That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, 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, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the Eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Reflection on the gospel: The Easter accounts attest that the resurrection of Jesus introduces an entirely new order of reality into creation. For the two men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus is the most important man in their lives–after all, they say they were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel–and yet they do not recognize him. Jesus walks on the road and sits at the table, manipulating matter in the bread and wine, and then he suddenly vanishes from their sight. The accounts of Jesus’ resurrection suggest that the reality of what becomes of Jesus in his resurrection from the dead is so formidable that it inaugurates an entirely new order of reality outside of ordinary human experience. The witnesses of the resurrection simply do not have concepts and words to describe what they experience in the bodily presence of Jesus: they do not recognize the most important person in their lives; they experience this apparent stranger as a material person who walks down the road, converses about the scriptures, and holds bread and wine in his hands; but he vanishes from their midst like a ghost. The gospels attest that in his resurrection, Jesus transforms reality.
Spiritual reading: If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead. (Timothy Keller)
Our gospel today begins in the evening of Easter Sunday. 10 Apostles are huddled together in the same upper room hiding from the Jews and Romans pondering and discussing all that had occurred including the events of the morning, Mary’s report, the mad dash and the empty tomb. Their grief and fear were strong and the whole week was mind altering to all of them. Certainly, a kernel of faith and love was in their hearts, but their fear, their flight, their hiding was still overwhelming. They all had a sense being lost. They frankly were probably in a real state of confusion. And then in their midst a familiar man a familiar voice. No judgment, no rebukes but a simple Peace be with you. This peace was a joy wish, an act of forgiveness and of love. His hands and his side proved it was him. He was alive, he did rise. He not only gave his peace and forgiveness, but he gave his Holy Spirit so that they became empowered in His love to forgive the sins of others.
Can you imagine the change, the beginning of a new understanding? Sure there was a joy but the resurrection event was not yet over. They were not quite ready. Look at the second part of the gospel, they couldn’t even convince Thomas, one of their own, that they had seen Jesus. If they couldn’t convince Thomas, how could they go out beyond the doors and face the world. Certainly, people would be more skeptical than Thomas. Thomas had to see for himself. Lucky for him that Jesus was still around and being seen by his disciples. This resurrection event was to carry on for several more days. Faith and certainty are not always present together. Yet Thomas received them together. But as a task he and the other Apostles were told to go out and spread the faith to others. Obviously, Faith comes out of the love of Christ and can be introduced to others through a living out that love, but ultimately faith is a gift of God which each person must come to accept or reject. While Thomas got to personally see the Risen Christ and come to believe, each of us in truth have had or will have our own moment of recognition when we fully come to see and believe with our own “My lord and my God”.
On the other hand, we must realize that to believe is not enough. Life is not a moment or a simple I believe. Our faith calls for us to live it out, to love as Jesus shared in his time and ministry. Loving in word and action, forgiving and getting along working to glorify God by seeing him in each other. All of us are not unlike the apostles. We too have fear and we too could turn and run when a difficult time comes. We could flee to a place apart as the apostles did. We too could betray the love that has been given us. The most important thing here is that we must get out of that dark place and seek once again the love and forgiveness of Jesus. No matter what we do, He is there to simply say Peace be with you, offering the same peace and forgiveness and assurance he gave his apostles.
Gospel reading of the day:
Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he had told her.
Reflection on the gospel reading: When my mother died, my family and I faced a complicated situation involving my mother’s property that just kept becoming more and more complicated as people from outside our family made claims. It was chaotic, and it seemed like nothing good could come of what was transpiring. As the problems mounted, I briefly stepped outside my mother’s apartment onto the grounds of the apartment complex and asked my mother to intervene if there were anything she could do from the other side. In a matter of minutes, a series of events unfolded that addressed the issues in our dilemma with answers from previously unknown events that had peppered the landscape over years prior to our mother’s death. I tell the story because everything that transpired in that moment seemed like the natural unfolding of events, but it was so rapid and precise–and ensued so quickly on my prayer–that I had no doubt whatsoever that the coincidences that quickly mounted were a sign of God’s intervention with a grieving family. The events were so tailored to our great need in a given moment that they seemed far more than we dared to hope. Our sense of relief and joy was palpable.
When Mary Magdalene encountered first the angels and then Jesus himself at the tomb, she had a similar experience, that the Gordian Knot of her chaotic and grief-filled circumstance had suddenly and impossibly unraveled in a way that was at once rapid, precise, and tailored to her great need. When the events at the tomb happened on the day of resurrection, they transpired in the natural world with a series of coincidences that rapidly mounted as a sign of God’s intervention with a grieving woman, an intervention that seemed far more than she ever would have dared to hope.
Seven Stanzas at Easter
by John Updike
Make no mistake
If he rose at all it was as his body;
If the cells’ dissolution did not reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent,
It was not as his spirit
In the mouths and fuddled eyes
Of the eleven apostles;
It was as his flesh: ours–
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart that pierced, died, paused
Then gathered again out of enduring might
New strength to enclose.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb
Make it a real angel,
Opaque in the dawn light,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta,
Robed in real linen spun on a definite loom.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Transcendence, making of the event a symbol,
A sign painted in the credulity of a vanished age;
Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back:
Not papier mache, not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality
That in the slow grinding of time
Will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest awakened in an unthinkable hour
We are embarrassed by the miracle
And crushed by remonstrance.
Gospel reading of the day:
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce the news to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’ And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day.
Reflection on the gospel reading: The first words Jesus speaks after his resurrection are the words recorded in today’s gospel passage from Matthew, words of consolation and hope spoken to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary: “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid of our past, because it is the wounds that we have suffered that allow our inner darkness to become a light to guide others. Do not be afraid of God, because our fear of God blocks our return to God when we fail. Do not be afraid of even death, which after all is nothing other than the joyous opening of God’s arms to receive us. The great 20th century desert hermit Charles de Foucauld once wrote, “The one thing we owe absolutely to God is never to be afraid of anything.” Being unafraid is trusting that we can find God in all things, and finding God in all things is so important that the first thing that Jesus says after the central event in human history is we should not be afraid.
Spiritual reading: For me the most radical demand of Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes to the present risenness of Jesus Christ. (Brennan Manning)
Gospel reading of the day:
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.
Reflection on the gospel reading: I believe Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead, and it is this fact that makes of all material reality a poem and imbues it with lyrical meaning. The resurrection of Jesus shows that the material world is a sheer veneer that covers shimmering truths; it is a course veil spread over what is brightest and truest: those mysteries that abide beneath the surface of what we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell. The resurrection of Jesus testifies that the things in the world of the senses, the things that we can measure, are absolutely true still but not the most real reality. Jesus’ resurrection pierces the veil to reveal the freshest deep down things that lie out of sight just beneath the surface and makes us see that what is true is seemless, that the surface things of daily life and the deep down things of mystical experience are really and truly one and the same thing. The resurrection of Jesus teaches us that the promise of life is that just as we now see, taste, touch, hear, and smell to sense the surface, one day we will throw away every illusion and abide in what for now is the mystery beneath the surface.
Spiritual reading: Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. (Easter Homily by John Crysostom)
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014
The readings that we are presented with today give us as close to a history as we are going to get in the New Testament. Coming a week after Easter, these readings let us know the events that happened immediately after the Resurrection event.
The Apostles were afraid. It had been a traumatic week for them, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem when things looked rosy, with the Passover meal which bonded them. But after Judas’ betrayal things went sour. It had climaxed in the death of the person they believed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who would save the people from what? the Romans? poverty and submission? Jesus had often been clear in his mission but that clarity was sometimes submerged in the wishes and expectations of his listeners.
Now, after his death comes word of his being alive again. How confusing things must have been for the Apostles! How afraid were they for their own lives for following and being associated with this Jesus! They had left everything for this man – what would they do now? How could he be alive? Yet people reported he had been seen. His tomb was apparently empty. Would they be blamed for that as well? All of this seems to be implied in the simple phrase from the Gospel today: “the doors…were locked for fear of the Jews.” Fear of what their own people might do to them.
We notice that the door was locked and yet Jesus “came and stood among them”. This is rather mysterious in itself since the doors had been locked. How did Jesus get in? In this first encounter with his followers, Jesus greets them the way Jews greet other Jews: Shalom aleikhem! “Peace be with you.” By itself, this was just a standard Jesus greeting like “Hello” might be for us. But Jesus makes it more than that because he repeats it. He is trying to calm their fears by offering peace to them.
Jesus may not have looked exactly the same as he did before the resurrection. You would think the apostles, having lived so close to Jesus for three years would have recognized him, but Jesus felt he had to show them the wounds he endured – the nail holes in his hands and the cut in his side where he was stabbed. Only then did the Apostles really believe it was him and they rejoiced.
Now we know that pentecost was yet to come when the Holy Spirit would descend upon the Apostles, but John today has Jesus breathing on them and giving them a mandate. Perhaps this was more a foreshadowing of what was to come, the breath being a symbol of a new creation, just as God breathed life into Adam. After they receive the Spirit, they will be able, as he did, to forgive sin – the Spirit of God working through them.
Then the story jumps eight days – actually only seven the way our calendars work, but the Jewish way of counting from Sunday to Sunday would count eight days – when the same situation presents itself. They continued to stay locked up in the room even though Jesus had come to them. They had not yet received the Spirit. During that week, Thomas, who had not been present on the first visitation couldn’t believe what they all told him, just as many people today can’t accept the testimony of the Apostles. Thomas wanted to see and judge for himself. So this time when Jesus comes, he seemed to know what Tomas had said, and he reaches out directly to Thomas’s doubts and asks Thomas to examine his wounds, which Thomas does. Having seen this for himself first hand, Thomas now believes, and his expression “My Lord and my God” is the first direct reference in the Gospel accounts of Jesus being identified as God. This is a very important step because the whole basis of the Hebrew religion was the premise that there was one God, and to change that concept was a heresy of the highest degree. But Thomas now equates Jesus with God. Jesus does not comment on this statement but only notes that those who come to believe without the “seeing being believing”, are more blessed.
John’s Gospel is almost at an end. He says that no Gospel could contain everything that Jesus said or did, but that he has chosen those things that might help us doubting Thomases to come to a belief in Jesus and to receive the life that he brings. This is perhaps why we have four Gospels that don’t always agree on everything. Based on oral traditions spread different parts of the Eastern world, the writers chose things that would help them to achieve what they wanted to do and wanted to show in the life of Jesus. How they put it together, the facts they chose, the myths they kept, the parables they used, all suited the theological reasons they wrote – to build the faith of those who already believed and to help the unbelief of those who didn’t.
The opening reading today from the Acts of the Apostles showed the life of the early Jewish Christian communities. Note that what was happening had two components – teaching and fellowship celebration. The breaking of bread probably does not refer to mass as we know it, but to a common celebratory meal that begins with the traditional prayer over the bread, which Jesus had elevated to something else at the Last Supper, making his presence at these celebrations real. They would come together for fellowship and prayer. I think that is the reason that I like the approach we take at this parish where the greetings and the after Mass groupings tend to stress the fellowship part of our community. In a small parish we can do that so easily because we all get to know each other so well and there are opportunities for all of us to be known. The celebration we had on Holy Thursday would be more typical of the early church meetings.
We also might get the idea that the early church was rather communistic, or if that is a bad word – commune-like. It probably wasn’t. Because the church was growing and there were more and more people coming from out of town, they had to find ways to care for these people, and through their charity they did this by sharing their food and clothing, their homes even. It wasn’t so much a common pot, but a charity that extended to all the others, especially those in need.
They still were Jews – they still went to the synagogues and temples on Saturdays but on Saturday evenings they had their services in various homes. Since the Jewish day started at dusk, these were considered Sunday or first-day-of-the-week meetings. That is why we can have Sunday Mass on Saturday evenings in Catholic churches today.
When First Peter, our second reading today, was written, there were probably few people around who had actually met, and listened to Jesus. Peter probably did not write this letter though it is ascribed to him, but it was written in Rome during early Christian persecutions by someone highly educated in Greek. It is concerned with the concept of suffering because the early church in Rome was being persecuted and Christians had become fearful. Peter says that all good things have to go through fire to be tested, and uses the image of testing gold which was put through furnaces to separate the impure elements from it. It is a good image for Peter too use because it is one of the most precious of metals, and when purified is very expensive and precious. Christians too have to go through testing to rid themselves of impurities. The end result will be something precious to God, and through his resurrection we become that pure gold – “imperishable, undefiled and unfading.
The early church, as we see today, went through a process of fear, belief, celebration, fellowship, and finally testing. That is the progress of the history we read today. If it has any relevance to us today, I think it is that we must recapture the spirit of the early church. Our religion, our belief in Jesus as God, our belief in the Spirit as God, must lead to celebration and fellowship. And the daily things that we have to suffer and endure can be blessings which lead us to greater things. It is all in how we perceive them.
I will close with words of the Psalm today: I was falling, but the Lord helped me. [God] has become my salvation. There are glad songs of victory.” We must always keep in mind the Jesus who rose from the dead and how he gave us new birth and celebrate that in everything we do. Being Christian doesn’t mean for an hour on Sunday. It has to become the integral part of our daily life, just as it was for the early church members.
Let us rejoice in this Good News and put it into practice as we go through our coming week! May God bless us all.
Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]
Gospel reading of the day:
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.
The next day, the one following the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said, ‘After three days I will be raised up.’ Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ This last imposture would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “The guard is yours; go secure it as best you can.” So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.
Reflection on the gospel reading: Sometimes in the moments of our deepest grief shared with God, we sit, waiting and listening, only to encounter silence. There are no prophetic words, no visions, no angels–just silence. But silence does not mean absence; God is present, maybe not saying anything, but never more present. When Jesus was on the cross and experienced the deep sense of abandonment, the Father was never more present and the pathos of God was never more aroused. No one can relieve us fully of our pain–no one can truly understand it. But God meets us there–God is present in our silence. Holy Saturday doesn’t get much press. It is sort of wedged between the activities of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Perhaps we rush it and miss the poignancy of Holy Saturday, but it is really where most of us live our lives most of our days; it is comforting to know that the Creator of the universe, the all powerful God, also went through Holy Saturday, and when we go through ours, God is more than qualified to meet us there.
Spiritual reading: Easter, with its grace of interior resurrection, is the radical healing of the human condition. Lent, which prepares us for this grace, is about what needs to be healed. (The Mystery of Christ by Thomas Keating)