Third Sunday of Easter: God’s real presence

Acts 3, 13-15.17-19; 1 John 2, 1-5; Luke 24, 35-48.

Faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead is faith in God the creator. The resurrection is part and parcel of the ongoing process of creation, which is still work-in-progress. What God did in Jesus, He can do in each one of us. What we celebrate on Easter is the possibility that things, even for us today, do not end up in disaster.

Easter is not the liturgical event we reduce it to be, a churchy celebration like many others. It is the powerful act of God that we implore on world affairs, as much as on whatever in life may be disheartening. If this connection between what Easter stands for and the crude daily reality is not manifest, then as believers we can easily be suffering from the ostrich syndrome and, consequently, our God does not remain credible.

In today’s gospel, Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, is reconstituting his wounded, broken body, which represents the broken body of  humanity and of the world. Both this gospel and the story of Peter in Acts alert us to something very important: that as believers we can live parallel lives, on one hand busy with our usual business and, on the other hand, unaware of the sufferings and tragedies that impact so much on our existence and on the meaning of life.

In Acts, Peter accuses his listeners that “neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing”. He is referring to their complicity in “demanding the reprieve of a murderer while killing the prince of life”. It is similar to Jesus’s “forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. But how tragic, when despite all good intentions we let the worst happen and do nothing to stop it. What sense does it make to claim to be believers as if that was simply something concerning our own private existence?

The gospels were written in early Christianity to strengthen the belief that Jesus had not been  silenced and that the Scriptures about him had really come true. In today’s readings there is a certain insistence that all that Jesus had gone through had been foretold. We find it in Acts, with Peter addressing the crowds, and again we find it in Luke, with Jesus himself claiming that all that was written about him had to be fulfilled.

Yet the Scriptures are not a sort of Nostradamus, the French physician and reputed seer who published his prophecies in the 16th century, allegedly predicting future events. The Scriptures were not meant to predict the future in this sense. The Scriptures are rather meant to provide a reading of what’s going on, a deep insight and understanding of reality for which we need to prescind from reality itself. Being God’s word, and not simply a human word, the Scriptures make us go deeper and deeper in our existence, providing the perspective that makes us grasp the broader picture. The issue of Jesus risen, which kept confusing the disciples even when faced with him in person, will continue to haunt us as believers and is not eased out by verifying that it was written beforehand. Faced with their unbelief, as St Luke reports, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”.

It is only Christ risen who can open our minds and uncover meanings that otherwise remain hidden. The disciples gathered together could not make sense of all that had happened, and it sounds quite strange that, as Luke writes, seeing Jesus “they thought they were seeing a ghost”. As French poet and dramatist Paul Claudel writes about these same disciples, “How true, that it is not the eyes alone that are useful for recognising Jesus Christ”.

The disciples could not see for themselves; Jesus himself had to help them open their minds. It is then that their new experience turned into a message. This same message of Jesus risen and alive, which we struggle to bring to the world, can very easily become worn out and lose credibility unless it is rooted in the experience of the living God who alone can reveal Himself to us. This is God’s real presence made available to us which, once experienced, dispels our doubts and makes of our witness a credible message.

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