3rd Sunday of Easter - Listen and Learn

The resurrection appearances of Jesus are filled with surprises and mystifying details. His friends do not recognize Him. He appears through locked doors; He has broken out of a tomb, but carries the wounds of His dying. He speaks of peace and forgiveness. He promises the gift of His Spirit. He sends His disciples to change the world.  But things really didn't turn out the way the disciples had planned.

They had traveled with Jesus for almost three years, had observed many wonderful things and probably expected more of a "return on their investment." With all his miracles and victorious confrontations against the religious authorities, with the crowds flocking to him, he looked like a winner to all of those who followed him. They had secretly hoped to sit in glory with him when he came into his earthly kingdom.  
We tend to think that it was easier to believe “back then,” and we find it difficult to believe that the first disciples could have been so far off track.   But if we listen carefully, we can hear in stories like today’s Gospel passage, that they had the same daily struggles we have. We may be far removed from Jesus' first followers, but like them, we too struggle with life and death, love and forgiveness. We are sometimes lost on the same road.  We ask the same questions to life’s disappointments as they did, “Why?”

All of the Gospel stories are about real issues. They speak to what’s on our minds and what troubles our hearts. They strengthen us when we doubt. These stories are not only for the good days and celebrations of our lives. They are also for when we face darkness, when life feels threatening, when the darkness seems overpowering and we are afraid of losing our bearings. God speaks to us through these stories, they are our light in darkness, our compass for when we feel lost.

Every Resurrection appearance story is accompanied by a mandate, a call - a challenge to commitment. Through his death and resurrection, Christ is asking if we are willing to carry on in the "real world" of human beings, according to his teachings, his understanding of God, his love for people.

On the first Easter evening, the disciples were huddled in fear behind locked doors. Now they are witnesses. He is risen from the dead and now they need to start all over again.  When he appears to them this time, he shocks them to attention by his presence, and they are overcome by their amazement and joy. Now they are more attentive. They have moved from simply being "followers" and can now be called "disciples."  For that is what they are. They are listeners, learners, beginners. And one cannot become a "witness" unless one listens and learns.

Like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, each of us has been called to witness to Christ's call to Life. Each of us has been nourished in the breaking fo the bread, and each has been sent to feed one other and to nourish and be nourished through community. We are each challenged to proclaim to the world that our God is a God who takes life with absolute seriousness.  This is a God who enters fully into suffering and death and does not allow it the final victory. We do this just by living our daily lives as best we can.  We become witnesses to the Gospel message by listening to the Word of God, by living changed lives and by voicing our faith.

We, indeed, live in a wounded and broken world and unfortunately the severest of wounds are those which are self-inflicted. A large part of this is our lingering failure to become what Jesus obviously had in mind: truly a people united by faith, becoming a community in which we each have been called to “tend to one other,” to be attentive, to pay attention.
St. Francis of Assisi used to say to his followers, "Let us begin again to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have done nothing." It is never too late to start over again, for we too, like the first disciples, have been guilty of missing the mark.  We are guilty of being way off track. Yet, the final words of today's Gospel are aimed at no one other than ourselves.  Our eyes have been opened and our hearts are burning because we are truly “the witnesses of these things.”