20 April, 2017. Easter Thursday
1st Reading: Acts 3:11-26
Peter describes Jesus as holy and righteous, the One who is victorious over death
While the cured man clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.” And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, “And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
Gospel: Luke 24:35-48
The risen Christ sits at table with his friends, and outlines their future missionary calling
The disciples told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then 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, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Peter’s Easter spirit
Peter shares his conviction that Jesus embodies and fulfils all that the Jews had hoped, over many centuries. According to him, “All the prophets have announced the events of these days.” This echoes what Jesus himself said on the evening of Easter day, “Everything written about me in Moses and the prophets had to be fulfilled.” The underlying belief is that God’s plans and predictions are thoroughly enmeshed in human existence, and are being carried out, across the long sweep of history. Generations of people have found their hopes sustained, their trials overcome, their laws and habits purified, under the influence of God’s prompting Spirit. We in turn ought to become witnesses to this, to our generation.
In a spirit of reconciliation, Peter maintains that the people acted “out of ignorance.” It is perhaps easier for us to admit that our lives are guided by divine providence than to accept that this providence-led journey of ours can sometimes include such awkward features as ignorance and malice. But if we are to be sincere, our past ignorance and that of our church has to be admitted and dealt with, not ignored. In our church’s recent past, how much harm was caused by misguided attempts to cover up wrongdoing, rather than dealing with it. Thankfully, having leaned from bitter experience, under the leadership of Pope Francis our church has adopted more effective practices for protecting the weak from abuse, no matter what. As St. Peter says, God will not condemn us for what we never intended to do. He asks us to be peaceful in the face of many events that are outside of our control. The Scriptures tell us that the redemption of the world by Jesus was achieved in spite of the ignorant and impulsive actions of those who rejected him. God can indeed write straight, even with crooked lines!
Hard to take it in
Luke’s account in today’s gospel shows the great difficulty the disciples had believing that it was the same Jesus they had come to know and love who was now standing before them. They thought they were seeing a ghost and their joy was so great that they could not believe it, and they stood dumbfounded. Clearly it took the disciples a while to take in the good news of Easter. They had been so scared by the crucifixion a few days earlier that they struggled to believe that Jesus was alive with a powerful new life. It was too much for them.
Even today we struggle to take in the good news of Easter, to really believe it. We find it easier to identify with the death of Jesus than with his resurrection. We can easily connect with his suffering because of the suffering in our own lives. Like the disciples we stand before the good news of Easter dumbfounded, struggling to believe. Perhaps that is why we need the seven weeks of the Easter season to take it all in. We need time to recognize that the risen Lord is indeed standing among us, saying to us what he said to his disciples in the gospel, “Peace be with you.” He offers us that peace of mind and heart which is the fruit of his love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. As we allow ourselves to receive this gift of his reconciling love he sends us out as agents of reconciliation, as his peacemakers, just as he sent out the disciples in the gospel.