Earlier in this series I was exploring Luke’s Passion Narrative as if it were a drama. It’s an easy way to work through the narrative, and Luke’s style is very dramatic. To review and refresh out memories, there are Four Acts
Act One had two scenes:
Act Two begins the Trials. The First is the religious trial before the Sanhedrin.
Act Three takes up the Civil Trial before Pilate who finds no guilt, sends Jesus to Herod after hearing about some Galilee connection. Herod does not pass judgement and sends Jesus back to Pilate. It probably is a little diplomatic game between the two rulers who are really at odds with each other but dancing around to keep the peace.
Act Four has two scenes:
- The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus which now brings us to
- The Burial.
This scene which we begin to night gives us two unique features for Luke.
- There is no mention of Pilate being surprised at the early death of Jesus. Luke feared that this would cast doubt on the reality of Jesus’ death which might give some credence to the late 1st century denial of the resurrection that was developing among those opposed to the believers.
- The role of the Galilean women and the reference to the spices and myrrh allows Luke to not only portray them as pious Jews but helps Gentile readers to understand why they waited a day to take care of the body.
Luke’s account of the Burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea has two significant variations from the story on Matthew and Mark giving us some clues about what matters to Luke. He tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin who “had not consented to their proposal and deed.” In other words, he thought Jesus was innocent which is a theme heard all through Luke’s trial scenes. Pilate said it twice, Herod said it, a crucified thief said it, a centurion said it, and now Joseph of Arimathea is the final human witness to the innocence of Jesus. The second variation concerns the women (no surprise there since Luke has always been attentive and recorded stories of the women’s role in the ministry of Jesus). Luke indicates that some women saw where Jesus was buried but also specifies that they had come up with Jesus from Galilee and that they saw how the body was laid. Luke, as I said before is very concerned to establish that there was a dead body and that it was buried. This give credence to what is to come with the Resurrection and the Ascension. He wants to clearly establish a link between the church’s Lord and the one who dies in Jerusalem and the one who worked in Galilee by having Galileans present as witnesses to the Jerusalem events. Theologically, this means that the one who empowered is the one who died. The is real. It was through the suffering that the obedience of Jesus was perfected. It was only on the other side of these things that the one empowered entered into glory. To put it more simply: “There ain’t no glory without that cross.” Or, There’s no way to the Father except by obedience to the will of the Father.
We are now at Chapter 24 which concludes the first part of Luke’s work, Acts of the Apostles being the second part. This is really the most interesting part of our study and reflection on Luke’s Gospel because with one exception the material here is not found anywhere in the other Gospels. Luke began his Gospel with the Infancy Narrative that was uniquely his own, and he concludes with a narrative of the Resurrection that is also uniquely his own. Let us start by reading chapter 24 so it’s fresh in your mind without any interference from the other Gospel traditions. Try to blank out details we have all absorbed from Matthew, Mark, and John. Just concentrate on what is here. READ CHAPTER 24 1-12.
This much of the Chapter clearly draws on Mark 16: 1-8. Another version is found in Matthew with John’s being quite different. What present research suggests is that scribes who copied the manuscripts quite early permitted, consciously or unconsciously, the resurrection stories of the other Gospels to influence what they were writing. In some cases, they probably were remembering Mark or John while writing Luke; in others they may have intentionally been harmonizing. This does not mean that there was an attempt to deceive or to reduce the faith in any way. On the contrary, the general tendency was to enlarge the story. This “cross-fertilization” of texts is to be taken as evidence that the early church treated the resurrection stories as one story, and the blending occurred as it does with us, two, three, or four accounts of one event, even though each has its own accent and purpose, tend to become one account in the church’s memory. READ THE REMAINING VERSES (Point out the 5 events).
There are five major events: two empty tomb episodes; two major appearances; and the departure of Jesus. This is all located in Jerusalem or nearby, and it all happens in one long day. This exclusive focus on Jerusalem is distinct to Luke. Matthew and Mark have things happening in Galilee over a longer period of time. So much for the idea that Jesus hung around for 40 days before the Ascension! Once more, you see, this is Theology. It is not history. Details do not have to match.
