St. Luke’s account of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead is similar to that of St. John. Both have the startlingly sudden appearance among the assembled Apostles on Easter Day, with the greeting “Peace be with you”. Both have the showing of the wounds, and the physical touch of Jesus’ risen body. St. Luke says that the Apostles were tempted to think of Jesus as a ghost, a phantom, a hallucination; not real flesh and blood at all. That fits with what St. John says about the Apostle Thomas; whose doubts were laid to rest only by the demonstration of physical touch.
Just before this episode in St. Luke, Jesus had suddenly disappeared from the presence of the two disciples at Emmaus. Now, just as suddenly, he appears. On the road to Emmaus: it never occurred to those two disciples that their companion was not a real living man: but they failed to recognise him. Now all the Apostles instantly recognise him, but they fail at first to appreciate his living, physical reality.
It’s very striking how St. Luke, like the other Gospel writers, makes no attempt to offer us argument, or doctrinal theory, about the resurrection. He simply narrates this little story. Just one or two incidents that occurred on that first Easter day. And that is all we get.
Of course Luke tells us at the beginning of Acts that Jesus appeared often during the 40 days after Easter. In his Gospel though, we have the rather confused story of the women and the Angels at the empty tomb, and the brief mention of the Ascension from Bethany. Otherwise, we have just the appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and this appearance of Jesus to all the assembled Apostles. Of course we are expected to make the necessary connections with all that went before in this Gospel, and with what follows in the Acts of the Apostles. Nevertheless: Luke’s account of Easter Day is brief, and sober, and simple. No extra corroborating details, no invocation of additional witnesses, no journalistic padding: and we are more or less left to draw our own conclusions.
Having so little to go on, it’s clear that every detail we are given is fraught with significance, and that we are supposed to see relevance in all of it to our own lives of faith. It’s also clear that in principle no single commentary could ever exhaust the meaning of the account. Each person has to enter the story himself, time and again, and draw from it afresh whatever the Holy Spirit chooses to suggest.
Let me just now though underline one or two rather obvious points from today’s Gospel story.
In the first place, with all the other Gospel writers, St. Luke is at pains to show that the Apostles’ belief in Christ’s Resurrection cannot have been due to credulity, or to deception, or delusion, or over active imaginations. The liberal and modernist scholars have been trying to persuade us of that for the past 300 years or so, but it’s all just nonsense: such a theory cannot possibly stand.
No: the Apostles had seen Jesus dead. He was not just a bit dead, but completely dead. All the blood had been drained from his body. He could not possibly have survived the Cross. And all his power also seemed to have left him. He had always been so good at attracting people, but at the crucial moment they had all apparently turned against him. Even his closest disciples had left him. He had been condemned precisely by the religious authorities of Israel. So his mission seemed to have ended in utter failure. In spite of all he had said to prepare them for this then; in spite of the accounts of the women and of Peter, when the Apostles saw Jesus again, they were dumbfounded, and could scarcely believe their eyes.
How does all this bear on our own lives?
In the first place: that to ground our belief in Christ’s resurrection, we have a two- fold testimony: the witness of the Apostles, and of the Scriptures. The Apostles gave their witness even to the shedding of their blood; and the Saints and martyrs who followed them have continued to do so ever since. As for the Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testaments: the Church draws all her faith and her teaching from them. And so she ever continues to read them; not just once, but continuously until the end of time. Nothing will ever replace for her the inspired text, filled as it is with the Holy Spirit.
Based on that reliable testimony, we ourselves believe, and know, that Jesus is really alive. He really died, and he really rose again, and he is really with us now. Since the Ascension we don’t see him, but we have permanent access to him. We can speak with him, walk with him, live with him freely. He speaks to us too. He brings us a message of peace and of joy. He gives us life; indeed he is our life. Maybe most miraculously of all, he offers us, in all that, the forgiveness of our sins.
Then: there is the insistence of Jesus that what happened to him was all a part of God’s fore-ordained plan. It seemed a disaster, and a failure, but actually it was the opposite. And so with our own lives. All that happens to us is part of God’s Providence. This side of eternity we don’t see how it all fits together at all, and maybe some of it seems merely horrible. But God has it all in his hands, and in heaven we will see, and we’ll praise God for having worked all things for us so wonderfully well, for our own good, and his glory.
Finally: they recognised him at the breaking of the bread.
So of course do we. The Holy Eucharist is the action of Jesus Christ himself, offering himself to his Father and to us; reconciling heaven and earth; abolishing sin and division to replace them with holiness, union, communion. In the Holy Eucharist we have the presence of Jesus, no less than the Apostles had in the upper room on Easter Day, or actually even more so. We have his power at work also; his peace, his joy and his life.
And so with the Apostles we bear witness to what we have seen and understood. And we pray that somehow, through us, this salvation will reach many others, especially those for whom in particular we pray.