Third Sunday of Easter May 4, 2014 J.A. Loftus, S.J.

Third Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2014
4 PM, 10 AM and 12 Noon
J.A. Loftus, S.J.
This may be the most foolhardy homily I have ever
attempted. I am going to try to explain for us, all of us, myself
included, some intelligible aspect of what the resurrection might
mean for contemporary ears. Wish me luck! But hold on to your
Two short excerpts from today’s gospel: “…Jesus himself
drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented
from recognizing him.” And later: “…he took bread, said the
blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that, their eyes were
opened and they recognized him.”
Does something sound familiar here? In John’s gospel
proclaimed on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene sees a man near the
tomb, thinks he is the gardener, becomes agitated and weeps,
before the man simply says “Mary.” With that one word, her eyes
are also opened and she says “Rabouni,” teacher.
Later in that same gospel the disciples are fishing when they
see a stranger on the beach. The stranger directs them to cast their
nets elsewhere and then cooks them breakfast. And the gospel
says: “None of them dared ask him who he was for they knew it
was the Lord.” But the same gospel also tells us some of them
thought it was a ghost.
The post-resurrection Jesus is a difficult person to “see,” it
would seem. Or maybe it’s just that they were looking in the wrong
place for him, or looking in the wrong way for him. But since so
many of us have a similar problem “seeing” the post-resurrection
Jesus, maybe its worth exploring a bit. And professor Sandra
Schneiders does exactly that in a new and fascinating collection of
essays called Jesus Risen in Our Midst.”
She understands and faces squarely the contemporary
dilemma for believers. We claim to believe in the bodily
resurrection of this Jesus of Nazareth. We also believe that Jesus
continues to be an active presence in our own world even up to
today. But we are also realistic, post-scientific people. If he still
has a body, where is it? It’s not “up there.” We’ve looked up there.
It’s not anywhere else we can discern. We’ve tried again and again.
So, to quote Schneiders for a moment: “The issue for the
contemporary believer is ‘Where is Jesus?’ and ‘How can he be
encountered?’” Jesus has to have been raised in the full integrity of
his humanity. He is not just the memory of someone who has died
and is no longer personally present. He is not just a good moral
teacher and force for good in the world. Nor is he a disembodied
spirit hovering over the cosmos. So he should be able to be seen
and experienced today. But how?
These are questions the first disciples had to live with as well.
But their situation was different than ours. Most of them actually
knew the fully en-fleshed Jesus of Nazareth. They had to learn the
difference they were now seeing in the post-resurrection
appearances. And the gospels attest that it was a scary experience
for them. Jesus no longer had that same physical body and yet he
still did have a physical body that seemed no longer bound by
space-time dimensions. Hence he tells Mary not to cling to him, i.e.
his old body. And they too all had to learn where this new body
was to be found.
But those first disciples lived in a privileged time and place.
For a little while they remembered the first body of Jesus and could
still see and experience the second, the post-resurrection body.
But some of the gospel writers, particularly John, and today even
Luke, were already very sensitive to our dilemma, we who had
never experienced the original body of Jesus. And they provide the
hints for us even today.
The gospels give witness to the new privileged locus of Jesus’
post-resurrection body. It is now in the believing community itself
and in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup that we see in
so many, if not all, the post-resurrection gospel texts. Believe the
community gathered who remember and break bread together.
Jesus body is there. It is as true for us today as it was then.
But is that still a “real” body? Listen again to Schneiders: “I
am suggesting that what we mean by saying that Jesus is risen is
neither that he was physically resuscitated as an ordinary
participant in intra-worldly history nor that he became a
nonbodily spirit. Rather he was transformed in God in such a way
that he could symbolize himself in ways that transcend our
ordinary experience or capability….” [Emphasis mine]
St. Paul called it a “glorified body,” but it is still a body! But
does it still have “matter?” Use your imagination! We know even
“hard” matter exists in three states: solid, gaseous, and liquid. And
matter can shift and change almost at will. It is all just energy.
Einstein illustrated that much. Energy and matter are really one.
So what might it now mean, in the 21st century, to speak of
being “transformed in God?” It might no longer be beyond the
realm of possibility.
So where is Jesus now? How can he be encountered? Look
around in this church. Listen to the scripture story again. Eat the
bread. Drink the cup. Know that I am with you always. As
Augustine put it: Receive what you are; become what you receive:
the body and blood of Christ!
And hear again the ultimate Easter blessing: Peace be with
you! He is risen: Alleluia.