The Third Sunday of Easter [A]

The Third Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 2:14, 22-28  +  1 Pt 1:17-21  +  Lk 24:13-35
April 30, 2017

“That very day, the first day of the week….”  St. Luke the Evangelist tells us that today’s Gospel passage is set on Easter Sunday, the very day of Jesus’ Resurrection.  Though we are living two weeks after Easter Sunday, the Church continues to meditate on that Day which is “the heart” of the Easter Season.

On that original Easter Sunday, “two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus….”  These two disciples are us:  all of us who are disciples of Jesus.  At times we wander away from God.  These two particular disciples are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the scene of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  They are moving on with their lives.  Though they have heard some rumor that Jesus was still alive, these two obviously haven’t put much faith in the story.  After all, they’re walking away from Jerusalem, away from any chance of seeing this Jesus who supposedly had risen from the dead.

How fitting that these two disciples represent all of us.  How often are we, like these two, lukewarm in our faith.  Rather than holding fast to our faith and making it the center of our lives, we walk away from opportunities to meet Jesus face-to-face.  We hear that these two were “conversing and debating… about all the things that had occurred”, but nonetheless, they are walking away from the city where Jesus rose from the dead.

And yet, while these two doubting disciples were walking away from Jerusalem, what happened?  “Jesus Himself drew near and walked with them….”  Here we see Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  Next Sunday we will hear Jesus use the image of the Good Shepherd to explain that His Mission is to seek out those who have wandered away from Him.  But today, we see Jesus living out this mission.  We see Jesus acting as the Good Shepherd.  How many thousands of His sheep are waiting for Him within the gates of Jerusalem, waiting in faith for Him to appear to them in His Risen Flesh.  And yet here is Jesus, walking seven miles out of His way in order to bring these two wandering disciples back into the fold.

As we ponder today’s Gospel passage, we should take comfort if we are followers of Jesus who sometimes wander away from Him and His teachings.  We can take comfort in the fact that the patience, compassion, and love which He is showing to these two doubting disciples are the same patience, compassion, and love that He has for us at every moment of our lives.  It doesn’t matter where or how far we might wander away.

This Good Shepherd asks these doubting disciples, “What are you discussing as you walk along?”  The two disciples, not recognizing Jesus by sight or even by His voice, recount the events of the past few days.  They also recount what their most fervent hope had been:  “that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.”  The doubting disciples believe this hope has been shattered.  Why?  Because Jesus had died.  The death of Jesus shattered their hope.  It seems obvious to the doubting disciples that someone who has died can do nothing for anyone.  In walking away—downcast—from Jerusalem, the doubting disciples are expressing their lack of faith.  They are walking away from the Cross, and away from the Resurrection.

To this, Jesus speaks harsh words:  “Oh, how foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe….  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?”  This is such a simple truth of our Christian faith, yet how slow we are to believe this.  How slow we are to believe this truth that Saint Francis of Assisi used to end his prayer:  that “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

The Cross—the death of Jesus—cannot destroy our hope.  Instead, the Cross of Jesus IS our hope.  That is why we put the crucifix on display in our Catholic homes, in our workplaces, and above the very center of our sanctuaries.  The crucifix is the visual expression of that truth that is at the heart of our Catholic Faith:  that “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

And so Jesus goes through the entire body of Jewish Scripture with these doubting disciples, “interpreting to them what referred to Him”, showing them that the Christ would have to suffer death in order to be “the one to redeem Israel”, and not only Israel, but the entire world.  The disciples reveal later that as Jesus was proclaiming the Scriptures to them, their hearts were burning within them.

The doubting disciples, now beginning to believe, invite this man—still unknown to them—to stay with them once they reach their goal.  But this man, the Risen Lord, has another goal in mind.  He stays with them, but “while He was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.”

“With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him….”  Here is the point, the end, the goal of this Gospel passage.  Here is the sacrament that is the center of our Catholic Faith.  We recognize and profess that the Lord is truly with us in this Sacrament that is being celebrated at this moment.  In the Holy Eucharist, God is with us.  In the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is made present in our midst.

But you need to be clear about something.  If you recognize Christ in the Eucharist, who is it that you consider Him to be?  Is Christ merely a good shepherd, drawing you closer to Himself?  No.  He is more.  Is Christ merely, a teacher, interpreting the Scriptures for you?  No.  He is more.  The Christ, who suffered and died for you on the Cross, is your Lord and your God, the One who created you, and the One who wants to rule your life in order to lead you along His Way, the True Way that leads to Everlasting Life.

How often do we wonder during the week if God is with us?  How often during the week do we feel like God has abandoned us?  Yet He is always there for us:  we simply do not recognize His Presence in our midst.  How often do we feel weak and unable to live up to the demands of our Christian Faith?  Here in the Eucharist is the source of all our spiritual strength.  If we are weak during the week, we are called here each Sunday to celebrate the truth that it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life.  We are also called to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, to receive the graces that we need to be faithful during the week both to God and to others.

The Supper at Emmaus by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio