Third Sunday of Easter - Year A
Naturally enough, the readings for this Sunday continue to focus on the implications of Christ’s resurrection. The two extracts from Luke, the Acts and his Gospel, express the ‘so what!’ of the resurrection in narrative form, while the words of 1 Peter offer a message of freedom and hope.
Acts 2:14, 22-33
This passage follows Luke’s Pentecost description of the disciples of Jesus gathered in a room in Jerusalem and being inspired to carry on the work that Jesus had started. Luke expresses this moment of life-changing inspiration in vivid imagery in order to enhance the dramatic effect of the Spirit. We have already read in John 20:22 that Jesus appeared to his friends after his resurrection; he wished them peace and breathed on them giving them the Spirit. But in this case the Spirit is filling them with the energy and courage to cast off their fear and shout out publicly their convictions about their Lord. By the way, Jesus’ action of breathing on his friends is a direct allusion to the Genesis account of God breathing life into the adam, the earth creature.
The metaphor of divine breath is the source of life and action when transferred to humans. It represents that aspect of the divine that enlivens and energises the human.
Peter led the charge, as it were, and recounted the events of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. He then stressed the reality that God raised him to life. All this was to reinforce Peter’s message that the whole Jesus phenomenon was part of God’s plan for the benefit of humankind. Luke systematizes his historical approach by depicting this event as the first public declaration about the Christ. Peter goes on to add strength to his discourse with a typically rabbinic style of argument, which is a segment of the text that suggests Luke is drawing on an early Christian tradition that has a rich Semitic foundation. He quotes the last 4 verses of Psalm 16 (15), which are expressions of confidence in God and hope in divine help.
Peter assumes that David was the author of this psalm and that he was not speaking of himself, because he finished up dead and buried, but was prophesying that one of his descendants would be Israel’s Messiah, the one to save the people from the grip of evil, the one who would never be abandoned by God but who would actually be raised from the dead. Peter affirms that David’s prophecy refers to ‘this man Jesus’ who was raised by God to life and then lifted up to dwell with the Father (quoting Psalm 110:1). He concludes by pointing out to the crowd that they are witnessing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The Responsorial Psalm is an expansion of the quotation Peter used in his speech to the crowd. It contains a basic tenet of Hebrew spirituality that Jesus drew on and emphasised in his mission, namely, living according to the standards and ideals of the reign of God constitutes authentic quality life. This is ‘the path of life’ in the song of the poet. This is what Jesus called, in the language of his day, the kingdom of God.
This letter was written to lift up and encourage 1 Peter 1:17-21
The first letter of Peter was written to Christians in Asia Minor (Turkey) who were undergoing harassment for their commitment to Christ. It is not surprising, therefore, that we find a strong message of hope, encouragement and reassurance running through the letter. Today’s short excerpt is rich in metaphors that compare Jesus to the innocent lamb of the Passover sacrifice. In this tradition blood represented life, and the shedding of the lamb’s blood at Passover commemorated the life-giving event of the Exodus from Egypt that allowed the Jewish ancestors to enter a whole new life of freedom. For Christians, Peter stresses, Jesus is the gateway to true life and his resurrection is our guarantee of trust and hope in God.
How do I radiate words and actions of hope and encouragement to those I encounter? Did I encourage someone today? Will I ever let a day go by when I won’t be a ‘lifter’ encouraging someone with a word, a smile, a gesture of support?
Today’s gospel reading is the story of the two disciples who encounter the risen Christ as they walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. To properly interpret this narrative we need to be conscious of Luke’s symbolic world because the text is full of metaphor, allusion and symbolism. A literal reading of these verses that might lead to inappropriate questions will clearly miss the point.
Firstly, we notice that the disciples are joined by Jesus who appears in human form. This reminds us of Paul’s insistence that the resurrected body is no longer physical but spiritual in character (1 Corinthians 15:44). Even so, the disciples do not recognise him. We might find this pretty unlikely, but Luke needs this lack of recognition as a dramatic element in his plot. It is a kind of spiritual blindness that will be removed at a climactic moment when the disciples will see Jesus with fresh understanding of prophecies and the meaning of his resurrection.
The teaching element in Luke’s storyline now takes place as Jesus explains the role of the suffering Messiah in God’s plan for humanity. This is in response to the statement from Cleopas that the followers of Jesus thought he was the Messiah, but he was arrested and killed. The implication is that the Messiah is not supposed to suffer, so perhaps Jesus was not the one to rescue Israel after all. He didn’t seem to fit the job description. At this point Jesus lays it all out for them, showing them the role of the suffering Messiah and its place in the divine plan. And while Jesus speaks and the veil is being lifted, their hearts are burning within them. As the penny drops, their enthusiasm is kindled and transforms into ‘fire in the belly’ that drives them to spread this great news abroad.
They arrived at their destination and Jesus was ready to walk on, but the two pressed him to stay and join them in an evening meal. Here is another instance of hospitality, which is a favourite motif in Luke’s writings.
In his gospel Luke shows Jesus frequently taking part in meals and enjoying the intimacy of such hospitality. Meals with their spirit of relaxation and sharing were ideal settings for discussion and provided Jesus with opportunities to speak about things that were close to his heart.
They became conscious of his presence in the breaking of the bread The climax of this narrative is reached when Jesus blesses the bread and hands it to the two disciples. Luke’s obvious intention is to bring to mind the blessing of bread at the Last Supper when Jesus asked his small community of friends to remember him when they shared the intimacy of a meal. Notice there is no wine in the Emmaus scene. All at once the two disciples saw who was doing the blessing. It was in the breaking of the bread that they recognised the presence of Jesus.
Luke makes the unmistakable point that when members of the Jesus people gather to break bread in memory of their Lord then he is there in their midst. But his presence was welcomed in a spirit of hospitality on the road to Emmaus. Paul had occasion to chide the Corinthian Christians because some in that community drew distinctions between rich and poor, noble and peasant, and were not gathering to remember the Lord but merely to eat and drink. Some ate to excess while others went without, and some even became drunk. With disapproval Paul accused them of making a mockery of the body and blood of the Lord if they ate the bread and drank the wine while still being party to factional discrimination and greed.
In other words, this kind of behaviour contradicts the purpose of Christ’s gift of himself and puts the guilty ones on a par with those who broke his body and shed his blood by crucifixion. Where there is no equality and no hospitality, the spirit of the Lord’s Supper is lost.
Reflecting on this reading in the context of the current pandemic we might well be taken back to the basics of Eucharist. For the Christians of the first century their Eucharistic gathering was a remembrance meal taken in somebody’s house, begun with the blessing and sharing of bread, most likely presided over by the host or hostess. A normal meal followed with dishes provided by the host and some of the members. Paul’s letters mention prayer and the singing of hymns during the meal. To conclude, the wine was blessed and passed around. A thanksgiving meal that recalls the person and work of Jesus is truly a Eucharist with Christ present. And we can do this in family groups or in electronic gatherings via Zoom. Christ will surely be present with us. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
To be upset over what you don’t have is to waste what you do have. - Ken Keyes Jr. (20th century American writer and speaker on personal growth)
The Religious Education teacher was telling her Year 4 class the story of Lot and his wife who were told to flee from the burning city and not look back. But Lot’s wife looked around and she turned into a pillar of salt. Little Johnny spoke up and said, ‘Miss my Mum was driving us kids home last week and she looked around and turned into a telegraph pole.’