Sunday Sermon for May 4, 2014, the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A
Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; 1Pt 1:17-21; Lk 24:13-35
In the first reading we hear the words of St. Peter as he addresses the crowd that gathered on Pentecost because of the sound they heard when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. Peter begins to explain to the people about Jesus, Who He is and what He had done for them. He speaks of the prophecy of King David regarding the resurrection, but shows that it did not refer to David himself because David’s tomb was right there in Jerusalem where it had been for a thousand years at that time.
The people St. Peter was addressing were people of faith, so we can only imagine the bewilderment in the minds of these people as Peter spoke to them about the great glory of God demonstrated through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It may not have been as difficult for these people as we might think because news of the crucifixion was everywhere in Jerusalem, as evidenced in the Gospel reading today when Cleopas asks Jesus if He was the only visitor to Jerusalem who did not know of the events that had occurred there. We can assume that there was just as much news spread about the fact that the tomb was empty and that the Lord had risen on the third day.
At the same time, we know that the Chief Priests had paid the guards to spread the story of how the Disciples had stolen the Body of Jesus. This probably influenced many people in Jerusalem. These, recall, are normal human beings who do not like to change. Remember also what we saw from the first Gospel on Palm Sunday: the whole city was shaken as our Lord entered and they wondered who this was. It is much easier to reject something as a tale and remain in one’s comfort zone than to have one’s faith shaken and be willing to follow the truth wherever it may lead.
We know that there were many who listened to the words of St. Peter and were willing to profess their faith in the Lord. Perhaps they understood that this was not a rejection of what they had been taught as Jews, but it was the fulfillment of all of the hopes and promises to which the Jewish people had clung so tenaciously over the centuries.
In the second reading St. Peter talks about those who have faith in God through Jesus, showing that the belief in the divinity of Christ does not violate truth that there is only one God, a point the Jews had struggled to maintain over the years. What is necessary, however, is to have faith in the revelation of God Who foretold the suffering of the Messiah. Jesus specifically asks His unbelieving disciples “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things?”
St. Peter, in the second reading, tells the Jewish people that they were ransomed from their futile conduct, handed on to them by their ancestors, by the Precious Blood of Jesus, as of an unblemished lamb. The conduct of the Jews was done according to what God had shown to Moses and the manner in which the Rabbis had interpreted the Scriptures. It was a holy way of life, but it was only an imitation of what God had shown to Moses.
The offering of the lambs was based on the offering of God’s Lamb which Moses saw in his vision. That Lamb continues to be offered sacramentally in the Eucharist. This is not an imitation of what happens in Heaven; it is a participation in the worship of Heaven. The two disciples recognized the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread. This was not merely a sign that they would have recognized from the Last Supper, because they were not part of that Passover Supper.
Their faith, which had been thrown into confusion because God acted in a manner different from what they had expected, was now on solid ground. This was not because they understood the Scriptures. No, their hearts burned within them as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them and explained them. Even with this they did not understand.
It was only when they recognized Him in the Eucharist that what had been explained to them suddenly made sense. This is the Bread of Angels; this is the true Manna from Heaven; this is the pure sacrifice offered to God to take away our sins. What could not be grasped with the senses, or even with the mind, was embraced when their hearts were opened and willing to change in order to conform to God’s will. It is no different for us. We can understand the truths of the faith with our minds, but until it gets into the heart the full Truth, Jesus, cannot be grasped.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.