Please join and invite your family and friends to join to celebrate and give thanks at the PARISH EUCHARIST FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER at 10:00am on 18th April
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The Emmaus Icon in the church of St. John the Evangelist, Mortimer
The Risen Lord Jesus is made known in the breaking of the bread. Alleluia. Luke 24: 35
What made Jesus’ first disciples convincing witnesses of his resurrection? After all, by their testimony an itinerant rabbi, who had been executed in a brutal and humiliating way by the local Roman government, became a universal object of faith.
In this Sunday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear St Peter give a confident and assured sermon. Yet, we know that Peter had not always been so confident and unwavering in his faith. Indeed, on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion he denied that he even knew his friend.
St Luke shows - in his Gospel and in The Acts of the Apostles - how Peter and the other first disciples came to be ‘formed’ into credible witnesses of the resurrection. This happened through a gradual process which takes place within a local ‘community of believers’ in which moments of doubt and fear can give way to a deeper understanding and, at last, to faith, hope and love. Of course, this is still much the same way Christians are ‘formed’ for ministry today.
When we first find the disciples after the crucifixion they are far from being ‘formed’ and ready for ministry. Indeed, they are a fearful and uncomprehending bunch, huddling together to compare experiences and relate the accounts which Peter and the two disciples on the Emmaus road had given about the risen Christ. And when Jesus did stand before them and greet them they ‘were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost’ - Luke 24: 37. Jesus tried to reassure them by inviting them not just to see his hands and feet but also to touch them. Yet, as Luke the Gospel writer tells, they still had mixed feelings and their joy was still mingled with disbelief and wondering - Luke 24: 41. The risen Christ tried to offer further reassurance that he was no ghostly apparition by asking for food and eating before their eyes.
But what was more significant for Luke the Gospel writer - even more than these assuring ‘proofs’ - was what Jesus said and taught and how, just as he had for the two disciples on the Emmaus road, he ‘opened their minds to understand the scriptures’ - Luke 24: 45. Luke the Gospel writer makes clear that Jesus spoke and taught in a way that showed that the resurrection was not some ‘conjuring trick’ but part of God’s way - his ‘plan.’ And the central message is that the Messiah had to suffer and rise so that the world could be transformed by that acceptance of God’s forgiveness which changes lives.
But, the Gospel shows how this process is gradual; how through the recognition of his presence in their midst and through their ‘unpacking’ and growing in understanding of his word, the disciples were prepared for the task before them, which was to ‘witness’ to Christ. We see that their faith was not simply kindled into flame in a moment, but was nurtured over time as they came to recognize the signs of his presence and to an ever-greater understanding of the message of the scriptures. Thus, when, as in today’s reading from Acts, Peter stood up to proclaim the power of Jesus’ resurrection he had already had the opportunity to face his own fears and doubts and to align his own way of thinking and his life to the mystery of Christ's dying and rising.
Surely, the question which the Gospel puts before us today is how can we, like Peter and the other first disciples, become convincing witnesses to the risen Christ? And the Gospel’s answer is, surely, that, like them, we need to come to recognise that we are engaged in a life-long process of learning to recognize the signs of Christ’s presence among us and learning to understand the significance of his rising in the midst of suffering, injustice, and death. Of course, on this journey of discovery we all experience moments of wondering and disbelieving, but as we gather to open the scriptures and to break bread together we can be confident that, gradually, our eyes too will opened to recognize him and our lives formed in his likeness that we may witness to his Gospel/Good News. God bless.