Monday in Easter Week


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Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten son Jesus Christ hast overcome death…
Acts 10-34-43
Luke 24:13-35

Luke’s account of the Resurrection chronology is radically different from the other Evangelists. Matthew (28:9), Mark (16:9) and John (21:14) agree that the first appearance of Jesus was to women in general or Mary Magdalene in particular somewhere near the tomb whereas Luke, who might be expected on the basis of the rest of his Gospel, to note the prominent role of women in this most dramatic of events, does not follow the discovery of the empty tomb with a detailed account of the appearance of Jesus but dismisses Peter’s encounter with Jesus in a single line (24:34). Instead the narrative shifts to two travellers, Cleopas and, it is reasonable to assume, his wife, (Mark 16:12 adds nothing) who are trying to get home to Emmaus before the light fades and, therefore, whose departure from Jerusalem must have taken place before the full impact of the day’s early events became clear. They are approached by a stranger who asks for the latest news. They tell him about Jesus, their hopes, the empty tomb and the angels’ announcement that Jesus is alive but they can make nothing of it and so the stranger “opens their eyes” but only in a theological sense. Their eyes are “holden, so that they should not know him” until the breaking of the bread in their home. This is only one aspect (cf Tuesday in Easter) of the problematic nature of Jesus’ post Resurrection physical state.

The discourse of the stranger, reflecting one of Luke’s major concerns in the Gospel but even more so in Acts, significantly begins with Moses in linking Jesus with the prophetic tradition. In his sermon to Cornelius and his family in our extract from Acts, Peter further underlines the prophetic link, drawing in the baptism of John and connecting the Crucifixion and Resurrection with the last judgment and the remission of sins. Again, significantly, Peter underlines the post Resurrection physicality of Jesus by referring to his eating and drinking. One question is whether the references to food in acts and the Gospel are pointed or incidental.

Apart from Luke’s necessary preoccupation with establishing a link between the Jewish prophetic tradition and the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus, the key element in the Gospel is the self conscious reference to the Eucharistic rite which (cf Monday before Easter) only consists in the breaking of bread. Cleopas and his companion are so struck by this act that it triggers their recognition of Jesus which raises two interesting points; we should, at the very least, consider the possibilities: first, that followers of Jesus other than the Twelve were present at the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper; and, secondly, that if Cleopas’ companion was indeed his wife, that presence might well have included women. Whatever the case, the impact of this repeated ritual was so great that after Jesus had gone from their presence, the two householders immediately braved the onset of night to return to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened. Their hearts aflame, they carried Jesus’ Scriptural exegesis, sealed with his own special sign.

For us the particular relevance of Peter’s speech in Acts is that the good news is being proclaimed to Gentiles after a long inner struggle which finds Peter in conflict with his own traditional instincts and those of most of his followers. The story of Cornelius, unlike that of many other Gentile converts, is not opportunistic (cf Second Sunday in Lent) but is an elaborately constructed set piece which ties together Peter’s roof-top vision of Gentile food (recounted twice for effect) and Cornelius’ vision which causes him to summon Peter. The account which Peter presents is as simple and practical as that which a soldier might expect, based on eyewitness testimony and with a simple conclusion.

One of the major underlying dynamics in these Readings is that of transformation and consolidation. The obvious starting point is the Resurrection itself which transforms the landscape of Jesus’ followers from one of total disaster and defeat to one of bewilderment which takes some time to clear. It is, I think, fair to argue that in none of the Gospels is there a post Resurrection portrayal of the followers of Jesus at ease with their new situation. By the time we reach the story of Peter and Cornelius everything is much more clear; the Pentecost experience and the continuing active intervention of the Holy Spirit in the nascent church enables Peter to put the post Resurrection events into focus. There is also a strong element of transformation and focus in Luke’s account of the breaking of the bread. What might seem, without the benefit of 2000 years of Christian tradition, to be rather fragmentary accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist are given a massively consolidating affirmation in Luke’s Emmaus account; Jesus really did mean that his actions at the Last Supper should be repeated.

The most striking feature of Luke’s account, given the general background of post Resurrection bewilderment, is the decisive action of Cleopas and his companion. There is no hesitation, no doubt, no fear of being ridiculed and, one surmises, no decorous little phrases to describe this momentous revelation. The Eucharist is a decisive affirmation that Jesus has risen from the dead. How, then, can we who have the testimony of the whole of the New Testament and 2000 years of Christian tradition, generate the same wonder at our risen Lord and the same sense of affirmation in the Eucharist?

Starting Points for Sermons or Discussions:

  1. What theories might the Apostles have developed to explain the empty tomb?
  2. How much does it matter if the Institution of the Eucharist included many followers including women?
  3. What line of exegesis might Jesus have followed on the road to Emmaus?
  4. Is the mention of food in Acts and the Gospel pointed or incidental?
  5. Tell the Emmaus story from the Cleopas point of view.

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