This period of the Church year is known as Mystagogia, a Greek word that means “to lead through the mysteries.” It is a time for the newly baptized and their fellow Christians to plumb the depths of our faith in the resurrected Jesus, Jesus alive with us. Those mysteries are like flowers that gradually open revealing all of their beauty to each of us as we become aware of the ramifications of our faith.
Last week Sunday, we heard the familiar story of Jesus appearing twice to the assembled disciples in the Upper Room. The first time happened without Thomas being present. The second appearance found Thomas with his brothers and sisters. St. John told us that the first appearance took place on that first day of the week, the same day that Mary came and told Peter and the Beloved Disciple that the body of Jesus had been taken from the tomb.
I recall all of this because though it may seem to be a different story, today’s Gospel records the same event. This time it is told by St. Luke. However, there are similar details included in this story that clearly indicate that we are actually listening to a different account of the same event. In both stories, Jesus greets the apostles with “Peace” or “Shalom.” In both stories, the wounds of Jesus become a point of interest as Thomas is invited to place his finger in the marks created by the nails and his hand in the side wound created by the lance of the centurion. In both stories, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to go out and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all the world.
St. Luke’s version of the story confronts the swirling clouds of doubt that seem to hang over the disciples, for he records that they thought they were seeing a ghost. His version of the story seems to place more importance on recognizing that this Jesus and the one who was crucified are one and the same. We are even told that they gave Jesus a little baked fish to eat.
There is a lynch pin that connects this story to the one that appears immediately before it in St. Luke’s Gospel. It is that lynchpin that actually opens the scene for us today: “The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” (Luke 24:35) This single verse reminds us of all that happened to the two disciples as they walked home to Emmaus, disheartened by the events that had taken place over the last three days.
Toward the end of today’s Gospel passage we are reminded of that former story again as St. Luke writes: “’These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-45) In both instances, the disciples seem to have to be reminded that Jesus had come to fulfill the Hebrew Scriptures.
I have mentioned before that these stories of the resurrected Jesus are pedagogical devices to teach new converts to the faith about the sacramental life of the Church. That is clearly evident in St. Luke’s Gospel, a point that becomes even clearer when we remember that St. Luke himself was a Gentile convert to the faith. He was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. He had come to believe in Jesus through the testimony of others, a point he makes in the opening verses of both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. So just as he had been taught by others, he is now teaching those who will come after him about the presence of the resurrected Jesus in the Church. According to the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), the resurrected Jesus is present both in the Word of God and in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the bread that is broken and the blood that has been outpoured. His Gospel invites those who, like him, have never seen the Lord, to look for him in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist. It is the hope of both St. John and St. Luke that we will all come to the point when we can exclaim with Thomas, Jesus is My Lord, and My God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator