3rd Sunday of Easter (A) – April 23, 2023
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35
Real Events (not sentiments) Change Our Life
I’m pretty sure I’ve used this example before—but I think each one of us is familiar with events that changed the world we live in. We’re living in the world, and all of a sudden we wake up and the world as we knew it is different. Something happens, an event happens, and suddenly everything has changed and we’re living in a new world. One event happens, everything changes.
(1) One example is the event of 9/11. That day is burned into my brain—even though I was only 8. 9/11 was a “world-changing event.” We woke up on 9/12 and the world was different. Life wasn’t the same. And there are still massive changes that we still experience to this day. No one mentioned the TSA before 9/11, and now you make sure you get to the airport early to have time to get through security, buy TSA Pre-Check to skip lines, and on and on. (2) COVID: that’s a “world-changing event.” Healthcare has changed. Politics changed. Supply chains have changed. “Working remote.” (3) Or even something like having a child. That’s a life-changing event. The “world” that was “your life” isn’t there any more. Life drastically changes when there is a human being 100% dependent on you for its survival. Every decision has to take this human being into account.
Ok. What’s the point? The point is that it is real, concrete events that changed everything. Only an event has the capacity, only a real, concrete event has the ability to change the world, to change our life, to change our heart. Sentiments and emotions can’t do that. Rules and laws can’t do that, no. Only an event has the ability to do that.
Our faith, the reason we show up on Sunday mornings—it’s not because of a set of rules, it’s not because of theological truths—it’s because an EVENT. And this event is nothing other than what we call the Paschal Mystery: Jesus’ death and resurrection; the event of our rescue. That’s the event!
And if that’s the event, what is the change? Answer: everything. Everything has changed! Just like 9/11 changed the world of flying forever, just like COVID changed the world of healthcare and public health, just like a child changed your world—the real, concrete event of Jesus’ death and resurrection has changed everything in the world, in our life! Everything is now different! You don’t get to pretend it’s not. The world, reality has changed.
But… (and this is a big but) …but, would you be willing or able to stand up in front of everyone right now and tell us HOW YOU PERSONALLY experience that change? Can you put your finger on how anything is different? Did the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead change everything, did it change anything for you when you woke up on Thursday?
Remember: “Let it!” & “4 Practical Steps”
Because it is so important (or because I’m so lazy—maybe a combination of the two) my Easter message is going to bring us back to this: two words: “Let it.” Are we letting this event change our world? With 9/11, you could just rebel and say you’re never flying again; you could keep trying to bring your scissors onto the plane. With COVID, what did we see? People rebelled. They decided COVID was over and went back to “normal.” With children, one of the saddest things you see is parents trying to live their life as if they don’t have kids. Same here: we can continue to live as if this event hasn’t happened, as if it isn’t really real.
But if we’re going to LET IT change us—we need to be practical about it. What did we hear last week? The first Christians, their very DNA—it was very practical for them. They did four things: they dedicated themselves to the teaching of the Apostles (because these are the guys that knew what Jesus was saying); they dedicated themselves to the communal life (so they didn’t just grab a cup of coffee and sit at home and say, “Well, me and Jesus are going to do this ourselves.” No, the community was an essential part of the DNA); they dedicated themselves to the Breaking of the Bread (which we talked about is “code” for the Eucharist, gathering on Sunday to celebrate the Mass); and fourth, to the prayers (so regular prayer each and every day). And remember: why did they do this? Because these were the rules they had to follow “or else”? No. They did this because this was the way they could continue to experience this life-changing event, allow this life-changing event to affect them, to change them, to transform them.
But this is where the objection arises: “Father, that’s great for them. If they needed that, good for them. But me? Well, I’ll do it my own way. I’m a good person. I’ll just figure out my own way.” And to that I would say two things. The first is, “How is that going for you?” I would challenge you: commit yourself to going to Mass every Sunday for a year, 52 Sundays in a row—and if things haven’t changed for you, I’ll buy you a steak dinner. But the second thing I would say is this (and this is what our readings are getting at): the reason we need to listen to the proposal given to us (like these four practical things) is because even though you may know and even agree that Jesus rose from the dead, this doesn’t mean that it has truly affected you, changed you. Again, on Thursday morning, did you experience your life differently?
The Disciples on the Road Knew, But Were Left Unchanged
The classic example are the disciples in the Gospel today. These disciples on the road to Emmaus know what happened, they know the story, they probably even believe that he is actually raised from the dead … BUT (and this is a big “but”)—but it didn’t change them or their life. There was a disconnect between this real, concrete fact, this event, and their “real life.” Other events and facts had changed their life: when Rome attacked, invaded and implemented new taxes; when pandemics struck their community; when they had children—these changed their life. But this? Clearly not. What does Jesus say when he is talking to them? “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe.”
