Our liturgy celebrates Easter till Pentecost, but it can be a challenge in the modern world to live for 50 days in the spirit of the Resurrection – much less continue to wish people ‘Happy Easter’ during all that time! We frequently heard the question, ‘What are you doing for Lent? – the 40 days of penance? Should we also ask, ‘What am I doing for Easter – for 50 days of joy?’
Acts 2:14, 22-33
As last week, the first reading is from Acts showing how the early Church preached the Resurrection after their empowerment by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Peter speaks boldly to a crowd in Jerusalem, showing how he has been strengthened since the time he fearfully denied being a follower of Jesus during the Passion. The Resurrection of Jesus would have happened shortly before this event, but remains the everlasting message of the church. Peter first makes the announcement of Christ risen, but then draws on the scriptures accepted by both the Jews and the Christians – our ‘Old Testament’ – to show how it fit into God’s plan of redemption. He quotes first from the prophet Joel (in verses omitted in our reading) promising the outpouring of the Spirit which had just taken place. Our selection takes up when he summarizes Jesus’ ministry, death and rising.
The quotation is from Psalm 15/16:8-11. At that time all 150 psalms were credited to David, while modern scholars now distinguish different authors and times, but the message is the same: the one who wrote the psalm speaks of not ‘experiencing’ corruption but still death would have come to the Psalmist at the normal end of life. Luke shows how early the Church found Jewish scriptures about God’s dealing with people in the past had come true more deeply in the life of Jesus.
Psalm 15/16:1-2, 5, 7-11
These are more verses from the same psalm, full of the confidence of Jesus in his Father, a confidence we are invited to share.
I Peter 1:17-21
Another lesson from the Letter of St Peter, here drawing out the meaning of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. ‘Ransom’ is one image of how Christ’s salvation works for us. All human language has to be stretched, as it were, in dealing with the mysteries of God, and details cannot be pressed too far. Unlike making a worldly ‘ransom’, Jesus was not paying another being for our freedom and salvation but he did so at a ‘cost’ of suffering which became the way to glory. Remembering the pain Jesus went through, Peter says, should make us careful to avoid all sinfulness while living in hope of our resurrection as well.
This Resurrection appearance of Christ is only in Luke’s gospel, and in his typical style, he creates a dramatic scene that invites deeper reflection. The names Emmaus and Cleopas come to him from the tradition, and are not found elsewhere. Attempts to identify the site of Emmaus have been just guesswork; for Luke the point is that they had left Jerusalem, the place of their expectations, but were in walking distance to return the same day. The disciple with Cleopas is not named, but since the pair seem to reach their own home where they invite Jesus to stay, they are probably husband and wife. The darkness they experienced when Jesus was killed instead of fulfilling their hopes of some earthly leadership was no doubt typical of many at this time of those who had followed Jesus and were devastated by the Passion events.
Not recognizing the risen Jesus is also found in other Resurrection appearances. Perhaps people never expecting to see him alive is one reason for this, but there may also be some differences in his appearance – certainly from the moments they saw last him tortured on the cross and dead. Jesus, with a note of reproach which may have expressed some affection as well, gives them a lesson in scriptural interpretation. Luke does not give even one example of a text and this suggests that Jesus spoke of the underlying direction of all the Old Testament. Showing, from the beginning of the Five Books of Moses, the various ways God was seen dealing with a rebellious humanity that was slow to respond to God’s merciful and enduring love. (The two texts that most clearly describe redemption through an innocent suffering for others are Psalm 21/22 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12.)
‘The breaking of the bread’ could mean just sharing a meal, but in Acts is the way that Luke describes the Eucharist. It is not made clear how they ‘recognized’ Jesus in his action – if he had spoken again the words of consecration he used at the Last Supper, it would have been a dramatic revelation. Or it may be that in the intimate setting of an evening meal, they were able to see their Lord as he was now – changed but truly himself. The quick ‘vanishing from sight’ occurs in other Resurrection accounts, pointing out how Jesus in his glorious body is not restrained by our space-time. It also indicates a new kind of presence: he will not stay bodily with them for very long, and they will have to trust in the new reality without being able to point to Jesus among them as proof.
The conclusion of the story was probably a way Luke shows the resurrection is ‘available’ to those who did not see the risen Christ during the 50 days till he ascended to heaven. It is a model of Christian worship, where we still today begin mass with listening to scripture, then celebrate the ‘breaking of the bread.’ We are each week invited to find Jesus risen and ascended in the heart-stirring words of the Bible, and to share his real presence on our altars and with us in our community – just as surely as he sat at the table with disciples in Emmaus.
Alternate opening prayer:
Father in heaven, author of all truth, a people once in darkness has listened to your Word and followed your Son as he rose from the tomb. Hear the prayer of this new-born people and strengthen your church to answer your call. May we rise and come forth into the light of day to stand in your presence until eternity dawns.