Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

posted 26 Apr 2020, 15:08 by Parish Priest
Third Sunday of Easter, Year A (23/4/20)

I’ve never been a great fan of people making unauthorised changes to the Mass. I’m not referring to altering the hymns at the last moment, but rather when a priest (usually a priest) decides to re-word parts of the Mass, or even alter and change everything around. I heard once of a priest who thought it made more sense to swap the Easter Vigil around. Normally we begin with the lighting of the fire, then we light the paschal candle and process into the church, sing the Exsultet, and afterwards, in the light of the paschal candle, listen to the readings from the Old Testament. Instead, he thought it made more sense to have the readings first, and then go outside for the fire, light the candle and so on. But it doesn’t, because it misses an important point: we don’t read the Old Testament wondering when the Messiah will come and who He will be – we already know the answer, and it’s in the light of the risen Christ that we read the whole of the Scriptures. In Christ, it all finally makes sense. As someone once put it, we read the Scriptures with post-resurrection spectacles.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t know all this. Perhaps in some ways they were like Catholics who know bits of their faith here and there, but haven’t been able to put it all together and make sense of it. To them, it didn’t make sense and fit in with their expectations. This man “proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people”, but he was sentenced to death and was crucified. Well, in a sense, that’s not so unusual for a prophet. Some prophets in the Old Testament were also rejected, or even killed, such as the prophet Zechariah (see Mt 23:34-35; 2 Chr 24:20-22). But the idea of a dead Messiah didn’t fit with their ideas of what He should be and what He should do. Furthermore, it seems they didn’t understand, believe in or make sense of the claims by the women that He had risen. After all, some of their friends had been to the tomb and found it empty, but they hadn’t seen Him. What’s more, there was Christ, walking among them, and they couldn’t recognise Him.

So how does Christ respond? Remember that Jesus isn’t a teddy bear. He’s not gentle and diplomatic with them. He doesn’t respond to questions with more questions: what do you think it all means? How does it make you feel? Don’t worry – God is in your hearts, and that’s all that matters. No! He says, “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:25-27). Then He goes through the Old Testament and explains it in the light of Himself. He gives them thorough catechesis. Their hearts “burn” as He explains the Scriptures to them. It’s a life-changing encounter – their lives are never the same again. Before they were like a car where someone hasn’t connected all the parts together: the handbrake works, the windscreen wipers move, the seatbelts click, but the engine won’t start and it can’t get anywhere.

This can be how some people’s faith is today. The parts are there, but they aren’t connected together. Maybe some parts are faulty and need replacing. Someone’s decided to replace the car battery with a 9v battery from the supermarket. Rather than using petrol, someone’s filled the tank with water. There’s no engine oil. “Oh – I didn’t think you needed that.” It’s so important to have a sound grasp of your faith. Some people have been broken by various experiences in life, and by objections to the Catholic faith that others have thrown at them. “Well, if this is what you believe as Catholics, then why is so-and-so the case?” Difficulties and objections can be a chance to grow, as the disciples did on their way to Emmaus.

Clearly, the way Christ presented His catechesis was gripping and engaging. “[He] made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them” (Lk 24: 28-29). They didn’t use nightfall as an excuse to get rid of Him.

Then comes the fruit of Christ’s catechesis: when He took, blessed, broke and gave the bread, they didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m sure I’ve seen that somewhere else before. Don’t worry. It’ll come to me later. It’s not important.” No. They recognised Him. They had the faith to realise who He was. And then they head all the way back to Jerusalem. Their faith bore fruit in mission. It wasn’t an intellectual study, or a nice pastime, or something they just did out of social obligation.

So, how does all this apply to us? We need to get to know our faith, so that we can both draw more deeply from the Mass, and our faith can bear fruit in mission. But just one last point: we need to challenge people – the unbaptised, the lapsed, those in error and in indifference, but how we do so will vary from person to person. Christ could read people’s hearts and know where they were at fault, whilst we can’t. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. So tread carefully, but also tread courageously. And get busy. The news of the Resurrection admits no delay.