And so what does Jesus do? What happens? What is the method Jesus uses to help them? Well, look. 1) there are two disciples journeying together, on the road together; 2) Jesus arrives last, and is present, although hidden from plain sight; 3) the Scriptures are proclaimed and then explained by Jesus; 4) they then sit down for a meal, and in the Breaking of the Bread Jesus’ presence is revealed and experienced; 5) this leads these disciples to “set out and once” to proclaim Jesus’ presence; and 6) ALL of this takes place on “the first day of the week,” Sunday.
The Proposal Since the Easter Day: Together on the Road & Breaking the Bread
This Gospel is paramount, archetypal for us. Why? Because it reveals the way, the primary and ordinary method by which the risen Jesus Christ is going to break into my life, change me and the way in which I will continue to experience this life-changing event. Let me say that again. This story is so important for us because it reveals the primary and ordinary method by which Jesus Christ is going to break into our life, change us and how we can continue to experience this world-changing event.
What is this method? 1) there are two disciples journeying together, on the road together—this is the gathering of the community, us; 2) Jesus arrives last, although hidden in plain sight—Jesus arrives last, hidden in the person of the priest, in persona Christi; 3) the Scriptures are proclaimed and then explained—the Scriptures are proclaimed and then explained, opened up and made understandable in the homily; 4) in the Breaking of the Bread Jesus’ presence is revealed and experienced—in the Breaking of the Bread, in the Eucharist we experience his presence; 5) the disciples “set out and once”—at the end of our gathering we are “sent out,” “go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”; and 6) this takes place on the first day on “the first day of the week,” Sunday—and what day do we gather? Sunday, exactly.
What we see in this Gospel is the method given to us by Christ, the way in which our attention and person can be sustained. Emotional experiences, just following laws and rules don’t do that. We need something to help sustain our attention, to help us remember and recognize this event even now. People often forget about 9/11—they just complain at airports, forgetting why the security is so necessary. So what do airports do? Well, in Wichita they show you pictures of all of the guns they’ve confiscated at security. COVID: now we’re just angry any time it is mentioned—we forget how bad it was, and the confusion in those initial months. We easily forget the events that have changed our life, and it is no different with the Paschal Mystery. We easily forget that we are living in a different world; because of the Resurrection, we are in a different world! And what we need is a method by which we can be sustained along the way. Without it, we will forget, we will go back to “normal.”
This is why the parish exists. Do you know where the word “parish” comes from? It comes from the Greek word “paroikia.” And paroikia has a surprising meaning: “a sojourning.” We heard it in our second reading today from St. Peter, “Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning” (1 Pt 1:17). A parish isn’t just a place we can go to Mass or drop our kids off for classes about Jesus. A parish implies this idea of constant movement. So a parish, this community, us—we are the disciples together on the road! Again, Acts 2:42, “they dedicated themselves…to the communal life.” The parish isn’t just a nice thing to help you follow Jesus if it works out for you, no. The parish, this community—this is an essential part.
And what’s the other part? Well, during this sojourn, during this “parish” together, to gather on the “first day of the week,” on Sunday, for the Breaking of the Bread, the Eucharist. All of this, everything that we do—the Sunday Eucharist must be the central and essential and non-negotiable element of our DNA. And unless you think I’m making this all up, the teaching of the Apostles, the teaching handed to us by the Church is this: “The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life.”
Now, to be sure, this life together on the road happens in many places. It happens first and foremost as the Church, as this parish community. But also in the domestic Church, in the family. The family is the first place that a child will experience this. But also as two disciples on the the road: in friendship. I can tell you, I would not be a priest today if not for the friends that have walked with me on the road. True friends that help sustain our attention, that help us live this are essential.
The Event Must Endure In Our Life
I don’t think any one of us would deny that Jesus rose from the dead, or that his death and resurrection have changed the world. But, the challenge we face is to allow this change into our life. And there on the very first Easter Sunday, as we hear in this story of the road to Emmaus, Jesus gives us the pattern for allowing this to change us: on the first day of the week, on Sunday, to be together on the road (to be a parish, to sojourn together, paroikia) and to center our life on the Breaking of the Bread, on the Eucharist. For many of us, this is something we already do: and so the challenge is to pay even closer attention to it, to celebrate it more intentionally and intensely—maybe in how you prepare for Mass, or how you spend the rest of your day on Sunday. And for others of us, for others that don’t come to Mass regularly, I challenge you: make the commitment to receive the Eucharist every Sunday for a year. Maybe this means you need to get to confession so you can receive the Eucharist. Maybe this means you need to talk to me about your marriage—happy to do it! But get that taken care of and then come to Mass every Sunday for a year. Why? Because this is the method Jesus gave to us literally on the day he rose from the dead—and perhaps there is something here that we do not yet see and recognize, but something that Jesus wants to reveal to us, to open our eyes to in the Breaking of the Bread. “Are not our hearts burning within us?” Maybe this is is what responds to that.