Sunday, April 22, 2012

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2012
Luke 24: 35-48
NYLT, Putnam Valley, N.Y.

“The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).

The 2 disciples referred to in that opening to this evening’s gospel story about a resurrection appearance of Jesus are the 2 disciples who were going from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus that same Sunday afternoon, lamenting how Jesus had been betrayed and crucified—and already aware that the women had found his tomb empty that morning. As they walked along, Jesus came up to them, but they didn’t recognize him. He played dumb about everything that had just happened in Jerusalem, and when they had filled him in, he filled them in about what all that really meant. St. Luke says, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (24:27). But they still didn’t recognize him until they got to Emmaus and invited him to join them for supper. “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight” (24:30-31). And they hurried back to Jerusalem, even tho it was already “nearly evening” (24:29), and came to the 11 apostles and other disciples gathered in the upper room.
Jesus on the way to Emmaus with 2 disciples: art from the Tempio di Don Bosco, Castelnuovo Don Bosco

That’s where our gospel tonite picks up. You have to know that preceding story to know what the 1st verse means. And it’s an important verse—also for us who are disciples of Jesus today. The key phrases are “on the way” and “in the breaking of the bread.”

“What had taken place on the way” was that these 2 disciples had met Jesus, spoken with Jesus, been accompanied on their journey by Jesus, even tho they didn’t know it at the time. Jesus was walking with them; he was sharing in their sorrow; he was offering them encouragement; he was helping them see the events of their lives in a new light.

This is true for us too. We’re often unaware of his presence, but Jesus is our traveling companion. He walks with us on our journey, our pilgrimage, from conception thru birth and growth till death. He is with us in our achievements and our failures, in our joys and our sorrows. He wants to talk with us about everything that we experience and help us see all that we experience in the light of eternal truths, in the light of a plan that God has for us, that will finally bring us to a happy eternity.

There are, moreover, people who help Jesus in that role of companion, people who accompany us on our way: our parents, our Scout leaders, priests (I hope!), teachers, and other mentors. They may guide us and offer us insights in purely secular terms, from when our parents potty-trained us to developing our leadership skills to selecting a college to attend. More important is the spiritual guidance they may offer us: teaching us to pray, showing us God’s love, helping us see in our experiences the hand of God leading us forward (sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently), discerning God’s vocational call for our future.
Mosaic of loaves and fish: Simon Peter's house at Capernaum

“That the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name” (Luke 24:46-47) became clear to the 2 disciples in hindsight, when Jesus “broke bread” with them. “Breaking bread” with someone means to have a meal with them. But it means much more when the 2 disciples say that they recognized Jesus “in the breaking of bread.” All 4 Gospels tell how Jesus multiplied loaves when he took them, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute. St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke tell us that at the Last Supper Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to” the apostles (Mark 14:22). And St. Luke reports that at Emmaus, “while he was with [the 2 disciples] at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31). In short, “the breaking of bread” is a phrase loaded with mystery in the Christian sense of that term, loaded with sacramental overtones, loaded with the implications of God meeting us, God feeding us, God interacting with us, God giving us himself.

“The breaking of bread” is used thruout the Acts of the Apostles to mean the celebration of the Eucharist—the most fundamental sacramental meaning of the phrase. When we read that “the 2 disciples recounted…how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread,” we’re reading how we meet Jesus today: at the celebration of the Eucharist. This is the most intimate way that we encounter him, eating his flesh, drinking his blood, allowing him to become part of our bodies and souls; committing ourselves to be and to act as his living body in the Church and in the world. Participation in the Eucharist is necessary for a complete knowledge of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as the One who died and rose for our salvation, the One who is our companion in life. He himself says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:54).

The weekly celebration of the Eucharist with our parish community is a total experience—not limited only to taking the Sacrament but much more, all that the revised liturgy often calls “these sacred mysteries.” The “breaking of bread” includes our community gathering, our listening to God’s Word, our faith profession, our praise of our heavenly Father for offering us his Son as our Savior, and it culminates in our sacramental union with the Lord Jesus.

There’s another meaning to “the breaking of bread” besides the sacramental one. God says in Deuteronomy, “Man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (8:3)—which Jesus quotes when the devil is tempting him to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger (Matt 4:4). Bread is a metaphor for the Word of God. In John 6, Jesus 1st refers to himself as “the bread of life that has come down from heaven” to give life to the world (6:33,35,41)—Jesus who is “the Word made flesh,” and “whoever believes [this Word] has eternal life” (6:47).
Deacons breaking Hosts at the communion rite of Mass

When we come to Mass or celebrate most of the sacraments, we are presented with readings from the Word of God. The Word is “broken open” for us, like bread being broken, and it’s offered to us to consume, to chew on, to take in. (That’s what the homily is supposed to help us do.) When Jesus met the disciples on the way to Emmaus, he explained the Scriptures to them so that they would understand him and what had happened to him and what all that meant for them. So it’s important for us to take up the Scriptures, especially the Gospels (but not only), and read them, reflect on them, let Jesus speak to us thru them, let him put light on our lives: what’s happened to us, how we’re treating people, what we’ve done right or wrong, what decisions we might have to make. What does God want of me at this moment in my life? Jesus is “made known to us in the breaking of bread,” in our opening ourselves to his holy Word. “Whoever keeps his word,” St. John said to us this evening, “the love of God is truly perfected in him” (1 John 2:5).

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