30 Apr 2017
“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) (+)
The speeches we hear in the Acts of the Apostles are judged to be some of the oldest Christian testaments of faith ever recorded. They reach back to the first days of our now 2,000-year-old faith as men and women who had known Jesus of Nazareth began to struggle with the idea that this man was more than He had appeared. These speeches are unfiltered by later theology. They only speak of Jesus as a man and a vehicle for God’s power. They are facts and descriptions of what these people had witnessed and they’re just beginning to process what it all may mean.
Let’s take Peter’s words as shared with us this morning by Alice Maiewski who read them so beautifully on this her birthday. He is speaking to non-believers. He is speaking on the streets of Jerusalem and addressing people who had known Jesus or at least known of Him, but these are not people who were convinced by Jesus. They only saw a man and nothing more. The ones Peter is speaking to are eye-witnesses of what Jesus did. Peter says to them that Jesus was “a man attested to you by God,” that His miracles were performed “among you, as you yourselves know.” And yet they had no idea that this man was more than He appeared to be.
Or let’s jump into today’s Gospel. It’s the famous and much loved Road to Emmaus story from Luke. Just like the unnamed Beloved Disciple in John’s Gospel from which we have been reading these past two Sundays, today Luke shares with us an encounter between Jesus and two of His followers, but only one is named. We hear the name of Cleopas, but the second person is never identified. This may well be a literary tool that let’s any of us place our names in that open spot, that let’s any of us be on the Road to Emmaus with Jesus and Cleopas. This is Luke trying to make a timeless statement that reaches across thousands of years and even to South Deerfield today.
The two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. All of a sudden, a stranger appears beside them and joins them in conversation. The reader knows that the stranger is Jesus, but the two disciples do not. They come to recognize the risen Jesus, first, through His words. Jesus opens the Scriptures to them. Then, second, they recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread, in Communion. The two disciples are overjoyed and rush back to Jerusalem to tell the others. They want desperately to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and that they had come to recognize Him in His word and in His Communion.
Again, we have a story of people who were unable to see Jesus, that is until they recognized Him in Word and Communion, and then they couldn’t wait to share this with others. Luke knows what he’s doing by leaving that one disciple unnamed. He’s telling people of any age, including us here, that Jesus is present in Word and Eucharist, but it’s up to us to recognize Him and to share Him. In the words of Scripture, is the actual voice of God. In the bread and the wine, is the resurrected Jesus. What we have in today’s readings is first Peter speaking to eye-witnesses in Jerusalem who were unable to see in Jesus more than He appeared to be, then two disciples on the Road to Emmaus again unable to see the risen Christ, and finally that question to us here now, can we see beyond appearances and recognize that Jesus is with us here?
And by “here” I don’t only mean in church during church. If we can hear Jesus in His words and feel His presence in Communion, then He stays with us. He doesn’t disappear when we walk through those doors behind you. Jesus stays with us. This past week there was a TED conference in Vancouver and a surprise speaker made a video appearance. Many of the people in attendance were founders of major companies or startups. These are people engaged daily in the tech field, and they are changing our world through their inventiveness.
And the surprise guest who spoke to them was Pope Francis. He told them, "Life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions." He said, “The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a ‘‘you’’ and themselves as part of an ‘‘us.’’’ And he advised them with these words: “Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted Earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need." Again we hear a message of seeing beyond appearances, even seeing the presence of God in the too often overlooked of the world.
We will sing during Communion my favourite hymn: Earthen Vessels. It reminds me that in humble vessels is the grand mystery of Jesus’ presence. Jesus doesn’t need fancy and fine to be honoured. He came simply during His life, and it’s no different now. He came for all, but most especially to teach us that everyone matters, that we’re all a part of an “us.” Let us pray that we may see Him in both expected and surprising ways, in the extraordinary and also the ordinary, but let’s make sure we see Him. For this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo