Wednesday in the Octave of Easter: Acts of the Apostles: 3:1-10, Luke 24:13-35.
Today’s readings display the natural desire to have Jesus with us, as He was before His death. They also show the dawn of a new, more potent way that Jesus is still with us. This is the advent of the Church, the mystical infusion of the risen Christ into the world.
The gospel reading is Luke’s famous account of Jesus’s appearance to His disciples on the road to Emmaus. While walking, the two disciples were deep in conversation about the Passion, death, and entombment of Jesus. Note how casually and matter-of-factly Jesus makes his first appearance in Luke’s gospel after the Resurrection: “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” The Greek text is very evocative. Their eyes (ὀφθαλμοὶ / ophthalmoi) can be understood as both the physical eyes as well as the mind’s eye, and the verb ἐκρατοῦντο (ekratounto) is used to describe how they are “prevented” from recognizing him — ekratounto properly means being seized or held. This sentence indicates that their minds were seized by their preoccupied thoughts and kept from being open to the possibility of Christ being with them.
They explain to Jesus all that has happened, their sadness at his passing, their dashed hopes that He would redeem Israel, and their confusion over reports of His Resurrection. In short, they explain the kerygma of our faith to their Savior, but from a perspective that doesn’t comprehend the very events that make up the kerygma. His response, understandably, is “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” This is a fantastic phrase,” slow of heart to believe,” in that it describes a momentum of love that accompanies faith. Jesus points out that the preoccupations “seizing” them have stuck them spiritually; they are not growing in faith, their hearts have slowed and love is no longer moving them. He wants them to expand their mind’s eye to the full scope of salvation history, and so, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” This is an incredible service that the Lord provides for His Church at this delicate moment after the mystery of His death and Resurrection has been accomplished.
There are critics who accept most of the narrative in the gospels about Jesus’s life yet claim that Christianity was invented by his disciples after He died. Their claim is that the well-defined Christology that arose after His death is almost “too perfect.” They say that our beliefs about how Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, is the Son of God, and the key to our salvation within the New Covenant were not established by Him during His ministry and only came from the mouths of His followers after He was gone. These critics clearly aren’t hearing what Luke tells us here, that Jesus “interprets” for his disciples everything that referred to Him in the Scriptures. Not just here on the road to Emmaus, but later He does the same for all the disciples in Jerusalem. In all four gospels, he speaks to His disciples after His Resurrection. Christology comes from Christ — His works and the reality of His Person as well as the interpretation of those works and the prophecies that spoke of Him. Christology was not something invented by the disciples. It was spoken to them by the Resurrected Christ and further given to them by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and beyond.
Today’s gospel reading marks the transition from the empty tomb to the mystical God made present in the Eucharist. This is the turning point when the Church is born, and it requires a shift from minds seized by preoccupation with his Passion to minds opened to the fullness of our faith and salvation history. See that Jesus did not expect us to make this transition on our own! Each of the four gospels testifies to His reappearance after His Resurrection, his instruction and interpretation of His Resurrection, and his visibility dissolving into the community that makes up the Church. Just like they testify to His parables, His Passion, His Death, and His Resurrection, they testify to this work of transition that Jesus Christ performs for us. He appears bodily, risen, specifically to show us that He still lives with us, but within our sacramental, mystical union with Him as a Church, not forever in human form. We will celebrate his Ascension in a few weeks, but now we celebrate this turning point when the Church is born and instructed in the Christology whereby Christ inhabits the earth until the end of time.
At different times in our lives and in different ways, we are all the slow-of-heart disciples in today’s gospel. As we struggle with faith and the true import of this Jesus of Nazareth, we can be seized by our preoccupations and thoughts about His life. Even after we hear the interpretation of his life within the scope of salvation history, as we do at Mass and when reading Scriptures, and as the disciples heard on their seven-mile walk to Emmaus, we can remain stuck. Like the disciples who arrive at Emmaus and say, “Stay with us,” we want to hold fast onto this historical wonder-worker. We have realized that this man speaks the Truth, but we still have to move into His reality. Finally, it is at our communal table, in our sacrament of Eucharist that Christ instituted, that we are able to live within the mystical reality given to us. As we hear today, “he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Their ophthalmoi were fully opened (their eyes and mind’s eyes) and they “knew” Him or “recognized” Him. Jesus the Resurrected man vanishes and the Eucharist remains. He shows them how He now dwells in the world, with His Church — in their gathering as a community, presided by priestly action and sanctified by His Spirit. It’s no coincidence that a meal marks Christ’s presence with His Church. It is the fulfillment of his greatest commandment to love God and then each other; He gives Himself to us, to nourish us, and we, in turn, give Him to each other. This physical action of receiving and passing along God’s agape encompasses the entire life of a Christian within the sacrament.
In the light of the gospel, let’s look back at the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which shows us how life after the Ascension is filled with Christ. It takes the form of a classic miracle as we see before Jesus dies. “A man crippled from birth” is carried and placed by a temple gate daily to beg for alms. Peter and John walk by and “looked intently at him,” and Peter asks him to “look at us.” What is the meaning of this intense gaze? What are we being directed to see? What is there? Peter poetically tells him he has neither silver nor gold, but “what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” What is there? It is Jesus Christ! The Lord’s Spirit is alive and active in the world just as it was when He performed miracles Himself at the temple. It is there in the recognition between people, dwelling within them and ready to be a healing force in their lives. Importantly, Peter and John perform this miracle not just in the name of Jesus Christ, but with the intention of taking this man into their flock, their Church. We hear that he “went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.” The work of the Church points back to its source, to God. Peter and John live in the overflowing love of the Trinity, the life-giving and healing font for humanity. The Spirit of the Lord fills them, they act in the name of the Son, and they constantly praise the Father — all of this displaying clearly the work of the Church.