On this Third Sunday of Easter, the first reading as well as the Gospel account are both all about recognition, about recognizing the presence of Jesus Christ and who He really is.
In the first reading (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19) we find Peter and John at the Temple in Jerusalem. They had miraculously cured a man who had been crippled from birth and who had been begging for money from people who passed by him. His miraculous cure caused a big stir, needless to say, and gave Peter and John the opportunity to remind people of their failure to recognize who Jesus really is and that they had called for Him to be crucified and put to death.
Today’s Gospel account (Luke 24:35-48) took place immediately after the appearance of the risen Christ at Emmaus. In today’s Gospel we find the two disciples back in Jerusalem among those in the community in Jerusalem. They were relating to the apostles about their encounter with the resurrected Lord at Emmaus and as they were giving their account Jesus once again appeared, this time to the whole group of disciples in Jerusalem. We learn that they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus invited them to touch Him and thereupon He even ate some of their food. With that He began to teach them, opening their minds to what the Scriptures had to say about God’s Anointed One and then finished by commissioning them to preach the message to all the nations of the world.
It occurs to me that they were not the only ones who had difficulty in recognizing our risen Lord. Doubting Thomas certainly did. On Easter morning Mary Magdalene encountered our risen Lord and at first did not recognize Him. She thought He was the gardener. No doubt others failed to recognize Him also. After all, wasn’t He supposed to be dead? When He appeared to them they couldn’t believe their eyes. To everyone it was all quite unbelievable.
All of this presents us with the question of whether or not we recognize the presence of Christ in our own lives, in our world. When do we recognize Him? Where do we recognize Him? As Catholics we believe our risen Lord comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament hidden under the outward form of the consecrated Bread and Wine. Do we really want to recognize His nearness or do we prefer to keep Christ in some safe and remote distant heaven? Sometimes I wonder if people are really interested.
Another problem for many people of our time have is that Jesus Christ identifies Himself with the poor, with aliens and immigrants, with troublesome in-laws, and in “those other” people we don’t particularly like. He told us that where two or three are gathered in His name He would be present. It’s disturbing that at times we don’t really want to be among the gathered all of which confronts us with asking just how happy we are to realize that He is in fact risen from the dead and living in His Mystical Body, the Church, where He said He would be.
I want to suggest to you that recognition is something that’s deeper than mere perception. Let me point out that cognition is a term that means “seeing with understanding.” It is something far deeper than merely seeing with our eyes. Recognition can be an awareness of something that was perceived before. It can also mean that one sees with understanding. I would like to add that it can also mean to perceive again with a new and deeper understanding. Isn’t that that one of the gifts that God is giving us in the Resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ? Isn’t that what our Lord Jesus Christ is giving us in His appearances to His disciples following His Easter resurrection from dead into a new life, into human life filled with divine life? I certainly think so and I hope you do too.
Now let’s return to those first Christians to whom Our Blessed Lord appeared following His resurrection. Fresh in their minds was their shared experience of seeing Jesus’ betrayal, followed by His trial, torture and horrible crucifixion. They had all been plunged into the darkness of heart-breaking grief, despair, guilt, and fear. They were a shattered and broken community of grieving people who had lost everything. They were frightened and no doubt mistrustful, perhaps even of each other. After all, one of their number, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus and if he was capable of that what might others do? Let’s face it, wouldn’t it be quite daring of them to believe that Jesus was out of the tomb and quite alive?
We should not, however, fail to note the obvious. By the end of the events in today’s gospel account we find that the apostles and disciples had been transformed. This brings to mind the Transformation of Jesus on Mount Tabor immediately prior to His entrance into Jerusalem for the last time. His transformation back then was a preview of the transformation that Easter is all about, including the eventual transformation of His apostles and disciples.
Now they were sufficiently changed enough so that Our Blessed Lord could commission them to go out into the whole world to bring the Good News of God’s mercy and forgiveness, the Good News of God’s New Creation, the Good News that God is nearer to us than we dare to think and can fill us with His very inner life — fill us with His Pentecostal Holy Spirit.
Many of you here have your own stories of experiencing the presence of God in your own personal lives. Each of us, as a matter of fact, has had our own encounters with our risen Lord. Some of us have yet to recognize Christ’s coming to us. Perhaps our risen Lord has come to some of us already but we have yet to recognize what happened.
It’s sort of like love. Some of us have been loved far more deeply than we have realized and have yet to recognize just how deeply and how wonderfully we have been loved. Some of us have yet to recognize just how deeply and how wonderfully we have been loved by God.
Some of us have suffered, terribly suffered in our own Gardens of Gethsemani. Perhaps we have known the despair that Judas experienced and “sold out” on Jesus, religion, and even God Himself. To be honest with you, I have had my own moments of darkness, pain, loss, and suffering. Who among us here today has not had their own agonies? Who among us has never been crowned with thorns of pain and then nailed?
My message to you today is that there are times when unexpectedly we encounter the risen, living Christ and our faith can renewed and strengthened.
Just as each of us has arrived here this morning by different ways and with different stories, we, like those disciples we heard about in today’s Gospel account, will journey on in different ways in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Remember, You are witnesses of these things.