3rd Sunday of Easter A
Readings: Acts 2:14,22‑28 1 Peter 1:17‑21 Luke 24:3‑35
"Lord, you will show us the path of life" (Ps 16). The refrain for the responsorial psalm captures the spirit of this Sunday's readings. We can all identify with the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus whose hopes had been crushed because their master Jesus, "a prophet powerful in word and deed," had been delivered up to death and crucified. Let us listen attentively to the story of their transformation when they meet the risen Jesus, who explains to them how Moses and the prophets announced that the Messiah had "to undergo all this so as to enter into his glory." And, as we go on to celebrate this Sunday's Eucharist, may our eyes also be opened "to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread."
The reading from Acts is the heart of Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, when, for the first time, he boldly proclaims the gospel message of God's victory over death by raising Jesus. Jewish pilgrims have gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Shabuoth (Weeks or Pentecost) which comes fifty days after Passover. Transformed by the power of the Spirit, Peter tells them the gospel story in three stages. First of all, he reminds the Jews of the wonders God worked through Jesus while he was in their midst: “Jesus the Nazorean was a man whom God sent to you with miracles, wonders and signs as his credentials.” Secondly, Peter recounts how Jesus ‘was delivered up’ to crucifixion and death at the hands of pagans (the Romans), but he insists that this was according to “the set purpose and plan of God.” Finally, and most importantly, Peter bears witness to God's raising Jesus: "God freed him from death's bitter pangs, however, and raised him up again, for it was impossible that death should keep its hold on him." Jesus' victory over death is then related to Psalm 16 in which David spoke prophetically about the Messiah's trust that God would free him from death: "I have set the Lord ever before me,/ with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed./ My heart has been glad and my tongue has rejoiced,/ my body will live on in hope,/ For you will not abandon my soul to the nether world,/ nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption./ You have shown me the paths of life;/ you will fill me with joy in your presence" (Ps 16:8-11).
The reading from 1 Peter speaks of the demands of our resurrection faith. We are like redeemed slaves who have been purchased with a great price: "Christ's blood beyond all price: the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb." Therefore Peter commands: "conduct yourselves reverently during your sojourn in a strange land." In one sense Christians no longer have their citizenship in this alien world. They have been "delivered from the futile way of life" which their pagan fathers handed on to them.
One way of looking at this Sunday's Gospel is to contrast the disciples' disappointment on the way to Emmaus with their excitement when they return to Jerusalem. As they speak with the hidden Jesus on the road to Emmaus, it becomes clear that the disciples know all of the events that are to become the gospel story, but they do not yet understand them as good news. They tell this stranger about "Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in word and deed," but then they go on to recount their disappointment when the "chief priest and leaders delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him." Although they have heard about the empty tomb from the women, they speak of their story as a "tale about a vision of angels who declared he was alive."
Jesus does two things to transform these two disciples into believers. First of all, as they journey on to Emmaus, he explains the scripture passages in Moses (the Torah) and the prophets which spoke of how the Messiah had to suffer in order to enter his glory. Secondly, when they invite Jesus to stay with them that evening, he takes bread, pronounces the blessing, breaks it and distributes it to them. These two actions‑‑ reading the Hebrew Scriptures in light of Jesus and breaking bread in memory of him‑‑ were the two essential parts of the early Christian Eucharistic celebrations and continue to be the central actions to this very day. Through these two actions the disciples are transformed into believers. Luke simply says, "With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him." Although Jesus then vanishes from their sight, the memory of his teaching is still with them. They recall, "Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?" Now they must share their joy with the Eleven, and so we are told that "they got up immediately and returned to Jerusalem" where "they recounted what had happened on the road and how they had come to know him in the breaking of bread."