APRIL 30TH, 2017: THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
"You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem.
Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
You who are Israelites, hear these words.
Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God
with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs,
which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God,
you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
because it was impossible for him to be held by it.
For David says of him:
I saw the Lord ever before me,
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted;
my flesh, too, will dwell in hope,
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.
"My brothers, one can confidently say to you
about the patriarch David that he died and was buried,
and his tomb is in our midst to this day.
But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him
that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,
he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ,
that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld
nor did his flesh see corruption.
God raised this Jesus;
of this we are all witnesses.
Exalted at the right hand of God,
he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father
and poured him forth, as you see and hear."
If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially
according to each one's works,
conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,
realizing that 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.
He was known before the foundation of the world
but revealed in the final time for you,
who through him believe in God
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.
That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus' disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them,
"What are you discussing as you walk along?"
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
"Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?"
And he replied to them, "What sort of things?"
They said to him,
"The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see."
And he said to them, "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?"
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, "Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over."
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
"Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the eleven and those with them who were saying,
"The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!"
Then the two recounted
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
Many of us are so accustomed to relating only to the institutional church that we can’t appreciate the early church’s quest to relate to the risen Jesus. The first followers of Jesus presumed he/she was with them as a “new creation,” a unique individual. As Paul reminded his Galatian community in chapter 3 of his letter to them, the risen Jesus is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.
There’s a huge difference between biblical resurrection and resuscitation. Technically speaking, Jarius’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son and Jesus’ friend Lazarus weren’t raised from the dead; they were resuscitated. Though clinically dead, when Jesus brings them back to life, they’re basically the same persons they were before they died. When Jesus, for instance, tells Mr. and Mrs. Jarius to give their resuscitated daughter something to eat, I take for granted if the girl like pepperoni pizzas before she died, they’d naturally pop a pepperoni pizza into the microwave for her now.
On the other hand, someone raised from the dead is a completely new person. He or she is no longer subject to the restrictions that limit you and me: constraints like culture, genetics, and gender. Resurrection breaks down all those barriers. In Scripture, only Jesus is raised from the dead; everyone else who comes back to life is simply resuscitated. This is the one of a kind person biblical Christians expect to surface in their everyday lives.
In doing so, they’re simply replicating the experience of Jesus’ first followers. As Peter states in today’s Acts passage: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” Somehow, somewhere they came face to face with this new creation.
The big question is, “How did they do this? How does one encounter such a unique individual?”
Between the time Jesus rose from the dead (@30 CE) and Luke composed his double volume work (@85 CE) the Christian community had about 55 years to hone the process, to work on developing the details of today’s gospel pericope – the first time in Luke’s gospel that someone actually recognizes the risen Jesus.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t meet the pair head on; coming from Jerusalem, he overtakes them. He’d warned his disciples not to leave the city until after they’d received the Holy Spirt. These two (probably Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas) are disobeying his orders. In his conversation with them, he first insists they appreciate the necessity of his dying before he could rise. Then he “opens” the Scriptures, demonstrating how he’s mirrored in those sacred writings. Eventually agreeing to stay with them, he finally makes himself known to the couple “in the breaking of bread.”
Scholars point out that, in this encounter, Luke is describing a Eucharist: initially depicting the liturgy of the word, then the liturgy of the bread. In his theology, it was during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper – in the “breaking of bread” - that Christians should most expect to encounter the risen Jesus. He clearly puts that theology on the lips of the out-of-breath couple when they return to Jerusalem.
Luke isn’t just talking about “going to Mass.” Agreeing with Paul’s I Corinthians 11 reflection on the Eucharist, he’s convinced the Lord’s Supper provides us the best opportunity to die to ourselves, become one with all those around us, and actually “recognize the body” of Christ present in our midst. Any other frame of mind during the Eucharist is what the author of I Peter calls “futile conduct.”
If we don’t know how to die right here and now by correctly participating in the Eucharist, we’ll probably have to wait until after our physical deaths to encounter the risen Jesus. What a waste of a life-time!