On this third Sunday of Easter, we continue to hear Gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples following his Resurrection. In each account Jesus greets his disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.” Peace is their most obvious and pressing need. They have witnessed the death of someone they loved dearly.
Two of the disciples recounted this touching story of PEACE invading their lives. They had been pondering, exchanging views when suddenly a stranger slipped into their midst. Now the Jewish custom of the day required that they invite the stranger, whom we know is Jesus, to join them for a meal. In this case, the invitation included an overnight’s rest. Later they realized Who had broken bread in their company. Can’t you see Jesus’ delight in revealing himself. He’d kept His identity hidden for a time. Now the friends realized that their hearts had been afire as they listened to him break open the Scriptures with him. What a Lectio experience!
We believe God is all around us: God is in nature, God is here with me now. But do we really believe that God – in the person of Jesus – will drop into our company and chat with us… in the person who is walking toward us? How interesting that two people can be in the same circumstances but have two distinct “I should have known” experiences.
Once upon a time a child delivered something to me from her kindergarten teacher. As I thanked her, she stepped back and politely said: “May I ask what you are going to use that wrapping paper for?” From there the conversation went like this: “Well, I am planning a prayer service for the Sisters at our chapel and I want to make a pretend well.” “For the Sisters?” “Yes.” “Are you a Sister?” (Now this was Lent and she had known me since August.) When I answered, “Yes, that’s why you call me SISTER Roberta.” She slapped herself aside her head … “I should have known!” Like the disciples’ AH-HA moment – they knew later if they had listened to their heart that they would have known Jesus in the breaking of the bread!
I am reminded of another story that the author calls: The Best Sermon I Never Heard (By Frederick Hermann) [Adapted here to fit our time constraints.] Perhaps you will identify with one or the other of the players in the story. I’ll relate it as if it happened to me …
“As soon as he started, I knew it was going to be bad. The old priest began his sermon with a faltering voice, and proceeded to tell an obscure story that made no sense to me at all. I was quickly lost and bored. This was not the church I usually attended but I was traveling, and went to a local church for evening Mass. The priest seemed unprepared, vague, and detached. So I tuned him out, and started fuming inside my head – why hadn’t I pushed it to drive home tonight to the monastery?”
“Why didn’t he prepare better? Didn’t he take a homiletics course (like Father Mike) in the seminary” I felt like I had endured an eternity when finally the priest ended his sermon.
After Mass, I walked to the car in the parking lot. No longer able to contain my irritation, I complained out loud to a stranger walking beside me – and you know that’s like me to speak to a perfect stranger. “So, what did you think of that sermon?” She walked in silence beside me, lost in thought. Actually I thought maybe she was deaf or that I hadn’t really spoken aloud. Then she softly and gently spoke; “That was the most beautiful sermon I have ever heard.”
I was stunned, and looked up at her, expecting to see her grinning sarcastically. To my astonishment, I saw that tears were streaming down her cheeks … her eyes glistened in the evening sunlight. Finally she spoke: “I’ve spent most of my life estranged from God, going my own way, and doing my own thing. Last year I found God, or rather he found me. Now I find him speaking to me in the most unusual ways. Like that sermon we just heard. It was all about waking up, and listening, and hearing God in new ways. That describes my life, and the love I have found.” I was speechless!
As I drove away, I marveled at how God could use such a dull and ordinary priest to speak in such an extraordinary way to one of his beloved. What is meaningless for me to hear, and a cross for me to bear, may be the fruitful words of life to a person sitting nearby – who may be hearing the voice of God speaking directly into their heart.
In the words of Job: “God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things which we cannot comprehend.” (Job 37:5). And, in the words of our Responsorial Psalm: “Know that the Lord does wonders for his faithful ones; and puts gladness into my heart.”