Scripture Commentary for 3rd Sunday of Easter, cycle A

hearts burning

1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 14, 22-23

Peter does in this passage what Jesus did in the gospel. He uses Scripture to shed light on God’s saving plan that has been unfolding in their midst. The speech is trying to motivate the hearers to repentance and conversion. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 294-296)

This really takes place after Pentecost in ‘Luke’s story’.This is an example of typical early Christian preaching. There are 4 parts to the early ‘kerygma’ or ‘creed’:

  1. Jesus was a man sent by God.
  2. Jesus was a man empowered by God to overcome evil.
  3. Jesus was a man who was betrayed, who suffered and died.
  4. Jesus was then raised and vindicated by God.

This ‘sermon’ is given here by Peter, now transformed by the Spirit of Risen Christ.  Peter who slept in the garden and then denied Jesus in fear now proclaims the same Jesus with joy and power. Here is the power of Jesus’ Resurrection!  Peter challenges all of us to be so transformed.

The early Christians turned to their Scriptures, just as we do, to help them understand the happenings in their lives.  Here Peter uses Psalm 16, and so it was chosen to be the psalm for this Sunday (our closing prayer).   Notice how it is about Jesus – and about us.

It was impossible for Jesus to be held in captivity by death; this is what Peter declares to his listeners. Christ could not be held by death because in his cross he had overcome it. Death – theologically, at least – is our ultimate separation from God the source of life. Jesus was not held by death because of some abstract quality of divinity; it was his complete obedience to the will of God (trusting, listening obedience) that kept him more convinced always of God’s love than the evil and suffering around him. It was not some magic act due to his divine powers. It was this trust and obedience that overcame human alienation and separation from God (what is meant by sin and death). (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1: 17-21

The great Easter truth is not that we live newly after death . . .But that we are to be new, here and now, by the power of the resurrection;  not so much that we are to live forever, as that we are to live nobly now because we are to live forever. (Phillip Brooks)

In this passage we have to be careful not to take the language of ‘ransom’ and ‘blood’ too literally. The language is somewhat crude and cultic, but it is meant to speak of the liberation that we as Christians have as we come to understand the meaning and consequence of Jesus’ death. His blood speaks of Jesus’ total surrender and trust to his Father’s will and life. In this trust Jesus found the way through death to eternal life with his Father and our God. There is fear here on this side of the grave. But, like Jesus, let us surround our fears with trust in the God who loves us and has ultimate power over death. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

From Richard Rohr: “We can’t see love, but we can see what happens to someone who is loved – the power and gentleness of those who let themselves be loved by Jesus, endless life, welling up within . . . “

The Gospel – Luke 24: 13 – 35

Each time we gather for Eucharist we experience this Emmaus story. It is a ‘pattern’ for Eucharist and for conversion. We share the story of Jesus.  We invite the stranger, invoke a blessing, and share a meal. In this breaking of the bread our eyes are opened; our hearts come alive with a new fire. Here on this side of the grave and eternity, we can know Jesus; we can experience his presence. Our hearts can burn with the insight and encounter that comes to us from our Lord, a reality we can trust. (Celebration, April, 2005)

The early church had to express and reflect on their encounter with the Risen Jesus. Certainly for all of us, too, life is a journey, full of joy and newness, grief and doubt.  Like all people on a journey, these early followers were living a time of transition: they needed to learn to live the Paschal Mystery – the mystery of new life through death. After Jesus’ death, he did not get his ‘old life’ back. His resurrection was about receiving a new life – a richer life that was never going to end again in death. This is our salvation, too. With Jesus, we journey from the tragedy of Jesus’ death and absence in the empty tomb to his presence in and with them in a powerful, new way.  (R. Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, 142-150)

Notice how Jesus’ use of scripture helps them to understand and see the present reality in a new way.  Jesus points out to them the sacred pattern of a prophet. God’s purpose and plan must be realized – made real and apparent – in an unruly world. By not annihilating such a world – nor robbing it of its power of decision and action – God’s prophets and servants are faced with the suffering that such a world causes. Since the world does not easily submit to God’s Word and plan, Jesus had to follow the pattern of all great prophets: work against evil and injustice; then be willing to face hardship, even rejection and death. Jesus helped these two followers to remember the past effectively — with help from the scriptures, Jesus helped them to bring the truth to the present and apply it to the future.  This is what Jesus offers us at each Eucharist.           (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 294-296)

