APRIL 14, 2024

Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4;
I John 2: 1-5a; Luke 24: 35-48

By Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

The gospel opens with the two disciples, who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, recounting their experience: how they recognized Jesus when he broke the bread. Today’s scene takes place in Jerusalem. For Luke the gospel began when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the Jerusalem Temple. Now Luke’s gospel is ending with Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem and later their blessing God in the temple (24: 52-23).

For Luke the resurrection fulfills the Scriptures. He stresses that the reality of the risen Jesus was not an illusion, or just a spirit. In the gospel the disciples are trying to make sense of what happened. Jesus’ death was a big letdown for those who had hoped he would set Israel free. But then, like the two disciples in the opening verses of today’s gospel, his followers began to spread the news that he was alive.

While the two disciples were speaking, Jesus appeared in their midst. He invited them to touch and see that it was truly him. Even more, he ate with them. Pure spirits, or phantoms, cannot be touched, nor do they eat. Luke is emphasizing that Jesus rose in his body. To help their understanding Jesus invites the disciples to recall the Scriptures (e.g. Psalm 22; Isaiah 53, etc.) and the words he previously spoke to them and to see that he had fulfilled their promise.

There is the lead in for us: the Scriptures can help us come to the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus opens the Scriptures to us too: when we turn to them with grateful hearts and prayers of thanks; when we are startled and afraid; when we come up against roadblocks life puts in front of us; when we have met a dead end and stumble in our faith; when we need our minds open to God and God’s ways; when we need our faith bolstered to believe Jesus is risen; when we need to witness to others by our words and the way we live. Christ is risen from the dead and is with us now. For this and more, Jesus opens the Scriptures to us.

Here is something to ponder: what if we didn’t have Easter? What if we didn’t believe in the resurrection? We would not be Christian. If we were, it would be more like belonging to a social club with like-minded folks. There would be no saints present, or past, to imitate, admire and pray to. Death would be the end, a tragic conclusion to our lives. Whatever good we did would mostly dissolve when we died. Without the resurrection what kind of moral system would we have? What about our principles concerning the dignity of each person and our responsibility to care for the least and voiceless in our society?

But Christ did rise from the dead and all things are not as they first appear, because God is at work in our world, even if we do not always understand how and where. Believing in the resurrection sustains our faith and increases our love of God. Our hope for what we do not yet see sustains our patience and empowers the particular works we do for the reign of God. The violence and darkness in our world seems to contradict our faith. But we have Easter and we believe God has overcome sin and death and Christ is alive working in powerful, if sometimes unrecognizable ways. Our hope yields to patience in the ways of our loving God.

We try to be optimistic in the face of suffering and loss. People attempt to comfort us saying, “Don’t worry things will get better.” Or, as the poet Shelley said, “If winter comes can spring be far behind?” (“Ode to the West Wind”). But it is not a matter of optimism, or trying harder. Resurrection is unnatural, it is sheer grace as was the way God created out of nothing.

Resurrection calls us to believe in a God who makes possible what is impossible; not for the sake of show or spectacle, but to save us. We have done nothing, nor can we do anything, to save ourselves. Eternal life is sheer gift.

Saint Luke didn’t write this story for those first disciples. The “word of God in the flesh” was right there in front of them: visible, explaining, giving courage, guiding and comforting, asking, “Why are you troubled?” This is the closing scene in Luke’s gospel. he was writing for his community of believers in the year 80 or 90; years after this event and Jesus’ departure.

Like us, Luke’s community had not seen the risen Christ in the flesh, neither had Luke. Like us, they need reassurance that Christ had truly risen from the dead and was among them. Like us, life sometimes overwhelmed them, leaving them with questions, confusion and doubts. Luke needed to show his contemporaries how their faith could be strengthened; how Jesus wasn’t a past tense phenomenon, merely a great historical figure, now long gone.

There in the Scriptures, guided by the Spirit, we discover our Easter God, who transforms frightened disciples into bold witnesses, willing to die for their Lord. just as he instructed those first disciples. Through the Scriptures the Spirit, who raised Jesus to new life and instructed the first disciples, beckons us to leave the safety of the tried and true and trust in Christ’s invitation to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all the nations.

Have we considered turning to the Scriptures during this Easter season to deepen our faith in the resurrected Christ? No historical “proof” is going to convince us that through Jesus’ death and resurrection God has fulfilled God’s promises. Luke tells us that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” We pray for his Spirit to do the same for us so that we, like the first disciples, can become “witnesses of these things.”

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