Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Ordinary Form, May 8, 2011
Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
(First all, I wish to extend my greetings to the mothers on this Mother’s Day. In doing so, I am confident in saying that any one of your children who reflects on the gift of his or her mother will have to humble himself in gratitude for your many sacrifices. Every day should be thought of as Mother’s Day and you should be treated royally, but most especially today.)
While we are two weeks out from the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, the Church’s liturgy continues to recount the events of the day of the Resurrection. We do not do this out of a poverty of scriptural texts about Jesus and the apostles worthy of consideration during this Easter time. Nor do we do this only so that we might be able to reflect more personally and deeply on the event of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Reminiscent of the instruction given by Jesus in His encounter with the disciples in the Gospel of Luke that we read today, this is a period of catechesis and, particularly, instruction about the liturgy, the Holy Eucharist, the priesthood, and, to a certain extent, the Church herself.
We see in the account of the appearance on the road to Emmaus that the Resurrected Lord is not recognized by the disciples. They are confused and downcast. Their hearts are burdened with the death of the hope that Jesus of Nazareth had represented for them. We were hoping, they said, that He would be the one to rescue Israel. But it has been three days!
Upon hearing this, I think of what are called the Last Supper Discourses in John’s Gospel when Jesus tells the apostles, “A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me.” (16:16)
The Lord instructs these disciples on the road emphasizing the suffering and death of the Messiah in the instruction of the prophets. Now, this is quite striking to the ears because only now, only in the time of the Church do we receive this instruction from the mouth of the Lord. Not even the prophets or any other Jewish literature spoke of the Messiah suffering. We begin to understand more deeply that not seeing the Lord, as John puts it, is not simply about a loss of his physical presence. We come to understand that this lack of vision, this suffering, is profoundly theological and, to be even more precise, liturgical.
In John’s Gospel, when Jesus speaks of “seeing” him no longer, the apostles are confused by this. Even this teaching causes them sorrow. However, Jesus presses the point. “Amen, Amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. (Jn 16:20) …You also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything.” (22-23)
We must conclude that this was a catechesis about the work that the Lord had entrusted to the Church in what would become the Sacred Liturgy. Why do we say this? Because the vision of the disciples is restored when He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them--the four elements of the Eucharistic liturgy. The text of Luke places emphasis on this by calling our attention, once again, to the instruction of Jesus on the road about the meaning of the scriptures. The disciples also demonstrate, for us, hearts burning with love for Jesus’ Eucharistic presence as He spoke to them. And they have their questions answered, thus, they do not question Him about anything because now they see.
What do they see? Is it what they had hoped for? A victorious Messiah that would rescue the Jewish nation from their conquerors? Or was it the Lord Jesus who is the great High Priest, whose sacrifice on the cross now becomes a memorial sacrifice in the offering of bread and wine by those whom He has charged with this office and duty? Would He not have taught them about the offerings of Moses and Aaron, about the sprinkling of blood upon the altar, about the smoking holocausts, and the cereal and wine offerings of the priest Melchezidech? About the offering of the unblemished lamb in atonement for sins?
This challenges us even further, my friends. The Lord made it clear to them that the resolution to their sorrow was found in the memorial of His suffering and death in the Eucharistic action. What does the Church see in this new vision? The vision in the time of the pilgrim Church is always a vision of the unblemished offering, the suffering Messiah upon the Cross, who brings joy to the whole world. As Hebrews says, referring to the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood, “It was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified by these rites, but the heavenly sacrifices by better things than these. For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by human hands, a copy of a true one, but heaven itself, the he might now appear before God on our behalf….But now once for all He has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sins by His sacrifice.”
And the Lord has told us, regarding the Eucharistic sacrifice, “Every time you do this, do it in memory of me.” It is the "memory" that is characteristic of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy adn the prophets as the Lord taught it to the disciples whose hearts burn to see the Lord and finally do, in the breaking of the bread.