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APRIL 6, 2008: THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: 

Acts 2:1-4,22-23
I Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

One of the perks of being a sacred author is that you get to write people's speeches for them. In today's first and third readings, for instance, Luke composes everything Peter and Jesus say. Peter's Pentecost and Jesus' Easter discourses are well-known for their explanation of the events which occur on the days they're delivered. At these points of his double volume work, Luke isn't as interested in what happened as much as he's concerned with why it happened. Why did Jesus rise; why did the Holy Spirit descend?

In his classic work, The Real Jesus, Luke Timothy Johnson, presuming both Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, states, "Matthew and Luke feel free to alter virtually every other aspect of Mark, but (the) image of the suffering One they do not alter in the least . . . . For Luke (especially) the heart both of the Scriptures and of the good news is that 'the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory.' ... For (Jesus' disciples) the path of suffering marks the authentic following of the Messiah."

As we see in today's passages from Luke and Acts, the evangelist can't explain these two crucial phenomena in Jesus' and the Christian community's life without constantly hammering away not only on the experience of suffering, but also on the necessity of suffering.

Of course, Luke isn't alone in employing this concept. A generation after Luke composed his gospel and Acts, the I Peter author echoes the same theme. "You were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless, unblemished lamb." We only live because he died.

But as Johnson stated above, Luke, more than any other author, emphasizes the "must" of Jesus' suffering and death. Listen carefully as Luke's Jesus chides his two runaway disciples. "Oh how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not _necessary_ that the Christ _should_ suffer these things and enter into his glory?"

Like all Jesus' followers, these two (probably Cleopas and Mrs. Cleopas) thought they could be disciples yet escape suffering and death (symbolized by Luke's concept of Jerusalem - the place they should never have left.)

According to Peter's Pentecost speech, Jesus wasn't delivered up and killed by accident. These things happened "by the set plan and foreknowledge of God." That can only mean God set a price of suffering and death on Jesus pouring forth the Holy Spirit on his followers. According to Luke, no one can have the Spirit or experience true life without imitating Jesus' suffering and death.

One last point. Don't overlook the final line of our gospel pericope. "The two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread." Scripture scholars for a long time have reminded us that this Emmaus passage contains a Eucharist. We first have the Liturgy of the Word: Jesus explains the Scriptures. Then we have the Liturgy of the Bread and Wine: he joins them at table. The "breaking of bread" is one of the earliest ways of referring to the Eucharist.

Many of us, formed by a more modern idea of Eucharist, would expect the two disciples to exclaim, "We recognized him in the bread!" It's important for Luke that their recognition took place in the breaking of the bread - in the whole action and experience of people participating in the Lord's Supper. As Paul reminded his Corinthians community more than 25 years before, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes." I Corinthians 11:26

Is it possible that some of us only recognize Jesus in the bread and not in the community which breaks the bread? That can only mean we refuse to suffer and die enough to become totally one with every person in that community.