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April 30, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A - April 30th, 2017 

Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:14, 22b-33) presents us with the first of six discourses (along with Acts 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41) dealing with the Resurrection of Jesus and its Messianic significance. Five of these are attributed to Peter; the final one to Paul. We may call these discourses in Acts the kerygma, the Greek word for “proclamation” (1 Corinthians 15:11). In this first of Peter’s discourses we can distinguish an introduction and two parts: in the first part (2:16-21) he is explaining that the Messianic times foretold by Joel have now arrived; in the second (2:22-36) he proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Jews crucified, is the Messiah promised by God and eagerly awaited by the righteous of the Old Testament: it is he who has effected God’s saving plan for mankind. 

To demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah foretold by the prophets, Peter reminds his listeners of our Lord’s miracles (2:22), as well as of his death (2:23), Resurrection (2:24-32) and glorious Ascension (2:33-35). Peter’s address ends with a brief summary (2:36). Peter was able to declare the message that can change the life of any one who hears it. That message has not changed nor lost its power in our day. It is a message that still brings hope to the hopeless, life to those dead in sin, and forgiveness to those struggling under the burden of their sins. 

A catechetical and liturgical story 

The Emmaus story of today’s Gospel is at the heart of Luke’s resurrection chapter (24). Luke’s story of the two disciples on the road (24:13-35) focuses on the interpretation of Scripture by the Risen Jesus and the recognition of him in the breaking of the bread. The references to the quotations of Scripture and explanation of it (24:25-27), the kerygmatic proclamation (24:34), and the liturgical gesture (24:30) suggest that the episode is primarily catechetical and liturgical rather than apologetic. 

When we meet the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is evening, and the glow of that first Easter day has begun to fade. Resurrection at this point is nothing more than a rumour or a tale. Buried beneath their verbal exchange lies a deep yearning and a holy hunger. Intimately intertwined with their skepticism is their hope, and their need for God to be alive, vibrant, and present in their world of death. But the baggage of their doubt impedes the fervour of their faith and they fail to recognize Jesus. Without being aware of what they are really saying along the road, the two disciples profess many of the central elements of the Creed of the Christian faith yet they remain blind to the necessity of the Messianic suffering predicted in the Scriptures. 

The stranger on the road to Emmaus takes the skepticism and curiosity of the disciples and weaves them into the fabric of the Scripture. Jesus challenges them to reinterpret the events of the past days in light of the Scriptures. However, Cleopas and his companion are “foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have said!” (24:25) The Messiah had to suffer and die in order to enter into his glory. Luke is the only New Testament writer to speak explicitly of a suffering Messiah (Luke 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23). The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish literature prior to the New Testament period, although the idea is hinted at in Mark 8:31-33. 

Finally in the intimacy of the breaking of the bread were their eyes opened and they recognized the Risen One in their midst. At Emmaus, the Risen Christ performs the same basic actions that he performed at the multiplication of the loaves (9:16) and at the Last Supper (22:17-20). The many meals of Jesus, especially his Last Supper, can be said to be in the background of the evangelist’s mind in describing this moment of recognition (cf. Luke 5:29; 7:36; 14:1, 12, 15, 16; 22:14). With this experience of the Risen Jesus, the Emmaus disciples believe. 

Understanding the Resurrection therefore implies a two-fold process of knowing the message of the Scriptures and experiencing the one about whom they all speak: Jesus the Lord, through the breaking and sharing of bread with the community of believers. 

The journey motif 

The journey motif of the Emmaus story is not only a matter of the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, but also of the painful and gradual journey of words that must descend from the head to the heart; of a coming to faith, of a return to a proper relationship with the stranger who is none other than Jesus the Lord. The Lord always listens to us and is always there. It is part of the Lord’s pedagogy with regard to his disciples to always listen to them, especially when times are hard, when one has fallen, experiences doubt, disillusionment, and frustration. His words make the hearts of the disciples “burn” – they remove them from the darkness of sadness and desperation, provoking in them the desire to remain with him: “Stay with us, Lord” (24:29). 

The dejected disciples begin to change only when they are enlightened by the Risen Christ, who explains from the Sacred Scriptures how God works in a resistant world and among resistant, sinful people like us. It is indeed an ironic victory because the forces of rejection and experiences of suffering and sinfulness, themselves, become the means by which God’s purpose is accomplished in the world! 

Words that transmit life 

Allow me to share with you a very striking section on “The Duty to Evangelize” (#2) from the Lineamenta (“preparatory document”) for the 2012 Synod of Bishops on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” This passage offers a unique perspective on today’s Emmaus story: 

The words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35) illustrate that proclaiming Christ is open to failure; their words were incapable of transmitting life. In recounting their frustration and loss of hope, the two disciples proclaimed someone who was dead (cf. Lk 24:21-24). For the Church in every age, their words speak of the possibility of a proclamation which, instead of giving life, keeps both those who proclaim and those who hear bound in the death of the Christ proclaimed. The transmission of the faith is never an individual, isolated undertaking, but a communal, ecclesial event. It must not consider responses as a matter of researching an effective plan of communication and even less analytically concentrating on the hearers, for example, the young. Instead, these responses must be done as something which concerns the one called to perform this spiritual work. It must become what the Church is by her nature. In this way, the matter is placed in context and treated correctly and not extrinsically, namely, by placing at the centre of discussion the entire Church in all she is and all she does. Perhaps in this way the problem of unfruitfulness in evangelization and catechesis today can be seen as an ecclesiological problem which concerns the Church’s capacity, more or less, of becoming a real community, a true fraternity and a living body, and not a mechanical thing or enterprise.

Questions for reflection this week 

1) As Church, as pastoral ministers, as lay leaders, have we ever felt that our words are incapable of transmitting life to others? Have we proclaimed someone who was dead rather than the living Lord? How have our words and the message of the Church kept people bound in the death of the Christ proclaimed? 

2) What prevents us from becoming a real community, a true fraternity, and a living body, rather than a mechanical thing or enterprise? 

3) What have been the historical events that have influenced, hindered, and impeded our proclamation and our way of being Church? How have certain events helped us to refine and rethink our proclamation? 

4) What does the Spirit say to our Church through these events? What new forms of evangelization is the Spirit teaching us and requiring of us? 

We are once again pilgrims 

During my first visit to the French ecumenical community of Taizé many years ago, I heard this meditation offered by the late Brother Roger Schutz and his community. It has remained with me ever since.

We are once again pilgrims on the road to Emmaus… 

Our heads are bowed as we meet the Stranger 

who draws near and comes with us. 

As evening comes, we strain to make out His face 

while he talks to us, to our hearts. 

In interpreting the Book of Life, 

He takes our broken hopes and kindles them into fire: 

the way becomes lighter as, 

drawing the embers together, we learn to fan the flame. 

If we invite Him this evening, He will sit down 

and together we shall share the meal. 

And then all those who no longer believed 

will see and the hour of Recognition will come. 

He will break the bread of tears at the table of the poor 

and each will receive manna to their fill. 

We shall return to Jerusalem to proclaim aloud 

what He has whispered in our ear. 

And no doubt we shall find brothers and sisters there 

who will greet us with the words: 

“We too have met Him!” 

For we know: the mercy of God 

has come to visit the land of the living