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Friday, 13 April 2018

3rd Sunday of Easter Year B 2018

(Acts of the Apostles 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48)

The two disciples whom Jesus had overtaken walking towards Emmaus, although their hearts had been burning within them as He spoke with them and opened the scriptures to them, had only finally recognized Him at the breaking of bread during a meal which they had invited Him to share with them.  On their receiving the bread He had blessed, He suddenly disappeared, whereupon they set off back to Jerusalem at once to inform the apostles that very hour.

Notice, however, that when Jesus appeared again to those same disciples together with the eleven apostles and others, all gathered together secretly in that upper room:

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 them, 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?  It is true that unlike the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, the Eleven here in Jerusalem had indeed recognized Him from the beginning although they could hardly believe, as it was said, ‘for joy’.  Nevertheless, there is a more fundamental reason for Jesus’ behaviour in the private room at Jerusalem which is closely connected with our other readings today.

In the Gospel reading we heard first that Jesus took care to explain to His disciples the nature of His presence with them.  First of all, He was not 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: previously He had been with them as any man is with his fellow men; however, things had changed and Jesus was no longer present to them in an ordinary, worldly, way.

Let us now note just how different was His new presence with them, and how He would make Himself present to His disciples in the future.

First, He took great care to explain His presence in 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 presence in the Scriptures might be called His first mode of presence to His disciples after His Resurrection because it begins with the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, as Jesus Himself said, ‘Moses wrote about Me’.

A new mode presence was recounted for us in the Gospel reading by the report brought by those two disciples who had been on the way to Emmaus telling:

            How Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.

That new and second manner of presence -- His Eucharistic presence -- had been prepared for by Jesus in His teaching and miracles during the course of His public ministry, before being formally instituted at the Last Supper with His Apostles.

In our Gospel reading today, however, a third mode of His presence is drawn to our attention by His not celebrating the Eucharist with those assembled in the room on this occasion.  He was not present in that Jerusalem room by virtue of the Eucharist, instead He confirms the reality of a third mode of presence:

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."

"Have you anything here to eat?"  They gave Him a piece of a baked fish; He took it and ate it in front of them.

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. (Matthew 18:20)

We can find Jesus, experience in varying measure His presence, in the Old Testament Scriptures, in the Eucharist, and in the Church gathered together in His name, as we are today, to hear 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 present for us foreshadowed in the ancient Scriptures; always spiritually present with and powerfully addressing those assembled together to hear and promote His Gospel; and supremely, always Personally present in His Eucharist sacrifice and feast.

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 responding with personal love to Jesus’ gracious Personal presence, and with a commitment of obedient and public witness to His word, 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.

The early Christians were still very closely bound up with their Jewish brethren in the synagogue; indeed, many still worshipped with them in the Temple and in the synagogue.  However, in our Gospel reading Jesus is preparing His Church for the future and it is essential that her proclamation be recognized as independent of her Jewish origins: those origins are never to be denied but they are not, henceforth, to be racially restrictive or spiritually 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.

For all disciples of Jesus, the Torah -- the unattainable perfection of prescriptive Law -- must yield to the Gospel, the Good News of God’s grace; Mother Church would replace the Temple as the ‘house’ where God is pleased to dwell and be found, to be praised and share His glory, to be invoked and give His blessing.   However, God Himself would no longer be glorified simply as the Lord of Creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Who formed Israel and rescued her from the slavery of Egypt and Who brought her back again from exile in Babylon.  He now wills to be recognized above all as the One God Who sent His only begotten Son to put on human flesh, and Who, on raising Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour in that human flesh from the bonds of death, has formed a new creation: a family of adopted children sharing in the glory of His only Son and being led from earthly exile back to their Father’s presence by His Gift of the 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." (Revelation 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 absorbing – which is Our Blessed Lady’s membership of the original Church; for that presence of Mary was surely the nearest thing to the presence of Jesus Himself for His nascent Church, for who could look at, listen to, her without thinking of Jesus?   It was a presence specially bestowed for the Church’s sufferings at her birth in this sinful world.

After the indescribable joy of her dear Son’s Resurrection; after the happiness she had known at His Ascension, what else remained for Mary on earth?  How could she possibly look forward to anything ahead of her here below; her Lord and Saviour, her Love, her only begotten Son, had gone.  She rejoiced for Him and recognized His disciples most gratefully, but for herself?  Why had she not been allowed … somehow ... to follow her Son, why did He not call her to Himself in, or after, His Ascension?   Happily, Mary had long ago learnt to die to herself, and so, if any thoughts such as these entered her mind she would most certainly never have entertained or dwelt on them in any way.

However, there was something she could never forget, nor try to set aside: her Son’s dying words to her:

            Woman, behold your son!

Those words, beginning with that portentous word ‘Woman’ meant so much on His lips, let alone on His dying lips!!  What did they mean for her??

There are but two facts we know that can illuminate this part of Mary’s life on earth after her Son’s Resurrection and Ascension: first of all, from the Church’s viewpoint, she was needed to be mother, the mother, for all the children Jesus had, from His Cross, committed to her loving care.  She understood easily her role with regard to John, Jesus’ youngest disciple … but were there others?   That address, ‘Woman’ seemed to suggest the possibility that perhaps there might be others??  She only knew that she would have to wait, pray about, listen for, and then follow Jesus’ Gift of the Holy Spirit to His Church.

To our great delight Mary’s subsequent experience of the Spirit in her heart, and in her life and work with and for her new children in Jesus’ Church, was such as to prepare her finally to follow, fully and uniquely, her beloved Son.  At the Father’s behest, and in the power of His Spirit, she would indeed follow Jesus, and thanks to her experience in His Church, she would 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 both gratefully and lovingly called Mother Church by her devoted children.