April 22, 2012
Third Sunday of Easter
On that first Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection, two disciples return to Jerusalem from their journey to Emmaus and recount to their friends how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread. Suddenly, Jesus appears in their midst and says, "Peace be with you." They are terrified and think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus says to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?" He then asks them to look at him and to touch him. After assuring them that he is the same person they knew before his crucifixion, he eats some baked fish with them.
Jesus then explains how the Scriptures reveal that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead; and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. He then adds, "You are witnesses to these things."
Luke concludes his gospel with this Easter Sunday appearance of Jesus to his disciples as the threshold to its climax and also to its meaning for us. After telling his disciples that they are "witnesses to these things," Jesus declares: "And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." The first reading of this Sunday's Mass from the Acts of the Apostles (also written by Luke) tells us the good news that Jesus kept his promise by sending his Spirit, the promise of his Father. The age of the Church has begun: Peter with the power of the Spirit and in the name of Jesus proclaims those things the disciples had witnessed.
Luke first wants to assure us that though faith in the Risen Lord is a divine gift and a decision of acceptance beyond reason, nevertheless its basis is the solid ground of reason. The Christ of faith is not the creation of the disciples; he is the one they knew during his earthly life. The same words that are used to describe everyday realities are used to describe the reality of Jesus. Yet, here as in other New Testament appearance accounts, it is clear that the new, transformed reality is not subject to the laws of chemistry or physics. This is to assure us that Jesus does not possess a body revived from the dead. He exists in a divine mode of existence; he is able to appear suddenly, no longer bound by the laws of space, time, and matter.
Luke's gospel together with his Acts of the Apostles may well be called the good news of the Holy Spirit. Its background is the bad news that all humanity is in a state of alienation from God and alienation within itself. The divine action of merciful forgiveness and reconciliation began with presence of the Spirit guiding the chosen people, Israel (Acts 28:25). It is the same Spirit who from beginning to end enabled Jesus to advance the divine plan to its next stage. "Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit... The Spirit of the Lord is upon me..." (Lk 4:4-21).
Now in the final climactic appearance to his disciples, the Risen Lord authorizes them to begin the end stage in fulfillment of the divine plan. It is the age of the Spirit's action in the Church whereby Christ's mission to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins is extended to all nations. Jesus knew that without his Spirit the disciples and those who would follow them would be totally incapable of fulfilling his mandate.
Each Sunday we listen to readings from Scripture in order to learn how the Spirit was with Jesus, and how the Spirit wishes to inspire us. Thus, in the first reading of this Sunday's Mass from Acts, we see a new Peter speaking through the power of the Spirit. Now he and the other disciples are no longer paralyzed by fear. They speak, often in hostile situations, with the confident, joyful candor and boldness of Christ himself. (This is the "parrhesia" of Acts 2:29; 4:13,29,31; 28:31.) It is the Spirit who enables us to know Christ and to live as he lived. In the second reading, John tells us we can be sure that our knowledge of Christ is true faith if we keep his commandments Ñ essentially to love others as he has loved us.
The Spirit also enables us to share in the Easter joy of Christ. The complete joy of the Spirit's presence is anticipated in the disciples' experience of the Risen Lord: "They did him homage and then they returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Lk 24:52). Today in our breaking of bread with the Lord, we pray for the grace to accept the gift of the Spirit, the promise of his Father, with all our heart so that we might live and act as Christians without fear -- in freedom, in truth, in love, in joy.
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB