APRIL 15th, 2018: THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Peter said to the people:
"The God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,
the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus,
whom you handed over and denied in Pilate's presence
when he had decided to release him.
You denied the Holy and Righteous One
and asked that a murderer be released to you.
The author of life you put to death,
but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.
Now I know, brothers,
that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did;
but God has thus brought to fulfillment
what he had announced beforehand
through the mouth of all the prophets,
that his Christ would suffer.
Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away."
My children, I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.
The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep
Those who say, "I know him," but do not keep his commandments
are liars, and the truth is not in them.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.
While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
"Peace be with you."
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have."
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?"
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.
He said to them,
"These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled."
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
"Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things."
One of the most significant lines in today’s three readings comes at the end of our gospel pericope. Appearing to his disciples on Easter Sunday night, Luke’s Jesus reminds them, “You are witnesses of these things.”
This verse assures us Jesus’ true followers aren’t identified by the catechism answers they can rattle off, the number of indulgences they’ve acquired, or the religious symbols they wear. They’re simply people to be listened to, witnesses to Jesus’ dying and rising; not so much because they actually were in Jerusalem during Passover week in 30 CE, but because they’ve had the same dying/rising experience in their own lives. Since these life-changing things happened to them, they must also have happened to him. That’s what makes them other Christs; they share the same experiences.
Peter can certainly witness to this unique happening. Just a few weeks before, he emphatically told one of the high priest’s maids, “Woman, I do not know him!” when she asked about his relationship with some newly arrested Galilean carpenter. Now he not only cures a crippled beggar in Jesus’ name, he openly chides those who took part in putting him to death. Yet he doesn’t do so just to give them a guilt trip, he wants them “to convert, that your sins may be wiped away.” He hopes they’ll also be witnesses of Jesus’ dying and rising in their own lives.
Of course, the main way our sacred authors believe we die and rise with Jesus is by undergoing a “metanoia:” a repentance. That’s how he began his public ministry; proclaiming the presence of God in the lives of those who undergo a total change in their value systems. The author of I John sees this repentance as revolving around keeping God’s commandments as Jesus taught them; focusing on the needs of others around us. Those who experience the risen Jesus in their daily lives because of their value-change must be witnesses of that experience. It’s not something they’re to keep to themselves. Others must also be invited to share in this new life.
It’s important in today’s gospel pericope that the two Emmaus disciples mention that the risen Jesus “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Though Luke’s Jesus takes great pains on Easter Sunday night to prove he’s “not a ghost,” how do we know he/she’s real today? The chief way is in the breaking of the bread.
Though most of our early Eucharistic catechesis zeroed in on Jesus’ presence in the bread, we know from Paul’s letters – especially I Corinthians – that second-generation Christians stressed his/her presence in one another. It was little skin off their teeth to profess faith in Jesus’ presence in the bread (and wine); it was “controversial” to acknowledge that same presence in those standing or sitting around them. If they couldn’t experience the risen Jesus in them, then he most probably was just a ghost.
Constant reform of the Eucharist is essential to our Christian faith. Since the Reformation we already have a huge percentage of Protestant communities who rarely participate in the breaking of bread. One need only read the minutes of the Council of Trent to discover a few of the 16th century Eucharistic abuses. No wonder reformers swore off such magical practices.
As the late Bishop Frank Murphy taught our North American College class of 1965, “It’s your job to form the Eucharistic community into the Body of Christ.” Nothing should stop us presiders or the participants from carrying out that ministry. If we worry only about saying the right words and performing the right gestures we’ll never have a true breaking of the bread, and never help anyone become a true witness, even ourself.