Third Sunday of Easter – Year A


J. Thomas Pohto, O.S.A. 
Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Acts 2:14, 22-33
Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
1 Pt 1:17-21
Lk 24:13-35

Today’s gospel takes us back to the first Easter day again with the two disciples leaving Jerusalem and traveling to Emmaus. Again the focus is more on community rather than on the individual. In the gospels for the Easter vigil and on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus, but is told immediately to give the news of the resurrection to the apostles. (She becomes the apostle to the Apostles.) In the gospel last week, Thomas struggles with doubt when he is away from the community, but is able to make an act of faith when he is with the others. Even the first reading today pictures the Eleven together as Peter proclaims the Resurrection of Jesus on that first Pentecost. We recall that the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Liturgy said that one of the ways the resurrected Jesus is present among us by very fact that we gather in his name to pray. (The Mass is a memorial of the resurrection.) Easter is about something more than just me and Jesus. It takes the Word of God in a community for each of us to get a handle on the resurrection.

In the gospel today we see a small community of two discussing the events that have happened during the past days as they travel down the road to Emmaus. They thought Jesus was the one; but, then, he died on the Cross. This broke their hearts. Then they heard a woman say that he is alive. Is that even possible? Jesus joined them on the road, but they did not recognize him. He explained from Moses and the prophets how it was necessary for the Messiah to die and to rise again. When they stopped for the night, they invited Jesus to have supper with them. All of a sudden this supper takes on a two-fold meaning. It is an act of hospitality, but the description is also that of the Mass: Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” Hospitality and liturgy are both communal actions, and in this community they recognized the risen Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus is more than an event. It is a wonder. It is difficult to comprehend it at first. It takes a community – people talking together, questioning, reassuring: Did you see what I saw? Is it really true? Am I seeing things? What has happened? What does this mean? Is this my destiny? It is more than one person can handle alone, isn’t it. The two disciples returned that night to Jerusalem, to the community of the Eleven and others, to share what had happened to them and to learn what happened to the others.

As they reflected on their dinner with Jesus, the two said: “Were not our hearts burning within us while [Jesus] spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” Somehow they were touched by the words of Jesus in a way that was powerful and deep. As they listened they actually felt something happening in their bodies. We think here of hearts burning not as a painful thing like “heartburn,” but more like a purifying experience that cuts through the baloney of life to the really real. The Truth. For example: you may read a passage from Scripture a hundred times. You practically know it by heart. Then you hear someone else read it to you, and you get a wholly new insight into the message for you. It takes your breath away.

This is the Easter season. It is a time of grace. It is a season of new life, spring flowers, leaves on the trees, and birds building their nests. St. Augustine said that we are “Easter people.” And so we would normally celebrate the joy with each other. Except we now have constraints of isolation, social distancing and face masks. But even so, it is essential to keep the communal spirit of Easter alive.

It comes down to two things for us: people and the Word of God. It is so helpful to have more than one person. We really need another person to proclaim the Word of God to us so we can listen to it. This keeps us aware of the living Christ. So what can we do? One thing is to listen to the Word of God in the Mass that is streamed to you from church into your family setting. Even listen to the homily and take it to heart. Or you might even consider calling someone who is alone to read or listen to the scriptures with that person (if that person is willing) – a community of two on the phone can work. We really need to connect with each other in this Easter season and to connect with the Word of God – connection and communion. And then maybe it is our destiny that our hearts will be burning as well.