The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 12)
Easter Hospitality (part 2)
In one of St. Peter's sermons, reported by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, he recalls his own experience of fellowship with the risen Christ. “We are witnesses of all that he (Jesus) did.... This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead (Acts 10:40-42, italics mine). There are no throw-away details in the Easter narratives. Every act and word of the risen Christ communicates some crucial aspect of our life with him. In his apostolic witness, St. Peter certainly thought this detail worth repeating: the chosen witnesses ate and drank with the risen Christ. Let's briefly ponder the meaning of these “Easter meals”.
Reunion and Reconciliation . . .
Peter, with almost all the other disciples, had denied or abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. With brutal honesty the gospels record this fear and abandonment. Their shame was a part of their own bitterness over the loss of the one they had called “Lord”. Surely, at that mystifying claim of Mary Magdalene that she had seen the risen Lord, fear must have arisen in their hearts: “If it is true, are we not under severe judgment?” Had not Jesus warned that those who deny the Christ, will be denied by the Christ? (Matt. 10:33).
In fact, the risen Christ does chastise Peter and the others for their unbelief (Lk. 24:25; Jn. 21:15ff). However, this discipline takes place in the context of a fellowship meal. A shared meal is not a judgment, not a trial. A shared meal is an experience of welcome. The Jesus they followed had been severely criticized just for this, because he ate and drank with notorious sinners (Matt. 9:11). Now, in the moment of deepest shame, and with the fear of judgment in their hearts, the risen Lord breaks bread with them. He says to them “Come and have breakfast!” (John 21:12). The Easter meals are a sign of the forgiveness he won for them on the Cross, an act of restoration to fellowship with him, a re-establishing their call to follow him.
The Real Presence . . .
In St. Luke's Gospel, the Easter meals are closely associated with the showing of the marks of the Crucifixion. In one appearance to “the eleven and those with them,” Jesus suddenly and mysterious appeared in their midst, speaking a greeting of peace.
But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled …? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat? They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.” (Luke 24:36-43).
It is not unlikely that many Christians may still imagine the resurrection appearances of the risen Jesus as ghost-like, as purely “spiritual”. It may be a shock to our preconceptions to hear the risen Christ ask, “Have you anything to eat” or “Come and have breakfast”. But such is the humility of God our Savior. In the resurrection, he does not abandon the body but redeems it. He does not discard the Incarnation but is faithful to it. Just so, “we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.”
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