26 April 2020 Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor for 3rd Sunday in Easter
I Word of life and Bread of life
The three readings for the liturgy of the Word on this third Sunday of Easter offer further windows unto the emergent Christian community as its experiences of Calvary and the empty tomb are unravelled, recounted and ultimately elucidated by the experience of the Risen Christ.
These first disciples and followers of Christ were Jews and were reared in the faith of Judaism.
The readings we have just heard refer to settings and contexts after Calvary and to reports, whispers, word of Christ as having been risen and seen. We notice how in both readings – in the lines from the Acts of the Apostles (Ac 2.14, 22-28) and in the account of the encounter on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24.13-25) – the Jewish religious tradition, its scriptures, are unfolded and deciphered to reveal what the author of the gospel of St Luke calls “the full message of the prophets” (Lk 24. 25).
We notice also the progression in the gospel text : if the unfolding of the Jewish scriptures and tradition warms the hearts of the two “downcast” (Lk 24.17) disciples, Cleopas and his companion, it is the repetition of the last Supper, the action of taking and blessing of the bread and wine, that opens their eyes to the identity of the stranger, Jesus, who has walked and talked with them.
The elucidation of the scriptures, the Word of God, and the Eucharistic table effect the dawning of revived faith for the two dejected / (lapsed?) travellers! At the heart of their recognition of the Risen Lord are these two core elements of the sacred liturgy which we, Christians, continue to enact and celebrate: the Word and the Eucharist, the Word of life and the Bread of life.
II Word and Bread of life given you for you and for all
As the first, nascent Christian community, rooted in the Jewish religious tradition, takes shape and consolidates in its new sense of God around the Word and the table of the Eucharist, it is duly empowered by the experience of Pentecost, alluded to in the closing lines of the first reading. That experience of the “outpouring of the Spirit” (Ac 2.33) proclaims a community dimension to the opening of the eyes of faith on the part of the individual disciples and those who listened to Peter. Their religious identity is both personal and communal, individual and civic.
Soon, however, this young community of Christian believers, will grapple with the difficult and existential questions such as, membership: may non-Jews be admitted, is the Good News also for foreigners? Hints of this ground-breaking debate are echoed in the assertion contained in the opening line of the second lesson, read today, from the first Letter of Peter (1 Pt. 1.1) : God, the Father, “has no favourites and judges everyone according to what he has done”.
III Easter indicators for us
So what impulses can we draw for our following of Christ from these post-Resurrection extracts from the Word of God ? What suggestions do they offer so that we may show “faith and hope in God” (1Pt 1.21), to use the words from the first Letter of St Peter?
May I suggest three key evangelical indicators arising from them for our individual and communal living of the gospel :
Firstly, reading the gospel text itself, we have noted the centrality of the Scriptures, the Word of God and the Eucharist for the recognition of Christ as the one in whom God has revealed himself and entered the human condition to free humanity from evil and death. It is worth recalling that this key indicator is the foundation of the entire work of the Second Vatican Council as found it its first document on the Sacred liturgy. The celebration of the liturgy, involving the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist is the heart, the source and the summit of the Christian life, as the Council stated.
Secondly, let’s take hope, courage and a renewed appreciation of ourselves and others from the figures who people these texts : Cleopas, his companion and Peter. Cleopas and his companion were “downcast” (Lk 24.17) as they met this seeming stranger to them on the road, Jesus. Peter, presenting and preaching Christ crucified and risen in the power of the Holy Spirit, was of course the one who denied Christ outright. In time he will struggle with the issue of the admission of persons of non-Jewish origin to the fold and then come to see that the Good News is for all without exception. He, Peter, is the patron of us all, sinners, redeemed, forgiven, “strugglers”, all of us, who live where :
“Evil and good stand thick around
In fields of charity and sin
Where we shall lead our harvest in” (One Foot in Eden, E Muir)
to cite the words of the Scottish poet, Edwin Muir..
This indicator tells of something of equally vital evangelical importance, for living according to the gospel: we need to be intensely aware of judging others, of condemning others, of locking ourselves, downcast, in our judgements of our own life’s quandaries and of others. We need to be alert to our failure to see the potential saint in the sinner, of the temptation not to see the saint in the sinner.
And, thirdly, there is that almost elusive gem in the closing lines of the Emmaus story, where the disciples are pictured in conversation. Note the subject of their discussion – it is their shared experience and recounting of the reportage of the risen Christ. Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the person of the risen Christ, is the centre, the keystone, of the Christian faith, of the life of Christian faithful, of the Church – Christ and none other. The Christian revelation of God in Christ is not a system, nor an institution. God and the ways of God are to be glimpsed, deciphered and known in the life of Christ, the Word of God, portrayed in the words of Scripture, celebrated in the sacraments, felt and seen in good works of charity – all of this the living Good News for all of humankind.
It is Christ who is the centre, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, He and none other. He is the living Word of God, whom we meet in the scriptures. He gives us a new and hope-filled sense of our potential and the potential of others. He is the source, centre and foundation of our faith.
He, the risen Christ, is the root of our Easter joy, our Easter hope, and of our Easter faith.