THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR (B)
(Acts of the Apostles 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48)
The two disciples whom Jesus had encountered as they were walking towards Emmaus -- though their hearts had been burning within them as He spoke with them and opened the Scriptures to them – had only recognized Him at the breaking of bread in the course of a meal which they had invited Him to share with them. And then He had suddenly disappeared -- vanished from their sight – we are told; whereupon they themselves set off back to Jerusalem without delay to inform the apostles.
Notice, however, that when Jesus suddenly appeared again to those same disciples, now secretly gathered, in Jerusalem, together with the Eleven and other unnamed followers of His:
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, He asked them, ‘Have you anything to eat?’ They gave Him a piece of fish, (which) he took and ate in front of them.
This time Jesus did not confirm His identity by sharing bread and wine with the assembled group, He simply confirmed that He was no ghost by eating some fish before them. Why did He not break bread with them as He had done before?
Now, it is true that unlike the two disciples alone on the way to Emmaus, the group assembled with the Eleven in Jerusalem, would seem to have recognized Jesus immediately, although they could not believe, as it was said, ‘for joy’. Nevertheless, there is a more fundamental reason for Jesus’ behaviour in that private room in Jerusalem which is closely connected with our other readings today. For, in the Gospel reading Jesus took care to explain to His disciples the nature of His presence with them; He was not, He explained, with them as He had been previously:
He said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you WHILE I WAS STILL WITH YOU.”
In other words He was saying, “I am here with you now, but not as I was with you when I spoke those words to you a short while ago.” His new presence was different from His earlier presence: previously He had been with them as any man is with His fellow men; now however, having died on Calvary and risen in glory on the third day, He was no longer with them in that ordinary, worldly, way.
So, let us now note just how different was this, His new presence in their midst, before going on to learn in what other ways He would subsequently make Himself present to all His future disciples.
First, walking along with those two disciples going towards Emmaus, He had taken great care to explain His presence in and through the Scriptures:
“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.
That original presence in the Scriptures might be called Jesus’ first mode of spiritual presence to the Church beginning, as it did, with the Law of Moses, then followed by the Prophets, the Psalms, and all the Old Testament Scriptures, as Jesus Himself said.
His new presence had been announced in our Gospel reading when the two disciples who had been on their way to Emmaus reported to the Eleven in Jerusalem:
How Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
That new and second mode of spiritual presence to the Church – Jesus’ Eucharistic presence -- had been prepared for by Jesus in His teaching and by His miracles during the course of His public ministry, before being formally instituted at the Last Supper with His Apostles.
In today’s Gospel reading, however, when He -- suddenly and alarmingly -- stood in the midst of the assembly consisting of the Eleven, the two Emmaus disciples, and other companions, His presence is drawn to our attention by His not celebrating or directly recalling the Eucharist! Instead He indicates the reality, though not the physicality, of what we now recognize as His third mode of spiritual presence to us in the Church:
Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have."
This is the presence He had foretold with the words:
Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matt 18:20)
Thus, we can find Jesus, experience in varying measure His presence, in the Old Testament Scriptures, in the Eucharist, and in the assembly gathered together in His name to hear, appreciate, and appropriate His Gospel. He is not with us today as an ordinary human being as was the case formerly with His disciples in Palestine; but He is always truly present for us, and to be found by us, in the Scriptures; always spiritually present to, and in communion with, all those assembled together to proclaim His Name and promote His Gospel; and supremely, always Personally – in the physical reality of His own glorious and most precious Body and Blood – with us and for us in His Eucharistic presence.
As Peter explained to those who had witnessed his cure of the lame man:
By faith in His name, this man -- whom you see and know -- His name has made strong, and the faith that comes through it has given him this perfect health, in the presence of all of you. (Acts 3:16)
Living by ‘faith in His name’ is the supremely authentic way of both responding with personal intimacy to the presence of Jesus and bearing public witness to Him, as St. John told us in his letter for our second reading:
Whoever keeps His word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
The way that we may be sure that we know Him is to keep His commandments.
By signalling the various modes of His presence to and for His believers Jesus was preparing His Church for her great world-wide mission to proclaim:
Repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all the nations.
Some of the earliest Christians were still very closely bound up with their Jewish brethren in the synagogue, indeed many still worshipped among them in the Temple. However, in our Gospel reading Jesus is preparing His Church for the future, and it is essential that she and her proclamation of the Good News be recognized as distinct from and independent of her Jewish origins: for while those origins are never to be denied, neither they could ever be or even appear to be either exclusive or definitive:
Repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Henceforth for all disciples of Jesus, the Torah must yield to the Gospel, the Good News; the Church would replace the Temple as the house where God is pleased to dwell: to receive worship and praise for His unique glory; to be loved and adored for His own sublime beauty and truth; to be most trustfully invoked and whole-heartedly thanked for His unfathomable goodness and enduring faithfulness. Above all, however, God Himself would no longer be simply worshipped as the Lord of Creation, and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Who formed Israel and subsequently rescued her from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon; but recognized supremely and uniquely as the One God and Father Who gave His own and only true Son to share human flesh with and for human-kind, and Who, by the rising of Jesus Christ -- His Son and Our Saviour -- from the bonds of our death, has prepared a new creation: a family of adopted children living by and sharing in the power and the glory of His Only-Begotten, and, in His Name, being led ever heavenwards -- though through many trials and tribulations – along the path which He Himself did tread, into the eternal Father’s presence, by His Holy Spirit.
He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." (Rev 21:5)
And now, we can recognize and admire, indeed love, another mystery – God’s mysteries are always astoundingly beautiful, wondrously fulfilling, endlessly and intriguingly mysterious -- which is Our Blessed Lady’s membership of the original Church, for that presence can surely be seen as a presence of Jesus to His Church, for who could look at Mary and listen to her without thinking of Jesus!! It was a presence of the Lord unique in character, both human and mystical, a presence specially given for the Church’s sufferings at birth.
After the joy (indescribable!) of her dear Son’s Resurrection; after the happiness she had known (for Him) at His Ascension, what else remained for Mary on earth? How could she possibly look forward to anything ahead of her here below … her Love, her Lord, her Son had gone … she rejoiced for Him and indeed for all His disciples … but for herself? Why had she not been allowed to follow her Son, why did He not call her to Himself in His Ascension? What would she find, what could she do, in the Body of Christ, His Church; what might she derive from her experience there? Happily, she had long ago learnt to die to herself, and so, if any such thoughts as these entered her mind she would most certainly never have entertained or developed them; but she could never forget her Son’s dying words to her:
Woman, behold your son!
There are but two facts of which we know that can illuminate this mysterious part of Mary’s life on earth after her Son’s Resurrection: first of all, from the Church’s viewpoint, she was needed to be a mother, the mother, for all the children Jesus, from His Cross on Calvary, had committed to her loving care. How? She did not know; she would await, pray for, listen to, and obey the Holy Spirit Jesus was bestowing on His Church. Secondly, from Mary’s point of view and to our great delight, her subsequent experience of the Spirit and her work with and for her children in the Church was such as to prepare her finally to follow her blessed Son. At the Father’s behest and in the power of His Spirit, she would follow her beloved Son from His Church; and thanks to her experience in His Church, she would now be fully able and prepared to embrace and respond to her ultimate destiny and calling, as Queen of heaven, leaving behind her such a blessed memory among her children on earth, that the Church Jesus had founded and endowed would henceforth be called Mother Church by her devoted children.