Another appearance of the Risen Christ is the focus of the gospel reading, with the others picking up reflections from before or after the event that cast light on its meaning for our lives now.
Acts of the Apostles 3:13-15, 17-19
Luke is the only writer in the New Testament to follow his Gospel with a history of the first days of the Church after the Ascension of Jesus. Acts includes a number of speeches, which are summaries rather than word for word transcriptions. The first ones have many references to the Resurrection and so are good selections for the Easter season. In those first days, Peter was addressing the Jews and like a good preacher, he includes things they already know and relates them to the new gospel he brings. He is speaking with the boldness that came from the Holy Spirit, an account we will hear at Pentecost.
1 John 2:1-5
The writer of this Letter often speaks in ‘black and white’ about good and evil as if there was no middle ground where we may fail, but not be condemned. Here he brings that reassurance: if we sin or fail to live up to the loving commandments of God, we can always find forgiveness in Jesus.
‘Truth’ is an important concept in the writings named for ‘John’, and it means more than the way usually understood today of something ‘actually happening’. It is perhaps closer to our idea of the fullness of ‘what is really real’.
‘To know’ is also more than just a mental understanding, but refers to taking something on in depth and experiencing it. If we truly ‘know’ God, we act out of understanding of his love for us and the love he commands us to share.
The opening of this reading refers to the verses just preceding, which are not read at Sunday mass in Year B. They record the first appearance of the risen Jesus in Luke to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Good to read if you are not familiar with the story (Luke 24:13-35).
Today’s selection is the climax of Luke’s gospel with an appearance to a larger group of disciples just before Jesus ascends to his Father in heaven. They are ‘startled’ and ‘terrified’, common reactions in the Bible to something that seems to come from a world outside our normal experience. They think first of a spirit appearing – like our idea of a ghost – without a real body. To make the reality of his new kind of life, Jesus asks for some food and as they watch him eat, they begin to accept the reality of his humanity. And they see that somehow the wounds of the cross are still apparent, as they were to Thomas in John’s Gospel. Though no longer causing pain, this record of his willingness to suffer until death has now become a glorious remembrance. Luke has often mentioned ‘joy’ but here the disciples seem almost delirious in their happiness. He also shows an astuteness about how hard it was to take in fully, as people often say now, ‘it’s too good to be true’.
Luke explains that the disciples did not fully understand the meaning of Jesus’ death and rising as part of God’s loving will until he taught them how it was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. As witnesses to how this scripture was carried out in Jesus, the disciples are now to preach to all nations. Luke can imagine a long time span, as we know it in history. Some other New Testament writings show the expectation of Jesus’ ‘Second Coming’ happening very soon, or are concerned to explain the delay.
Jerusalem has played an important part in Luke’s gospel, and now the new era will start there. But, Luke stresses, from now on it will be no longer limited to the Holy City and the Jewish people. The events in Acts, which is a sequel of this Gospel, will show the Good News spreading out until it reaches the capital of the empire in Rome which for that time was representative of the ‘whole world’. We now are heirs to that promise and it’s fulfilment.