Third Sunday of Easter
Theme: God our life-giver
Recognising God’s living presence with us and among us is a great gift, which is the heart of the faith. Above all, recognising God as our personal life-giver, the one who raised Jesus and who will also raise up each of us. Peter and the first community were acutely aware of God’s life-giving presence. St Luke tells of a recognition experience by two walkers on the road to Emmaus, who knew that the crucified Jesus was still alive with them. To help our people appreciate the value of their Sunday Mass, we remind them that it is the special place to recognise the risen Christ in the breaking of bread.
Acts 2:14, 22-33. In his lifetime Jesus gave many signs of divine power, but his greatest moment was when God raised him to glory. His resurrection shows the Father’s plan for all of us.
1 Pt 1:17-21. The Christian is called to live in obedience to the Father. This life is founded on faith and hope in Christ who has been raised from the dead.
Lk 24:13-35. Two disciples come to recognise our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread, as he opened the Scriptures to them.
– that our hearts may burn within us, as we encounter Jesus in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist
– that our sharing in this Mass may be pleasing to Almighty God, and bring his blessing both to ourselves and others.
– that our way of life may be founded on faith and hope in Christ who has been raised from the dead by the power of God.
– that the economic and social life of our country may be founded on principles of justice, fairness and sharing, like the breaking of the bread.
– that all our people may return to a more obvious respect and love for the Christian way of living.
Where is Heaven? (Albert McNally)
“May we look forward with hope to our own resurrection” (opening prayer). It seems important at Easter to direct people’s minds towards heaven, and towards communion with those who have gone before us. Among people there is extraordinary curiosity and much ignorance about the next life. A radio programme asked young people what they thought heaven was like. The replies didn’t bring much reassurance to anyone involved in religious education, but out of the fog came one gem: “Heaven is all God and angels and Our Lady and saints,” or words to that effect. That is a great insight, for heaven is about knowing and loving God and God’s friends, not about harping, or sitting about on clouds, or sheer passivity. You could kick out some other myths too, about all the interesting people being in hell, or how much nicer it would be to be locked out with the five foolish virgins than to be let in with the five wise ones. Heaven is a place of supreme interest, unending interest; hell is isolation, the exile of the merely self-interested.
Heaven begins here, maybe a strange statement from this valley of tears. But we have one guarantee of heaven, the present possession of the Spirit, “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph. 1:13), God’s down-payment, as it were. The Spirit’s dwelling in us, our awareness of having our sins forgiven, the attempt to live the new life – these begin heaven for us, here and now. How else could Paul speak of “heavenly things” when he means those virtues which most fit us to share life and love with other people and with God – compassion, understanding, tolerance, patience, etc.? Whatever is full of love and understanding, and isn’t just lust or exploitation, is a true foretaste of heaven, for heaven is about love and knowledge. God says to us – you must practice on people now those relationships which you hope to have with the Blessed Trinity and all the saints in heaven.
What will it be like? Indescribable says St Paul – 1 Cor. 2:9. Better to ask, what will we be like, and better still, what will we be doing? What a resurrected body is like we can only try to imagine from the appearances of the risen Jesus. To go into them all and their complications would be impossible, but look at today’s Gospel. The key words are continuity and transformation – Jesus is the same but different. Jesus is able to appear and disappear at will, is not subject to the limitations of space and time. He is not immediately recognised, indeed not until understanding and faith begin to dawn, but he is recognised as the same Jesus as before.
Paul in 1 Cor. 15 speaks of a “spiritual body,” by which he does not mean an immaterial body, but a body dominated by the Spirit. We speak of a glorified body, without being able to go much further in explaining what it is. But we, like the risen Christ, will be recognisably the same human persons, and yet radically transformed. We will be able to recognise all our loved ones and enjoy their company. But the important thing is, what will we be doing? Heaven is knowing and loving God. As a young priest I was tremendously impressed with a parish priest, dying of cancer, who looked forward to heaven with anticipation. “I’ve preached about God,” he said, “and heaven, and grace and so on. Soon I’ll really know what they’re like.” Heaven is about understanding, knowledge that does not satiate the mind but totally satisfies it and is never exhausted by the knowing. God is mystery, not a crossword puzzle which once solved is useless. Mystery is something which can be eternally explored while it is really known, if not totally.
