28 April 2011

The Audacity of Christ

Easter Octave (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

Yesterday, we read the story of Jesus appearing to a few of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. After he “opens their eyes,” allowing them to see him for who he is, he vanishes. The disciples say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” They hurry back to their brother and sister disciples and report this encounter with their resurrected Lord. In the middle of their testimony, Jesus appears! He says, “'Peace be with you.' But they were startled and terrified. . .” We can only imagine the shock of seeing the dead and resurrected Christ in their midst. Imagine the confusion, the relief, the fear—all these bound up in a desperate hope that their teacher had rejoined them to continue his mission. Noting their terror at his appearance, Jesus says, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” Ummmm, b/c you were dead and in the grave for three days and now you're walking around and talking us? Is that a good enough reason to be startled and terrified? The disciples' experience with the Risen Lord can be seen as a pattern for our lives as disciples. Having met Christ “on the way,” we come away from the meeting burning with zeal and eager to give our testimony. But once we realize what our encounter means for us and for the world, we are startled by the audacity of what God has done, what He is doing; then, we are terrified until Christ appears among us and prays, “Peace be with you.”

On Easter morning, when the angel appears at the tomb, Mary Magdalene and Mary are “fearful yet overjoyed.” When Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection, they are “startled and terrified.” But then he shows them the wounds on his body, and they are “incredulous for joy and [are] amazed.” Fearful, overjoyed, startled, terrified, incredulous, and amazed. Exactly the combination of emotional reactions we'd expect from rational people confronted by the resurrection of a beloved friend all thought long dead and buried. With their minds spinning for any plausible explanation and their hearts pounding with fear and wonder, they must've looked like first-century tourists standing in Times Square. What else can Jesus say but “peace be with you”? They needed his peace; they needed his reassurance. He had sent them out to teach the world all that he had taught them. Then he was executed. Now he's back! Alleluia! He's back. But he won't be with them for long. He has yet to ascend to his Father, so his visit is welcomed but brief. In the short time that he has with his friends, Jesus reminds them that his death and resurrection is nothing new, nothing at all surprising. He opens their minds to the scriptures, renewing in them his charge to them to go out preaching the Good News of repentance and God's mercy. 

Our own lives in Christ follow this familiar pattern, this ebb and flow of wonderment and fear. Zeal followed by disappointment; clarity followed by confusion; amazement followed by incredulity. But when we open our minds to Christ's spirit, embed ourselves in scripture and the sacraments, dedicate ourselves to prayer and penance, disappointment, confusion, and incredulity always give way—again—to zeal, clarity, and amazement. The disciples saw and touched his wounds. We have his body and blood in the Eucharist. The disciples listened to the Word read and preached. We hear his Word read and preached. They evangelized the known world. We are charged with evangelizing a world they could not know. Christ suffered death and rose from his tomb so that the Good News of God's mercy to the repentant sinner could be proclaimed to the whole world. To his friends in Emmaus and to his friends here in Ponchatoula, Jesus says, “Peace be with you. . .You are witnesses of these things.” Go out—startled, terrified, overjoyed—go out and tell the whole world!

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