearts did not remove the veil from their eyes.  That happened at the Table, but not in the way that we might expect, but in how Christ’s abiding presence would be achieved.  The Bread is broken.  It is in the action of the Eucharist that they recognize the Risen One.  And as soon as they do, it is as if they are sent back to their community to tell the story and share the faith.

So it must be for us.  The Word lives in the proclamation.  And as we are nourished at the table of the Word and our hearts burn with the recognition of the truth, we must move to the other Table and do Eucharist.  It is there we will recognize the Risen One and know his presence.  But it never stops there.  Celebrating Eucharist and sharing in that meal mean that we must be sent to tell the Good News in word and action, loving others as we are loved.

And the Kingdom dawns.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,


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