The disciples in today’s Gospel had a preview of heaven. They learned about Jesus from his own lips, they shared his table, they were changed from despondency to enthusiasm: “Did not our hearts burn within us?” In our Eucharist we have a preview. We listen to Jesus, go with him to the Father, receive him. “He who eats my flesh has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:54.) But whether the Eucharist changes us and our hearts burn within us depends perhaps on how keenly we listen and how much of our minds and hearts we give to the offering of the sacrifice and the reception of communion.
The Precious Gem Of Faith (John Walsh)
The most precious thing we have as Christians is our faith, our firm belief that God exists, that he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, his divine Son, that by our following of Christ we attain the privilege of being accepted as children of God, and that having lived in communion with God, in him alone we will ultimately find true happiness. When we are completely united with God, then there will be no more sorrows or trials; we will become sharers in his divine life, and our own lives will be complete. The articles of this our faith are more certain than all the discoveries of human wisdom, because they are founded on the word of God, who cannot lie. Of course divine revelation, and the articles of faith which are based on it, can seem obscure and at times difficult to grasp, but as Cardinal Newman once said, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt” (Apologia Pro Vita Sua). And as to difficulties, even the chosen disciples of Jesus himself had a number of these, in particular in coming to terms with his resurrection from the dead. He had said to them at the Last Supper, “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and that joy no one will take from you” (Jn 16:22).
But the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were anything but joyful. Very obviously they were not leaders in the community, but they represented all the followers of Christ generally. The two were troubled, and as yet did not understand why Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb. Neither, at first, did they recognise Jesus, but once recognition came they did not hesitate to believe. This was in complete contrast to the Apostles, who recognised the risen Jesus straightaway, but hesitated to trust their senses. The two at Emmaus, we are told, recognised him in the breaking of bread, and the words used leading up to this, “took, blessed, broke, handed,” are precisely the terms used by Luke in describing the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
This has a special message for us, as to where principally we should seek to find Jesus. For we can take as addressed to us also the promise of Jesus to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will not see me, but you will see me; because I will be alive, and you also will live” (Jn 14:18). Christ is telling his followers, ourselves included, that they will have a new life, a life which will be the result of Christ’s Holy Spirit dwelling within them. At the moment the disciples at Emmaus recognised Christ, we are told that he had already vanished from their sight. This statement is probably intended to bring home to us that Jesus’ miraculous appearance is hardly necessary when one has his presence in the Holy Eucharist. Of course we cannot see Christ, or be aware of his presence in any physical manner. We cannot look at him, hear him, or converse with him. But still in a spiritual, immaterial, inward way, we can really possess him, be aware of him. And, wonderful to say, such possession and awareness can be more real and more present than that which the Apostles enjoyed in the days of his flesh, precisely because it is spiritual, because it is invisible.
Luke says that while Jesus spoke with the two on the road, their hearts burned within them. But at the time this was happening they were not aware of it. Afterwards when Jesus had said the blessing over the bread, it was then their eyes were opened, their faith in him renewed. This is a clear declaration that it is only by faith that the presence of the risen Jesus is recognised, and not by visual means, because Jesus, we are told, had already vanished from their sight when they recognised him. He had passed from being seen without being known, to that of being known without being seen.
This simple and charming story has one great lesson for us all. It tells how the two disciples begged Christ to stay with them, and how they enjoyed his companionship. The word “companion” derives from two Latin words, “cum meaning “together with,” and panis which means “bread,” implying that companionship is the result especially of eating together, breaking bread together, something which is at the heart of the Eucharist. Like the disciples who begged Christ to stay with them, we too must really want him to be present in our hearts and in our lives in order to share in his companionship. This we should do every we time we celebrate the Eucharist together.
Gospel within a Gospel (Jack McArdle)
Today’s gospel is like a gospel within a gospel. The story has so much of what is central to the whole message that it is often used at great length to highlight the core teachings about Jesus and his mission. It is so rich in meaning that it is not possible to deal with it adequately within the confines of a single homily.
For these disciples on the road, it was all over. For the previous few years life had been exciting, and they were in the middle of it all. It is unfair to blame them, but they just hadn’t grasped a great deal of what Jesus had said. We can empathise with them, because mostly we too forget or we fail to take seriously the promises of the Lord. He promised that he would be there for us, that he would never abandon us in the storm, that he would walk every step of the road with us, and that he would bring us safely through the desert and the Red Sea of death into the Promised Land of the Father.
It is more than interesting that Jesus used scripture as his way of enlightening them. Scripture is the word of God. It contains the promises of the Lord, and it reveals the heart of God. The words of scripture are not at all like the words in our daily newspaper. The word of God is empowered as by an electric current, and it is inspired and shot through with the Spirit of God. With God’s word comes the power to respond to that word, and to carry it out. Because of various factors, the study of scripture was not greatly emphasised or appreciated in Catholic circles. It was seen as more of a Protestant thing, and it was something that ordinary lay persons could not be trusted with interpreting properly. That trend, thankfully, is now reversed, and this is an important part of the whole process of church renewal.
It is significant that they recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread. Breaking of bread among friends was a living symbol of friendship and belonging. What was special about the way Jesus broke the bread is something at which I can only hazard a guess. It must have been the whole atmosphere of self-giving that he invested in the act that revealed to them who he really was. There was a level of sincerity, of giving, of sharing, of sacredness that must have been unique to Jesus, and it must have been something they had experienced on previous occasions. This unique something touched their deepest hungers, and the nourishment provided was no longer just a physical thing. It was food that required them to open their hearts as well as their mouths to receive.
Life is a journey made up of many journeys. It is a wonderful gift of God’s Spirit to have the sense of being accompanied on the journey, of being led by the Spirit, of having a sense of direction in life. All of this is only possible through my own personal yes, and my willingness to be open to the accompanying presence of the Lord. “You’ll never walk alone when you walk with God” is an important truth.
The only real sin for the Christian is not to have hope. Because of Jesus we already have the victory. We are a risen people, a people of power, and a people to whom Jesus has entrusted full authority over all the power of the evil one. Again, all of this makes no difference whatever, unless I personally take possession of what Jesus offers me and makes possible for me. Again and again and again I am called on to repeat my own personal yes. The only yes in my whole life the Lord is interested in is my yes of now.
The Church, A Serving Community (Lionel Swain)
The basic message preached by the apostles from the beginning of the Church was that the Messiah, Jesus, fulfilled his mission through humiliation and suffering and by being exalted by God. In Jewish thought, Messiah and messianic community go hand in hand. If Jesus is the suffering, servant Messiah, his community must, necessarily, be a suffering, servant community. The Church is indeed endowed with the Holy Spirit which Jesus, in Peter’s words at Pentecost, has ‘received from the Father’ (Acts 2:33). But Jesus acquired this Holy Spirit at the price of suffering and, to be worthy of this gift, his Church must also suffer. This in one consequence of being ‘baptized’ into Christ.
Jesus’ suffering was not sought for its own sake. He was no masochist. His suffering and death were the inevitable, result of his commitment to his mission in the situation in which he found himself. This mission was one of service towards his fellow human beings, the most useful service, that of revealing to them God’s true identity and, in the process, our own true identity.
As we saw last Sunday, the Church’s mission is the prolongation of Jesus’ own mission. It is Christ’s presence in the world. As such, it has the duty to proclaim Christ’s victory of death and to hold out the hope of eternal happiness, to all men. But we should never forget or neglect the tiny word ‘as’ in Jesus’ commission to his disciples: ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’ (John 20:21). Our mission is identical with Jesus’ not only in its result but also in its manner. Jesus accomplished his mission as a servant, we continue this mission as servants. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples with the wounds of his suffering (John 20:20). Similarly, the disciples recognized Jesus at Emmaus only ‘in the breaking of the bread’. This ‘breaking of the bread’ is neither a simple meal nor a mere ritual. It is a celebration of service. At the Last Supper (as, doubtless, at all Jesus’ meals with his disciples), the breaking of the bread represented Jesus’ ‘breaking’ of his life in the service of his fellows, in the fulfilment of his mission, His ‘giving’ of this bread to his disciples and its being ‘eaten’ by them represented their sharing not only in the result of his mission but also in his life-giving mission itself. He commanded them to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Cor. 11:25). The ‘this’ in question is not a mere ritual. It is the reality of service symbolized by the ‘breaking of the bread’. The Church has been commanded to ‘break’ itself in the service of others.
