Because He Lives: Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter – Year A

Road to Emmaus by Roghman

The first few gospel readings of the Easter season
focused on showing us that Jesus was raised from the dead.
He eats with his disciples, he shows them his wounds,
he assures them that it really is him,
he is risen from the dead.

Now as we enter the third week of Easter
the scripture readings change their focus from the resurrection itself
to show us the effect of the resurrection on the disciples.
We see this first in the figure of Peter.

The last time we saw Peter was on Easter Sunday
when he was standing at the entrance of the tomb,
not knowing what to make of it, confused and unsure.
And before that, on Good Friday, we heard Peter deny Jesus three times.
And the day before that, on Holy Thursday, Peter argues with Jesus
about whether or not he would let Jesus wash his feet.
Peter just couldn’t get things right.

But today something is different.
Today Peter is no longer the frightened fisherman denying Jesus,
he is a firebrand speaking clearly, confidently, and courageously
to the people in Jerusalem.
His encounter with the risen Christ has transformed his life.

The effect of the resurrection
on the two disciples walking to Emmaus is just as dramatic.
They’ve left Jerusalem,
which, in Luke’s gospel, means they’ve given up on Jesus.
They’re leaving the faith community.
In their minds, Jesus was supposed to conquer the Romans
and usher in the glorious Kingdom of God on earth.
He wasn’t supposed to suffer a humiliating death.
So Cleopas and his companion are crushed, downhearted, and disappointed.

But they’re not so crushed that they won’t welcome the stranger
who joins them on their journey.
The unrecognized Jesus who accompanies them
first sets their hearts to burning with his interpretation of Scripture.
And once they recognize him in the breaking of the bread
they are fired up with such a passion
that they immediately return to Jerusalem
to rejoin the community and share their news.

Like Peter, they are transformed by the risen Christ.
The Resurrection of Jesus changes everything.
Because of the Resurrection,
that small group of disciples had the hope and confidence
to spread the Good News to the entire world.
Because of the Resurrection,
the early Christians could withstand persecution.
Because of the Resurrection history is divided in two:
B.C. and A.D.:
Before Christ and Anno Domini, in the year of Our Lord.

We are still in the Year of Our Lord.
This is the Year of Our Lord 2017.
The effects of the Resurrection continue today,
in our own lives and in the lives of people we know.
Today’s readings challenge us to ask ourselves,
is the resurrection transforming us?
Is it a life-changing force in our lives?

When was the last time we felt “our hearts burning within us”
over anything?

About a month ago
the entire city of Spokane had hearts set on fire
by the Gonzaga men’s basketball team.
Their journey to the Final Four and the national championship game
brought an incredible energy and life to our community,
like a fire burning within us.
It brought us together as a community.
People wore their Zag gear everywhere,
there were game watching parties,
and the Zags were the lead story in every newscast.
Their run to the Final Four
transformed our city.

When was the last time we felt that same energy and fire
in the presence of the resurrected Jesus?
When was the last time we let ourselves be transformed
by the risen Lord?

Now, I said the whole city of Spokane
was on fire with Gonzaga basketball,
but that’s not entirely true.
Not everyone got excited about the Final Four.
There were plenty of people who couldn’t care less
about whether Gonzaga won or lost.

The same thing can happen with the Resurrection of Jesus.
Maybe we’re having a hard time maintaining excitement about Easter.
The risen Jesus accompanies us on our walk through life,
just as he accompanied those disciples walking to Emmaus.
But maybe we, too, have a hard time recognizing Jesus in our lives.
Maybe, like Cleopas and his companion,
we feel disappointed or downcast.

The good news is that even in their sadness,
even in their blindness to Christ’s presence,
Jesus kept walking with Cleopas and his friend,
and they kept engaging with him.

And that’s the key to this encounter:
Jesus approaches, the disciples engage.

Transformation in Christ is a response to an invitation.
Jesus invites, we respond.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t have to interact with Jesus.
They could have brushed this stranger aside,
they could have written him off as ignorant or misinformed.

But they engaged with him.
They had a conversation.
They spoke what was on their hearts
and they listened in humility.
They gave him the chance to break open the Scriptures.
They were open to what he had to say.

That’s all that Jesus asks of us.
That’s the essence of relationship,
the beginning of intimacy with God.
That is the dynamic of prayer.

Jesus walks with us along the road of life,
and he asks us,
“What are you discussing as you walk along?”
In other words,
“What’s on your mind, what worries you, what’s happening in your life?”
Jesus opens up the conversation,
and then he waits and listens.

If Jesus asked us that right now, what would we answer?
What is on my heart right now?
What was I thinking about, worried about, preoccupied with
before I walked through the doors of the church this day?

Jesus is here, listening to us.

And after he listens, he shares with us what’s on his heart.
And this is what he says:
“I’m alive.”
“I’m alive, and you need not be afraid.”
“I’m alive, and I walk with you always.”
“I’m alive, and I love you.”

The Scriptures proclaim it,
the bread we break at this altar proclaims it,
and if we listen in humility,
we can feel it in our hearts.

The Resurrection is not a single event in history,
it’s the reality we live in.
We are a Resurrection people.
The Resurrection is a reality that banishes fear and uncertainty.
It drives out hatred and sadness.
How wonderful it would be if we could live like that all the time.

There’s an old gospel hymn by Bill and Gloria Gaither
that was recently reworked by Catholic musician Matt Maher.
It gets to the heart of what it means to be an Easter people.
Don’t worry, I won’t sing it to you, but the words go like this:

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,
because he lives every fear is gone.
I know he holds my life, my future in his hands,
because he lives.

This is the message of the Resurrection.
It transformed Peter and the apostles.
It transformed Cleopas and his companion.

The invitation is clear:
if we open our hearts to him,
Jesus will transform our lives
because he lives.

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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