Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35
The series of readings continues from Acts of Apostles. Last Sunday we encountered the outcome of Simon Peter’s long sermon immediately after the Pentecost experience of the disciples. Luke asserts that 3,000 were baptized and joined in fellowship and “the breaking of the bread,” (the Eucharist). The apostles worked “many signs and wonders,” while all the new converts shared everything so that no one had need of anything. This Sunday we backtrack to the sermon itself. The apostles were so enthusiastic that they were accused of being drunk. Peter explains, “These men are not drunk since it is only 9:00 o’clock in the morning.” But they were drunk, not with spirits but with the Holy Spirit. Peter proves their inebriation with the Holy Spirit by a quote from the prophet Joel, “In the last days it shall be, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh . . . .” These are only the preliminary remarks. At this point our first reading begins.
Peter gives a brief summary of Jesus’ mission — that God bore witness to Jesus through his miracles, that Jesus “was delivered up” according to God’s plan, crucified and killed by lawless men, that God raised him from death, “because it was impossible that he (Jesus) be held by death.” Peter needs proof that all this was in God’s foreknowledge and plan. He finds the proof in Psalm 16:8-11, especially in the words, “. . . you will not abandon my soul to Hades (Sheol, netherworld), nor will you let your holy one see corruption (decay of the flesh).” At that time the Psalms were attributed to King David as author. Peter notes that David was buried and died and “his tomb is still with us to this day.” In other words, David did not rise from the dead, therefore David must have been talking about the resurrection of Jesus. So they argued in those times, giving an interpretation to the Psalm very different from its original meaning. Thus we can see how the Scriptures, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can be expanded and applied anew.
The Responsorial Psalm 16 is the same Psalm just quoted in Peter’s sermon, but with a few earlier verses. The people’s response becomes a reference to the resurrection of Jesus, “You will show me the path of life.”
The second reading continues a series from the First Letter of St. Peter. This excerpt is part of a section called “Exhortation to Holiness.” The reason for holiness, which also means “whole-ness” is given earlier in a quote from Leviticus 11:44, where the Lord God says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” An additional reason is added, “. . . realizing that you were ransomed. . . not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The words in italics refer to the qualities of the lamb chosen as Passover Lamb in Exodus 12:5. Christian interpretation of Jesus’ death as the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb is seen as early as 54 A.D. in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “For Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” The author of the letter proclaims the resurrection of Jesus to glory as the basis of our faith and hope. Paul writes in 1Cor 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and so is your faith.”
The gospel reading is the day of the resurrection of Jesus. It is the Emmaus event. Emmaus was a town seven miles west of Jerusalem. The thousands of pilgrims drawn to Jerusalem for Passover were now on the way home. Two were from Emmaus. They were talking about what had happened to Jesus of Nazareth at Jerusalem. Jesus, no longer subject to the laws of physics, draws near to them and walks with them, but does not let them recognize him. He asks them the subject of their discussion. Luke composes this story many years later from traditions that he discovered. He takes the opportunity to insert a short creed in the answer attributed to the two returning pilgrims, beginning from Jesus’ ministry to his resurrection. The creed makes interesting reading. They still don’t know who the stranger is who was walking with them. He addresses them bluntly, “You foolish and slow of heart in believing all that the prophets spoke. Was it not necessary that the Christ (Messiah) should suffer these things that the prophets spoke?” According to early Christian belief, what had happened to Jesus happened because the oracles of the prophets predicted it. Another way of understanding the relationship of the Old to the New Testament is that the authors of our New Testament, under guidance of the Holy Spirit composed their narratives about Jesus by using Old Testament passages to form their versions of the Christian proclamation.
Jesus takes on the role of professor of Scripture. He explains to them what Old Testament passages refer to him from “Moses,” that is the Torah (Pentateuch), the Prophets, and all the Scriptures. The latter would be the third division of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Writings. The main parts of the Writings are the Psalms. Early Christian teachers found in the Psalms much material that they interpreted as being said about Jesus. It was a long lecture Professor Jesus gave them. It was getting dark as they approached their town. The polite thing to do — “Stay the night with us.” Hospitality was an important part of Christian life when Luke was writing his gospel, but he has more important matters in mind — table fellowship, the Eucharist. While they were at table, Jesus spoke the words that every Christian knew by Luke’s time, the Words of Institution of the Eucharist — “took, blessed, broke, gave” even as we do to this day. By this they recognized him, and he vanished. Luke the teacher is saying to us, “You will recognize him in the breaking of the bread, but you will not see him.” To the two men Luke attributes what could be our own excitement when we hear or see the Scriptures explained, “Were not our hearts burning within us . . . , when he opened the Scriptures to us?”