1 John 2:1-5a
|April 14-15, 2018, Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle B|
I'm sure everybody recognizes this Gospel passage from Luke as taking place at the end of the story of Jesus' encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples flat out fail to recognize Jesus when he first joins them. He then proceeds to open the scriptures for them, explaining all the passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that refer to the Messiah and how they point to Jesus. He then joins them at a meal and they finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
Here the disciples mistake the risen Jesus for a ghost and they are afraid. Jesus eats with them and they begin to understand who he really is. Jesus then opens their minds to understand the Scriptures, especially what they have to say about how Jesus would have to suffer, die and rise from the dead. So both of these stories share this aspect of people's inability to recognize the risen Christ with most of the post resurrection stories in the Gospels. One way of understanding this inclusion of the failure to recognize Jesus in his glorified state is that it is used to communicate that the risen, glorified human body, although truly human and truly the same person, it different in some fundamental way that makes even close friends or family unable to recognize Jesus at first. But there is more to it than that.
All four of the Gospels also contain many instances where Jesus is not recognized as the Messiah, even by those who had studied scripture and were filled with high anticipation of the coming of the Messiah With the exception of some demons, and Simeon and Anna, no one, not even his closest disciples understood to any level that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah
In my younger, more rash days, I can remember thinking that if I had been there 2,000 years ago, I certainly would have recognized Jesus for who he really was. Wouldn't you? Of course we wouldn't have. But more importantly, do we recognize the presence of Christ among us here and now? Because if the whole mission of the Church is to form disciples who have a deep personal relationship with Christ that drives them out to proclaim his Gospel, we better be able to recognize Christ in our midst.
Both the stories of the inability of his friends, family, and the priests and scribe to recognize Jesus as Messiah, and those of his post resurrection appearance give us a valuable lesson in what we need to do. For the most part, before his death and resurrection, people did not see him as the Messiah because they were looking for a very different Messiah, one who had military and political power, and who would drive out the Roman occupiers. For the post-resurrection appearances, people had no expectation of a human being being raised from the dead so they thought Jesus was a ghost or just didn't recognize him. So we need to make sure that we are not looking for Jesus in all the wrong ways.
There is the old story about a man who was a devoted Christian. He had a very strong prayer life and had always trusted God to protect him. One day, as a flood was predicted for his home town, he was told to evacuate. But when a National Guard truck came by he waved them off saying that he was going to trust in God's protection as he always had done. As the flood waters rose and started filling his home he moved the second floor. When a rescue boat came by he waved them off as well, repeating his resolve to rely only on God's help. Finally the water rose the roof line and he had to crawl onto his roof. When a helicopter came by and lowered a ladder to carry him to safety, he again waved them off with the assurance that God would save him. Of course the flood continued to rise, swept him away and he drowned. He arrived at the pearly gates very mad. After checking in he immediately sought out God and began to scold God, saying I trusted in your help and you just let me drown. How could you do that? God peered at him and said, "You're Joe Smith, right?" Joe nodded yes. God turned to his computer, pulled up a few records and turned back to Joe saying, "Didn't you get the truck, boat, or helicopter I sent in response to your prayers?"
I know we have talked about this in the past. If I asked how many of you have had a personal encounter with God in the past few weeks, very few of you would raise your hands. Yet if I asked how many have received communion, many if not most of you would. Are we missing the truck, the boat, and the helicopter because we are looking for something else?
The Catechism teaches very clearly that in celebrating the Eucharist we are to recognize the real presence of Christ in four ways. The first and pre-eminent way is in the consecrated bread and wine. But even though most of us would say we believe that these are now the real body and blood of Christ, how many of us walk back to our pew after receiving with a deep experienced of encountering the real presence of Christ.
We are also to recognize the real presence of Christ in the person of the priest presider, who by the power of the Holy Spirit is mystically joined to our one and only high priest who continually offers himself to the Father as priest, altar and sacrificial victim.
A third way we are to recognize the real presence of Christ is in the proclamation of Scripture. Do you remember what our response is when the priest or deacon introduces this as the Gospel according to Luke? Glory to you O Lord! and at the end, the response to "The Gospel of the Lord" is "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ". Do we just say those responses or do we really mean them because we have just encountered our Lord Jesus Christ.
And finally we are to recognize the real presence of Christ in the assembly. Take a look around. Are you experiencing a personal encounter with Christ because we who are gathered here are gathered as the Body of Christ?
So how do we stop looking for Jesus in the all the wrong places, all the wrong ways and start seeing what is all around us? Today's Gospel gives a good hint: Jesus explains how the Scriptures point to who it is that is standing before them. We need to fall in love with Scripture and there is only one way to do that: spend time with them. I was being a little facetious in the beginning when I said the everyone recognizes where today's passage comes in Luke's gospel.
And lastly, let us approach communion with a deeper awareness of who it is we are eating, and why Jesus chose to come to us in these forms. Let us encounter the Christ who is all around us and then we too will be witnesses of these things.