At every Mass we re-live the Emmaus experience. When two or three of us are together, Christ is already with us. In the readings from the Scriptures and their explanation we are reminded of his mission. But it is only in the ‘breaking of the bread’ that we fully realize his presence. The disciples at Emmaus recognized Christ not in the bread, but in the breaking of the bread, in an activity, a behaviour. Similarly, we can recognise the true Christ, and ourselves as his true Church, only in the breaking of bread, that is, in the Eucharist considered as the sign or the ‘sacrament’ of a whole lifestyle of service.
A Great Story (Alex McAllister)
Often I hear myself from this lectern saying that this or that Gospel reading is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. But surely today’s story of the disciples going to Emmaus must be in the Bible’s Top Ten. Many of my friends tell me that it is their favourite and I certainly would include it in my list of Desert Island Bible Stories.
Why? Because it is such a human story, and it is about one of the greatest mysteries we know: the encounter with the risen Lord in the Eucharist. It tells us the about this great sacrament we celebrate here each day. One writer I know reckons that because it says that there were two disciples but only one name Cleopas is given, the other disciple must have been his wife. It is thought that if this is the same Cleopas of John 19:25 then his wife Mary was one of the women at the foot of the cross.
If this is correct it gives a wonderfully new dimension to the story. The Eucharist is about sharing, there is no closer sharing of two people than in the sacrament of marriage. What a wonderful thing to have happened that the first celebration of the Eucharist after the Last Supper should by with the risen Lord himself with a married couple.
He made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. “It is nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. Things were no different then to what they are now. It was not safe to continue a long journey on foot in the dark. So out of concern for his welfare and because they were so engrossed in hearing what he had to say about the scriptures and how these made sense of the events they had witnessed in Jerusalem they press him to stay with them. These are some of the details that give this Gospel story the ring of truth. We have no difficulty in seeing ourselves in the situation and doing the same. Two thousand years may have passed by but human nature remains the same.
He stayed with them and enjoyed their hospitality, and then during the meal he took their bread and broke it. This is another little detail which is worth drawing attention to. Jesus did not give them something, he took what they had given him. He said the blessing, broke it and gave it back to them. It is in this wonderful exchange of gifts that the Eucharist takes place.
We get back what we give. It is like the story of the rich man going to heaven being shown the mansions in which the poor live who was put out when shown the hovel he was expected to live in. St Peter said: ‘But we can only build with what you send on ahead.’
Perhaps Jesus only gives us what we give him, but he transforms it and becomes part of it. We give him our time in prayer, we give him our tongue when we speak the truth, we give him our hands when we help the weak, we give him our feet when we visit the sick, we give him our minds when we study the Gospels, we give him so many things. And he blesses them and breaks them and returns them to us. But they are returned transformed. They have been broken which means that they bear the imprint of the cross. But it also means that they have been shared. Our gifts to him are returned with a blessing. They bring blessings on us and on the whole Christian community. They have helped to make us community.
There is great work going on in the parish and it is the work of the Lord. He is in our midst, just as he was in the midst of those two disciples at Emmaus. And just as they were galvanised into action through their recognition of him in the Eucharist so are many people in this parish.
When he left them, their faith made them them fearless, they had to tell the Apostles as soon as they could what had happened. So they set out as it says that instant to bring the Good News to them. What a wonderful sense of urgency; they couldn’t wait until the safety of daylight, robbers, muggers, wild animals didn’t bother them now. It had to be done immediately. In our Mass we hear the scriptures explained to us, we share the breaking of the bread, but do we leave with the same kind of urgency to convey the Good News to others? At any rate, just hearing what those disciples did makes our hearts burn within us.
First Reading: Acts 2:14, 32-33
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say…
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.
Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 1:17-21
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, becase it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.