Commentary on the Gospel of
The Easter Octave is a way of entering into the Paschal Mystery in its fullness. The number 7 in Biblical terms points us to completion and perfection. The Church has selected Scripture texts during the octave that help us enter more fully into the mystery at the center of our salvation. This mystery is so rich and complex in meaning that each of us could spend our entire lives here on earth seeking to understand it more completely. One way we know our faith more fully is by appreciating the liturgical cycle we call the great ninety days (Lent, Triduum, and Easter). Throughout Lent – for 40 days we are called to know Jesus more fully and “fall in love with him” as savior, companion, brother, teacher, and healer. We are invited to know ourselves as he knows us and to know him as he reveals himself to us day after day. By Holy Week this can bring us to personal companionship with Jesus who desires to lead us to a deep love of the Father. This companionship fills us with a desire to participate in Jesus’ commitment to live by the “bread” of the Father’s Will.
The Paschal Triduum (great three days) in which we remember the Last Supper, the Passion and Death of Jesus, his time of Holy Saturday redeeming history, and finally His glorious victory of resurrection can be so overwhelming for us who have grown to love him, that it takes seven times seven days (seven weeks) of celebration to begin to grasp what the Father in doing for us in Faith and to grow into readiness for the outpouring of the Spirit on us collectively to form us into Jesus living body now in this world.
On Good Friday, from the Cross, the Gospel of John witnesses that the Spirit of God is poured out on each and every human who abandons the self and comes to the cross (thus we “venerate” the cross by claiming it as our own way to the Father with Jesus). But there is a step beyond that that we also must take and that is realization that we are now members of the Body of Christ the Church. At the end of the Easter Season, the Spirit is poured upon us, not as individuals but as ecclesia – companions laboring together as one body to accomplish God’s will.
In today’s readings we are given a lens into this next element of the mystery – where our faith cannot remain private but must be shared by living in communion with those who are born into the Body through Baptism. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we meet Peter and John together in the temple (wherever two or three are in my name I am there, Jesus said) not as individuals but as co-workers with Jesus in the vineyard of salvation. Together they look at the crippled human in front of them and through the power of the Spirit poured out on the community, call him to health and wholeness. The Ecclesia, those called by God to become one in Christ (translated “church” in English) no longer act alone but always with the brothers and sisters called to be one in Christ.
Today’s wonderful Gospel of the walk to the village of Emmaus with Christ who instructs the companions and then breaks bread with them. They don’t know him until they break and share the bread as companions on the journey. All of us who are Baptized participate in the Eucharist to know and recognize Christ in ourselves and one another. We also recognize the task of listening to one another and discerning Christ’s presence as one body. The hospitality of eating together, feeding the hungry, recognizing the humanity of each other in our need for food is at the center of this Paschal Mystery.
A number of years ago, when I served as the sacramental formator and liturgist for a very large parish the pastor and his ministry team understood that it was difficult for people to get to know each other and feel part of each other’s lives as the Gospel challenges us. This wise priest encouraged us to provide multiple opportunities for hospitality that involved the sharing of food along with learning, praying, and serving the world. We reached out to support those who were hungry or without means for food. None of this was completely new, of course, Catholic Churches have been gracious about providing such hospitality for centuries realizing that Jesus offered similar opportunities for discovering Him in meals.
The Pastor died during the Easter season one year and a new pastor assigned was committed to cutting the budget of the parish. One means he took to do so was forbidding parish food hospitality. It changed the whole character of the community, and many who were beginning to find Christ in the breaking of the Bread either sought Him elsewhere or gave up seeking him. At the end of the year the parish’s income had declined by seven times the amount we had spent the year before on food for hospitality at parish activities. I suggested to him that perhaps the Lord was speaking to him and to the parish council budget committee about something important about God’s way of doing things that we all were overlooking.
Jesus is practical as he touches our hearts and imaginations. Today we are between the beginning of Lent and the culmination of the Great Ninety days. Here we are invited to ask ourselves how faithful we are to Jesus’ Body made flesh in our love for one another realized in sharing lives together as food for a very hungry world.
"The day is soon over, stay with us and have supper . . ."