Apr 7, 2008

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 2008 - Given at Cronulla

Today’s Gospel recounts one of the great post-resurrection experiences in the early Church. The Gospel is full of meaning, and in 22 verses, Luke masterfully depicts a journey, an encounter with Christ, a lesson about the scriptures, a meal of supernatural significance, a return journey to Jerusalem and an experience with the community of believers.

According to Jewish law, faithful Jews were not permitted to undertake a journey on the Sabbath (Saturday). However, the day after the Sabbath was always a popular day for travel. The day after the Sabbath was the day of the resurrection of Christ, the day we now call Sunday, the day we undertake our spiritual journey.

Cleopas and his friend heard that Mary Magdalene found the tomb of Christ empty, and they were aware that Peter and John also visited the tomb, but saw nothing. In a similar way to Thomas in last week’s Gospel, Cleopas and his friend were unable to believe that Jesus was alive and they decided to return to their normal life. They moved on and began their journey away from Jerusalem towards a town called Emmaus (a town meaning “warm springs” – interpreted by some as meaning a place where one is lead towards the rivers of Hell.)

In the Scriptures, the city of Jerusalem is often connected with the Heavenly Jerusalem and identifying with Jerusalem was identifying with Heaven. The Gospel writer is illustrating the change in attitude of Cleopas and his friend. Through their actions, they had chosen to reject the ways of Christ and walk towards the “valley of darkness.”

In the midst of their journey away from faith, the risen Christ comes to guide them and support them. Calling to mind Psalm 22, “If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear. You are there with your crook and your staff; with these you give me comfort.” The Risen Christ begins his encounter with “hard love.” He calls Cleopas and his friend “foolish men,” and he firmly corrects them for their lack of belief. Then Christ explains the Old Testament references to Christ, how Christ is the innocent lamb, how Christ will suffer and enter into his glory – the glory of his death and resurrection. The Old Testament is full of references to Christ and his glory.

Jewish custom compelled Cleopas and his friend to offer hospitality to their new friend. In the context of the meal, their friend (the Risen Christ) took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and handed it to them. As they received the broken bread they were no longer able to see Jesus as a physical person, but recognised Jesus in the bread they had received and eaten.

Since their minds had been opened to the glory of Christ, and they had recognized Jesus in their midst, they immediately began their journey back to Jerusalem and the way of eternal life, and they spread the good news to the community of believers they had previously abandoned.

Christians are called together on the day of the resurrection (every Sunday) to enter into the Emmaus experience. Our Mass begins with a recognition that each of us are “slow to believe” and that we are foolish in the eyes of God (Penitential Rite). We then read the Scriptures and Christ comforts us and opens ours eyes to Christ’s glory in the Old and New Testament. Once we see Christ in our presence, the bread is taken (the offertory), blessed (the Eucharistic Prayer), broken (the Lamb of God) and given to us (Communion). Having received Christ in communion, we are sent into the world to bring the message of Christ to others: “Go in the peace of Christ to love and to serve the Lord.”

The celebration of Mass is the great event of the story of Emmaus, the great celebration of the Scriptures and the great event of the Christian people. Let us listen to the Word of God, and pray that we will be given the grace to see Christ in the breaking of bread and enter into the journey towards eternal life on the day of resurrection with Cleopas and his friend.


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