April 29-30, 2006, 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. For those of you who were able to attend our Generations of Faith gathering session last month, we prayed the first part of that story at the beginning of the session.
Then we have Luke basically repeating the same scenario back in Jerusalem with all the disciples present. Given how short any of the Gospels are, any time anything is repeated, especially back to back as it is here, we probably should sit up and take notice.
The framework for the two stories is basically this: when the disciples first encounter the risen Jesus they do not recognize him for who he really is at first. One the road to Emmaus, the two disciples flat out fail to recognize Jesus at first. 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.
It is only when the disciples have started to understand the scriptures, and have shared a meal with Jesus that they are ready to be sealed with the Holy Spirit so they might be sent forth to witness to the Gospel.
I know that some of us older folk were led to understand the consecration or liturgy of the table to be the most important part of the mass. So much so that the legalistic among us had the notion that you could arrive at mass any time up through the gospel and it would still fulfill our obligation. The Church is pretty explicit now about the reality that the liturgy of the word is equally important to the liturgy of the table. This teaching is very much consistent with today's gospel story. In some sense we can say that the most important part of the mass is the dismissal, when we are sent forth to love God by loving one another. That is the purpose of the consecration and communion parts of the mass: to make us more fully into the body and blood of Christ so that we might be sent forth as effective witnesses to the good news.
As we see in Luke's story, we cannot fully respond to Jesus' invitation to be his witnesses without understanding who he is as revealed by Scripture.
One of the most fascinating aspects of watching my children grow up was to see them, as they got older, become more and more curious about our family history. They wanted to pore through the photo albums and show the old super 8s and videos. As they brought significant others into the family, that is one of the first signs of a serious relationship: they would make them sit though album and video viewings, explaining in great detail who this was and what this event was all about. This kind of story telling is the most effective way of becoming a family.
The same is true for our family of faith. The Scriptures are our family album. They explain how it is that we can even begin to call ourselves a community that dares to become one as the body of Christ. Without understanding scripture we will never see Christ as he truly is, so there is little chance we will be able to “put on Christ” fully.
Mass is not the time to learn Scripture. I was being a little facetious in the beginning when I said that we probably all recognize where this story fit in Luke. Sadly, many of us don't because we don't study, or even just read, scripture.
We are at a critical time in our parish life. If we are to survive as a vibrant worshiping community we have to participate more fully in the body of Christ. As parish leaders we see two critical components to this challenge. One is to learn more about our faith, especially as adults. That is the driving force behind our commitment to Generations of Faith. We are also encouraging the formation of small faith groups, especially ones that will spend at least part of their time studying scripture.
And secondly is this weaving of our individual stories into a fabric of community, of family, inspired by our common heritage revealed in Scripture. Generations of Faith and small faith groups can play a part in this sharing of stories as well. In addition we are introducing the one on one sharing in the framework of MICAH, which hopefully will result, over many months, in a sharing of each of our stories with each other so that we grow more closely as a real community of people who know each other.
I know I sound like a stuck record some time but I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of our parish identity crisis. At the same time, I cannot emphasize enough the sense of hope and possibility I get every time I think about this community. Just as the disciples huddled in that closed room waiting for the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, we are on the verge of becoming a community that is a truly effective witness to all these things we celebrate this Easter season. Come join us. We cannot do this without you.