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APRIL 22, 2012: THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: 

Acts 3:13-15,17-19
I John 2: l-5a
Luke 24:35-48

Perhaps the first verse in today's gospel is the most important verse in all three readings. "The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread." As Catholics, we spend a lot of effort and time making certain we recognize Jesus in the bread. I don't know that we worry much about recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

I learned to "say Mass" during a unique period in church history: the Fall of 1964. The Vatican II liturgical reforms were to take effect in the United States on the First Sunday of Advent, two weeks before my ordination. But they weren't to be implemented in Italy - where I was living - until the First Sunday of Lent. (The "authorities" wouldn't even allow us to integrate English into our ordination ceremony.) Really a confusing time.

The priest preparing us to preside at Eucharists, P. Francis Murphy, was able to help us cut through the confusion. "Your job as presiders," the future auxiliary bishop of Baltimore informed us, "is to help create a community out of all those participating in the Eucharist." We weren't just to get all the words "right," or make certain they were accompanied by the correct gestures. Our role was to help form the Body of Christ in such a way that all those present could recognize that Body in this specific community. Like the two disciples in the inn at Emmaus, we were all expected to recognize the risen Jesus in the "breaking of the bread," not just in the bread.

It doesn't take a lot of dying to self for most people to recognize Jesus in the bread and wine. It's simply a matter of agreeing to do so, to eventually admit there's something more here than just bread and wine. But it always takes a death to recognize that same Jesus in those around us - especially if some of us are Republicans and Democrats. In the second half of I Corinthians 11, Paul goes into great detail about the problems some Eucharistic communities have in recognizing that body. It's no accident that, here in Luke, the risen Jesus first shows his startled followers his hands and feet: outward signs that death is an integral part of new life.

It's also no accident that today's first two readings revolve around conversion and forgiveness. Peter assures the crowd in our Acts passage that if they "repent... and be converted, (their) sins will be wiped away." The author of I John tries to convince his readers that, even if they sin, "(Jesus) is expiation for (those) sins. .. and for those of the whole world."

But how did the earliest followers of Jesus go about getting their sins forgiven? Long before formal "confession" came on the scene, Christians believed most sins could be forgiven simply by participating in the Eucharist. (Matthew's Jesus says this expressly during that gospel's Last Supper narrative.)

Those who died enough to recognize the Body of Christ in themselves and in the community became new creations because of that death. Such dying is part of the repentance both Jesus (in the gospels) and Peter (in Acts) encourage people to experience: a complete change of one's value system, a new way of looking at people and situations. Those who achieve such a transformation don't have to worry about "confessing." Because they've died to themselves, they're no longer the people who committed those sins. That "old person" died in becoming and recognizing the Body of Christ during his or her participation in the Lord's Supper.

Quite a task (and honor) for Eucharistic presiders! It was a lot easier when all we had to do was say the right words and make the correct gestures.