Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia

May 6, 2011

Each day now for two Easter weeks, we have recalled the post-resurrection encounters between Jesus and his followers.  Many of the accounts begin in the same way; by reporting that the apostles, and the other disciples of Jesus, seem to be getting back to the dull routines of their (pre-Jesus) lives.
In today’s gospel we meet two disciples walking together away from the dramatic Jerusalem events “that have taken place there in these days.” The are unaware of the meaning of the resurrection.

Even when “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them” they “did not realize that he was with them.”  “Their eyes were prevented from recognising him”. 

In these days we have (like the disciples) participated in the Holy Week and Easter journey of Jesus. We have recalled his passion, his death, and his resurrection. Now two weeks have passed and we are once again occupied fully with the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of our own lives.

In participating in the powerful liturgies of these days, have we simply recalled an historical event? Have we reduced the reality of God-with-us to the life of a good teacher who gives nothing more than moral mores and laws for life?

If we find ourselves in this situation we are not alone. Perhaps the most common and tragic heresy of people of faith throughout the centuries, is to see Jesus simply as a good ‘life-coach’ who offers eternal rewards to those who jump through the right hoops.

It is likely that these two disciples of Jesus, walking the road to Emmaus, were trying to find some meaning in the Holy Week and Easter journey of Jesus. The scripture tells us that as they walked ‘they were conversing and debating about all the things that had occurred.”  But the reading goes on to add that this conversation was not bringing them joy since “they looked downcast.”

Then, after they welcome Jesus to their home, he celebrates Eucharist with them. In that event “their eyes were opened” and they realize that Jesus is with them anew. In that event everything changes. Now they have encountered the risen Jesus. Their lives are changed forever.

We see an example of one such changed life when Peter boldly stands with the eleven and “raises his voice”  to announce the good news to the people of Jerusalem. As I hear this, something in me wants to caution Peter. “Be careful” I want to say to him. “They will get you too. Go gently Peter!”

But something has happened to Peter. He is now much too fired-up to go gently. He has no fear. He has only love for his Saviour. Only weeks earlier he was the one who denied knowing the Lord. Now he is fearless in the service of his Lord. His preaching is public and passionate. Something dramatic has happened to Peter. Jesus is now no longer simply his personal friend. For Peter Jesus is now not just a potential political leader or business partner. Peter now recognises the risen Jesus to be his Saviour.

As Pope Benedict writes in his new book Jesus of Nazareth Part II:

“…for the disciples the Resurrection was just as real as the Cross. It presupposes that they were simply overwhelmed by the reality, that, after their initial hesitation and astonishment, they could no longer ignore that reality. It is truly he. He is alive; he has spoken to us; he has allowed us to touch him, even if he no longer belongs to the realm of the tangible in the normal way.

“The paradox was indescribable. He was quite different, no mere resuscitated corpse, but one living anew and forever in the power of God. And yet at the same time, while no longer belonging to our world, he was truly present there, he himself. It was an utterly unique experience, which burst open the normal boundaries of experience and yet for the disciples was quite beyond doubt.”   p.246

An eternal reality has transformed Peter’s present existence. He is a new man.

“Now it must be acknowledged that if in Jesus’ Resurrection we are dealing simply with the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would ultimately be of no concern to us. For it would be no more important than the resuscitation of a clinically dead person through the art of doctors. For the world as such and for our human existence, nothing would have changed. The miracle of a resuscitated corpse would indicate that Jesus’ Resurrection was equivalent to the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 17:11-17), the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:22-24, 35-43 and parallel passages), and Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44). After a more or less short period, these individuals returned to their former lives, and then at a later point they died definitively.

“The New Testament testimonies leave us in no doubt that what happened in the “Resurrection of the Son of Man” was utterly different. Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out into an entirely new form of life, into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming, but lies beyond it – a life that opens up a new dimension of human existence. 

What does this all mean for us two thousand years later. Most of all we realize that Jesus himself is drawing near and walking alongside us. We are not alone. A new dimension of human existence is open before us. When we open ourselves to this gift we are, as Peter was, transformed. We become fearless in the service of Him who is loving us.

This means that we too will face opposition as we stand for justice in the face of evil. Christians will feel great discomfort among those who rejoice at the death of Osama bin Laden. We feel this since the new dimension of human existence cannot be achieved by violence and revenge, especially when it is wrongly called justice.

And so, along with the disciples of Jesus over two thousand troubled and tired years of Christian history, we gather every Sunday at his altar , that we might receive him again in the breaking of the bread.     

The Disciples Peter & John running to the tomb on the morning of the resurrection


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