3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER (B) April 18, 2021

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

By Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Today’s gospel passage from Luke begins, "The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread." It is a shame we don’t hear the first part of the story to learn, "what had taken place on the way." So let’s back up a little bit.

In my Bible the preceding section to today’s episode is entitled, "The Road to Emmaus." That is when the risen Christ appeared to two disciples traveling from Jerusalem. It is after the death of Jesus and the two travelers were disappointed by the tragic events in Jerusalem. They tell the "stranger," who drew near to walk with them, what had happened to Jesus. They add sadly, "But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel…(24:21)." There is great disappointment in what they tell Jesus, whom they don’t recognize. Their high hopes for themselves and, indeed for all the people of Israel, were dashed with his death. Nothing left for these forlorn disciples to do but return to Emmaus and their former lives.

Jesus helps the two see that what happened to him was actually a fulfillment of the Scriptures. The disciples are intrigued and they invite the stranger to stay with them. He does and when he blesses and breaks bread they recognize him – and then he is gone. They came to recognize the risen Christ through the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread. Luke’s community would have gotten the message: that the risen Christ was with them each time they celebrated breaking open the Scriptures and sharing the bread. It is about how we also come to experience the risen Lord – in the Eucharist.

That is what the two disciples bring back to the community in Jerusalem: the good news of how they met the risen Christ on the road. And that is where today’s gospel passage picks up: two disciples sharing their faith in the risen Lord to a fragile and struggling faith community. But the message wasn’t just for that first community of believers, it is also for us because we also struggle to hold on to a faith tested by external and internal threatening forces.

During these pandemic days, even though we may not personally be experiencing serious hardships, we do seem surrounded by crises in families, our communities, nation and the world. Under such stress many people struggle in their faith wondering: "Where is God in all this?" Especially at Easter time, when we celebrate the risen Christ, we might be tempted to ask: "Where is he now, when we need him?"

When people in crisis come to today’s gospel story they are attempted with the, "if only’s..." "If only I had been there with those frightened disciples when Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst." "If only I had seen his wounded hands, side and feet." "If only I had watched him eat that baked fish, I would have told him of my own hungers to know him, and trust him better."

A question arises when we read the scene of Jesus appearing in the midst of his frightened disciples: Why did he bother to explain the scriptures to them? He didn’t have to prove anything, he was right there in front of them. Wasn’t that enough?

Jesus helped his frightened disciples come to believe in him. First, he shows them his wounds, a reminder that God did not pay a drop-in visit on us and leave when things got tough. No, God went all the way with us. In his gospel Luke has told the story of how Jesus knew pain, hesitancy and fear as he faced death…just like us...and, as a reminder to them, Jesus shows the disciples his wounds. Then, he did for them what he did for the two on the road. Through the Scriptures he opened their minds to understand what had happened to him. Luke emphasizes the role the Word of God plays in opening the eyes of disciples.

Jesus opens the Scriptures for us too: when we turn to them with grateful hearts and prayers of thanks; when, like those first disciples, we are startled and afraid; when we come up against roadblocks life puts in our way; when we have met a dead end and stumble in our faith; when we need our minds opened to God and God’s ways; when we need our faith strengthened to believe that Jesus is truly risen; when we want to witness to others that Christ alive and with us now. For this and more, Jesus opens the Scriptures to us.

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. Through the Scriptures the Spirit moves us from every Good Friday nightmare to an Easter hope of possibility. Through the Scriptures we are guided by the Spirit to meet the risen Lord who befriends us as we seek him in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus to new life, beckons us through the Scriptures to leave the loss of the tomb and trust in Christ’s invitation to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations, starting now. Just as he instructed those first disciples we can trust that the Spirit of the risen Christ is with us, sending us to be his witnesses of hope to a despondent and pandemic-weary world.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: