Sunday, April 26, 2009

Year B 3rd Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps. 4:2.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-38

In our Gospel today, the resurrected Lord appears as Cleopas and the other disciple, who hurried back to Jerusalem from Emmaus, are recounting to "the eleven and those with them" how Jesus had walked the road to Emmaus with them and how he "was made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:35-36). In the middle of their report, the suddenly appearing Lord says words similar to the ones he said to the two while they were on the road: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:35-36. 44-45). The minds of the eleven and the other disciples are opened to receive the same enlightenment as the two disciples who walked with the unidentified stranger.

What the resurrected Jesus gives them is the key to unlock the mystery of God’s plan, namely that "the death and resurrection of the Messiah" is "the key to understanding God’s whole plan according to the Scriptures" (Chauvet, The Sacraments: The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, 24). This is exactly what Peter faithfully preaches in our reading from Acts, pointing out that both the law and the prophets are fulfilled in the person of Christ Jesus when he declares that "[t]he God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus" and that "God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer"(Acts 3:13.18).

"In the background of this account," observes Fr. Louis-Marie Chauvet, is a question, "which is that of any disciple of Jesus, today as yesterday: 'If it is true that Jesus arose and is alive, how is it that we cannot see/touch/find him'" (23)? Indeed, does this question not arise in your mind as you think about the resurrection, especially living in a time and culture that seeks to reduce what you can know to what you can empirically verify? The truth of the matter, my dear friends, is that "you cannot arrive at the recognition of the risen [Lord] unless you renounce seeing/touching/finding him by undeniable proofs" (25). Nonetheless, as philosopher Roger Scruton maintains, "[t]here can be no motive for pursuing truth in abstract empty praise of it: Truth must be incarnate in a person... who calls us to obedience through love" (Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life).

Faith, which is a method of knowledge mediated to us by means of a witness, necessarily begins with our "renunciation of the immediacy" of needing to see and touch in order to know (Chauvet 25). Hence, faith starts with your "assent to the mediation of the church," of which the sacraments, which we celebrate together, especially baptism and Eucharist, are the primary means. The Scriptures, which never reach their "truth as word of God as fully as in the liturgical act of [their] proclamation," are fundamental to the church’s sacramental mediation of the real presence of Christ (Chauvet 47).

To this end, it is essential in order for us to grasp the instruction Luke seeks to impart, that the eyes of Cleopas and his companion only recognized Jesus after "he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them" and that as soon as they recognized him, "he vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:30-31). In other words, our encounter with Christ arises from our shared experience, from which we learn "on the basis of the incarnation of God in Jesus, that [our] encounter with God goes through [our] encounter with others" (Chauvet 38). This "encounter with others" is to be taken in its twofold sense: our encounter of others and an experience that we share with them.

Let us make no mistake, the certainty about our future, which we call hope, is not rooted in "simple human reasoning, but on a historical fact of faith: Jesus Christ, crucified and buried, is risen with his glorified body" (Pope Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi, Easter 2009). St. Paul, in correcting an erroneous view of Christ’s resurrection that had arisen among the Christians in Corinth, vigorously declared: "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). He goes on to say: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19).

Our experience of the risen Christ, to whom we turn in the face of the inevitability of our own death and in response to the pain brought about by the absence of a loved one, who it seems we have lost to death, is better expressed in poetry than the language of either scientific or philosophical discourse, as this passage from a poem, Dream of a dead friend, written by Christian Wiman, shows:

"If I say the world is real
And outside my window is a dawn;
If I say the proof of love is grief
And trees are greener being gone,
Why, oh why
Will none of this be true
But in the moment I reach for you
Saying no, no."

Our participation in the Eucharist has implications for our lives, implications that give meaning to our mortality precisely as it is and not as we wish it to be, a meaning that points us toward the fulfillment of our desire, which is infinite. We are called to verify, to make true what we both celebrate and receive in and through this most Blessed Sacrament, the sacramentum caritatis, the sacrament of love. Love is the key that unlocks the mystery of faith, the mystery of one God in three divine persons, the paschal mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by virtue of which we, through our baptism, confirmation, confession of our sins, and sharing this Eucharist, participate. By coming to share in the mysterium tremendum, this overwhelming mystery that constitutes reality at its most fundamental, we recognize that there is often an abyss between our knowledge and our desire, an abyss that can only be filled by love made real.

To really know Jesus Christ is to desire to make him known to others. Let us take heed of what the old song says, "they will know that we are Christians by our love." Many good people who do not share our faith in Christ serve others selflessly. So, what makes our service Christian is not its matter, but its form, "which is given it by love understood as a response to God’s love, which [always comes] first" (Chauvet 41). As we read in 1 John, the same letter from which our second reading is taken: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another" (4:10-11). My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, what the Scriptures declare is true: "The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3).

He who taught us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, also commanded us to do what we are gathered here to do in memory of him (Luke 22:19). Beloved, Jesus Christ is alive and as with Cleopas and his companion, he walks with us to unfold for us the mystery of faith, which is nothing less than the mystery of our lives. In the end, "[o]nly those who give thanks are able to rejoice, for only they are conscious that life, freedom and well-being are not rights but gifts" (Scruton, Gentle Regrets).

I also posted my Vespers homilette, on the reading from 1 John, over on The People of St. Mary Magdalene.

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