From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, pp. 30-41, 60-66:

Yes, we must mourn our losses…  To grieve is to allow our losses to tear apart feelings of security and safety and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness… Our grief makes us experience the abyss of our own life in which nothing is settled, clear, or obvious, but everything is constantly shifting and changing… But in the midst of all this pain, there is a strange, shocking, yet very surprising voice… “Blessed are those who mourn… there is a blessing hidden in our grief… in the midst of our tears, a gift is hidden… the question is whether our losses lead to resentment or to gratitude… The great mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist… is precisely that through mourning our losses we come to know life as a gift. The beauty and preciousness of life is intimately linked with its fragility and mortality… I still remember… “It is only the broken soil that can receive the water and make the seed grow and bear fruit.”  We must take the brokenness of our lives and place it under the blessing of God’s love. We need to lift our little stories up into God’s great story… the great temptation of our lives is to deny our chosen-ness, our belovedness, and so to be trapped in the worries of our daily lives. We not only need to see the manure that covers the soil, but the fruits on the trees that sprung from it.

Notice that at the moment of ‘open-eyed’ recognition of Jesus, he vanishes from their sight. Luke’s point is clear: from that time on, the disciples would meet Jesus, know him, be fed and taught by him at every Eucharistic encounter. And in a sense their ‘vision’ is so improved that they find it no problem to journey back to Jerusalem at night – full of joy and energy. (Celebration, April 2005)

These two disciples are leaving their faith community. They do not even place much credence in the ‘women’s testimony’ concerning the empty tomb. In fact, it seems that it is this very testimony that motivates them to leave. They are hitting the road, deep in confusion. Yet, Jesus joins them. This story is sort of a metaphor about how God deals with someone who has gone away; perhaps it is also an image of how we are to deal with each other in our unbelief.  It is a story of paradoxes – of faith and crisis, of distance and closeness, of seeing and blindness, of light and darkness. Sometimes it is only as we look back – when we ponder and reflect – that we realize that God’s presence and closeness was real. And so, present with him at the table, they finally recognize the gift of the presence that was there all along, walking away, talking away, wondering why, telling their woe, hearing his story once again. Maybe their sense of loss, their longing for hope, was hope. Maybe even their desire to believe was believing — even their longing to love was love. Maybe the God-we-find-in-Jesus can see all the way through to our broken hearts and clouded minds. It happened back then on the road – it can and will happen to us also on our road of life if we but welcome his presence.  (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged” http://litrugy.slu.edu )

From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, pp. 95- 97:

For communion with Jesus means becoming like him . . . And Communion creates community. Christ, living in them, brought them together in a new way. The Spirit of the risen Christ, which entered them through the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, not only helped them recognize Christ himself but also each other . . . the God living in us helps us recognize the God in our fellow humans . . . this new body is fashioned by the Spirit of love. It manifests itself in very concrete ways: in forgiveness, reconciliation, mutual support, outreach to people in need, solidarity with all who suffer . . .

Let us pray (Psalm 16  The Message Version): 

1-2 Keep me safe, O God,
I’ve run for dear life to you.
I say to God, “Be my Lord!”
Without you, nothing makes sense.

And these God-chosen lives all around—
what splendid friends they make!

Don’t just go shopping for a god.
Gods are not for sale.
I swear I’ll never treat god-names
like brand-names.

5-6 My choice is you, God, first and only.
And now I find I’m your choice!
You set me up with a house and yard.
And then you made me your heir!

7-8 The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake
is confirmed by my sleeping heart.
Day and night I’ll stick with God;
I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go.

9-10 I’m happy from the inside out,
and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed.
You canceled my ticket to hell—
that’s not my destination!

11 Now you’ve got my feet on the life path,
all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
I’m on the right way.

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