Let’s just deal with the theology. Luke is passing on to us the early Christian understanding of the resurrection as a prototype of Christian existence. In earliest Christianity the resurrection of Jesus encompassed three different realties:
- The Victory of Jesus over death.
- The removal of Jesus from human time and space into another dimension (God)
- The new function of Jesus as cosmic Lord.
Luke takes these realities and makes three separate events on a chronological time line. In other words, he takes this theological idea of what happened and he puts that idea into events that happen in sequence: the Resurrection, the Ascension; the Exaltation. By taking the three different pieces of a whole individually, he can focus on the meaning of each without distraction. What this means is that in Luke, the resurrection of Jesus refers only to his victory over death. The thinking of Luke is that what happens to Jesus is what his disciples may expect for themselves.
Stick with me. This is complicated, but not impossible. The first empty tomb tradition which is the women at the empty tomb and the second appearance story which is the one after the Emmaus story when Jesus appears among the apostles affirm the reality that there is a body that has risen. There is no dead body in the tomb even though they saw it put there. An empty tomb means one thing. The body is not there. That’s all. If Christians are going to proclaim Christ has risen, there needs to be experiences of that Christ who was dead and is now risen. So, there is a body that eats something. More importantly this body has the wounds that were on the body they buried. This faith is based upon witnesses who saw and experienced something real. It is not based on how they felt or what they wished. Whatever the nature of this victory over death was, it involved the absence of that body from the tomb.
Luke wants to give some real authority to this, so he mentions names and these are the same women of Galilee who saw the body being put in that tomb. They knew where it was Luke told us in the previous chapter. Then Luke tells us that when the women came to the apostles and the others, Peter got up and ran to the tomb. (There is no John in a foot race with Peter in Luke’s narrative.) Luke wants the witness of Peter so that there are two sets of witnesses. Peter’s witness is important to Jewish people at the time because women didn’t count. In order to be persuasive at the time, there had to be a male witness. The detail of finding the linen clothes by themselves is Luke’s way of stopping the rumor that the body had been stolen. They would not have taken the body without it being wrapped. This is Luke’s way of celebrating the victory over death.
After the two empty tomb episodes, we come to the first of two appearances: a story unique to Luke and a story that really highlights his writing skills. It is what we have come to call, “The Emmaus Story.” Luke now clarifies the nature of the Eucharist, and he uses the Emmaus story to do so at least for the Lukan community. The two are abandoning the Christian journey to God. In Luke’s wonderful story telling style, we get to know who the person is that joins them, and in an ironic way, we get to hear them talk about the death of Jesus to Jesus himself! We should notice (because Luke wants us to) that there are three units to the whole story: the narrative discussion, the meal and the journey back as a Mission of Proclamation.
The meal is really what holds this together. It is the Eucharist as we know it.
It begins with an act of hospitality, an invitation to a stranger by those who prepared the table. It is the presence of Christ at a table opened to a stranger which transforms an ordinary supper into the sacrament. Christ is in a sense the guest, and yet he is the host who breaks the bread, blesses God and shares with those at table. It is in this act that that the disciples recognize the stranger as Christ.
It begins then with the Scriptures as Jesus goes over the writings and the prophets. The one who is named in this episode, Cleopas provides us with a glimpse into the earliest preaching. It is Luke’s concise statements about Jesus, his mighty works, suffering, death, and resurrection. This is the content of Christian preaching. The description of Jesus reviewing the Prophets with these two is a kind of reprimand for their unbelief on the grounds that the suffering death, and resurrection of Jesus is set forth in the Scriptures that they should have known. All through Luke’s Gospel there is insistence that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Scriptures. They pointed to the very acts of his ministry, so his suffering, and his death. For Luke, the gospel of Jesus Christs continues and brings to fulfillment the law, the prophets, and the writings.
The Eucharistic ritual continues: after the Word comes the Sacrament, and then Mission. The time of day is significant because the evening is the time when the Christians would gather together for prayer and the eucharist. As the story goes, Jesus becomes the host, which confirms that Luke is describing a Eucharistic Meal connected to the Paschal Meal in the upper room. Luke tells us that Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. This is ritual language that Luke has used before when he fed the multitudes, and when he sat in an upper room. On those occasions, they did not “recognize him”, but now, the risen one is recognized. When Luke says that their eyes were opened, it describes conversion. This story serves as a bridge between the meals the earthly Jesus had with his disciples and the later church’s Eucharist. It also says that at such meals the presence of the risen Lord was known. Jesus is alive and one place of his recognition is in the breaking of bread. The importance of knowing and experiencing the living Christ in word and sacrament cannot be overemphasized.
There is a third part to this story that we must not overlook: the return of these two to Jerusalem where they want to spread the Good News. It is the perfect match or parallel to the Eucharist as the Church has known it: Word, Sacrament, Mission (Mass). Without the third part, the “Missa” something important is missing.
Now to the appearance of Jesus to the Eleven in Jerusalem. This also reinforces the theology that what rose was a living body. They thought they were seeing a ghost. He shows them hands and feet with the wounds, and then he wants to eat something. They fed him and he ate in front of them. Angels and Ghosts don’t eat. Only humans eat. For Luke, the risen Lord is no less than the Jesus before he died. He eats and can be seen and touched. These two stories say the same thing about the nature of Jesus’ victory over death: it is not to be understood as an escape from the perishable body, but a transformation of it. That transformation is not into a spiritual being because Jesus remained flesh and blood though immortal and not limited by time and space. This is not the immortality of the soul while the body decays. It is something totally new.
For Luke, there is here what we could call “Table Fellowship”. What was interrupted by the death of Jesus is resumed at the initiative of Jesus. From now on the disciples will continue to do this in remembrance of him. These incidents when Jesus eats with them serves as a bridge between the meals the earthly Jesus had with his disciples and the later church’s Eucharist, it says that at such meals the presence of the risen Lord was known. Jesus is alive and one place of his recognition is at the breaking of the bread.
At this point I think it is important to dig into what it means to “remember”. I believe that this issue is at the root of a great problem among believers when it comes to what we believe about the Body and Blood of Christ. There is no room for anything but a firm belief that what looks like bread is the very real Body of Christ and what looks like wine is the very real Blood of Christ. These are not symbols or signs. They are real. The root of this error probably comes from a failure to understand “remembering”. In this use and context, it does not mean to “recall”. There are three times in which to know an event: in rehearsal, at the time of the event, and in remembrance. In rehearsal, understanding is hindered by an inability to believe that the event will really occur or that it will be important. At the time of the event, understanding is hindered by the clutter and confusion of so much so fast. But in remembrance, the nonseriousness of rehearsal and the busyness of the event by way to recognition, realization, and understanding.
To understand this, we have to take the word apart: RE-Member. It means to put together, to join. Think of it this way. God’s response to sin which broke and still breaks the relationship we have with God was a gathering in. The formation of a People that today we call the “Church”. It’s a joining together what had been broken apart. In the Eucharist God joins us with one another and with God’s self in the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus gathered a people. He reached out and looked for those who were alone by sickness or sin, and he re-membered them to himself and to all the people who had been scattered by sin, self-centered, selfish, and alone. For a deeper understanding, we start with the Bible.
John 6 is the place to start. First, we hear of the magnetic power of the presence of Jesus. Large crowds followed him everywhere. In that chapter, Jesus goes up the mountain – which is the place where one can get close to God. Once there, Jesus sits, the posture of a teacher there on that holy mountain. This is what happens in the first part of our Mass. Jesus teaches us. There he feeds that crowd by taking the little bit that we have (think of the gifts we bring to that altar). With that little bit, he can multiply it for the feeding of the world. We know how much is left over: twelve! There is the Mass.
Then he goes to Capernaum and the people follow him. He begins to teach again. He says don’t hunger for these passing loaves of bread but for the food that lasts for eternal life. “I am the bread of life those who come to me will never be hungry, those who believe in me will never be thirsty. I AM THE LIVING BREAD come down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world.” The crowd balked at this. A first century Jew would be repulsed by the eating of flesh with blood. That’s forbidden to them. Given therefore every opportunity to soften his teaching or propose a symbolic meaning, he goes on to say, “Amen, Amen, I say to you. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood. You have no life in you, for my Flesh is real food. My Blood is real drink.” Now, the verb Jesus uses here is not the usual word for eating. He uses the verb (trogain) which means gnaw on.
Something real strange is going on here. While the scriptures are full of symbolic thought and symbolic images, but when Jesus puts this out so clearly, many of his followers turn away and would not go with him anymore. So, he asks the twelve if they would like to leave. This teaching is a watershed, a point of division. It’s either you are against me or with me moment. If this was just symbol talk, why would anyone be upset. But Jesus does not compromise, soften it, or give in. This is the ground for the Catholic insistence that this is the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Ignatius of Antioch in letter to Smyrna. (35 AD) “They abstain from the Eucharist and Prayer because they do not admit that this is flesh of the Son of Man. Justin Martyr (165 AD) For not as common bread or common drink do we receive, but we receive the real body and blood of Christ.” Origin of Alexandria (early 3rd century) says: speaks about reverence and almost obsessive care for crumbs that fall from the sacred gifts. St John Chrysostom says: “What is the bread but the body of Christ. What do they become who partake of it, the body of Christ? Not many bodies, but one body. This is the way we are Christified. Our bodies are Christified. We are prepared for heaven by bringing our body in contact with the body of Christ. The early church never wavers from this.
In the 11th century a Bishop in Tours proposes the symbol/sign language. He teaches that something is added to the Bread, some spiritual, but it is still bread with an added something. A great debate occurs that ends with a Council. That council insists that this is wrong, and that what is on the altar after the consecration is the Flesh and Blood of Christ. His opponent says that there is something more going on in the Eucharist than is going on in the other sacraments. This is not a spiritual addition to bread. In the other sacraments, oil is still oil and water is still water. In the Eucharist, something is different.
Aquinas in the 13th century – a vivid personal relationship. He wept at Mass, and would often rest his head against the tabernacle begging for inspiration. At the end of his life after completing his masterpiece, he places the text about the eucharist at the foot of the cross, and it said that a voice came from the cross saying: “Thomas, you’ve written well of me. What would you have as a reward: I will have nothing except you Lord.” His great work has three parts: 1) About God and Creation 2) About human being and our moral life 3) About incarnation, Christ and the Sacraments. The last part he wrote is about the Eucharist. Baptism is the generation of Life. Confirmation is the augmentation of life. Communion is food of the life. Eucharist has three names in time 1 Past: Sacrifice
2 Present: Communion with Christ
3 future Viaticum the great name is Eucharistia. Thanks giving which is what we will do in heaven.
Transubstantiation comes from Thomas. Substance is the deepest and core reality of something. When I speak of substance, I mean the deepest reality what something is. What stands under. What does it stand under? Accidents Appearance or Species
like spectacle. What you see.
In the act of Consecration, the substance of bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus even as the appearances (species) of Bread and Wine remain. This is how we bring John 6 forward. The senses perceive bread and wine. The change comes at the level of substance not appearances. The disciples on their way to Emmaus see everything, but they don’t get it. They do not understand. If all we understand is what we see, we are lost.
There was a great 16th century Protestant/Catholic debate. Luther did not like Thomas Aquinas. Luther saw an addition to the bread. To speak in a general way, Protestants do not believe in transubstantion. The Council at Trent addressed the issue in response. 11 canons (summaries) Canon One: If anyone were to deny that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is contained truly and really substantially as a symbol – let them be condemned. We are to say that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is contained real, true and substantially not in sign or figure.
How does Christ become really present? Trent says, By the power of the Word. The words do not just describe reality. Language can also be active and transformative. Not just expressive or descriptive. A Baseball word changes reality: “You’re out”. Sometimes someone says something to us that changes your whole life. That’s creative and transformative. Or something the other way around something hurtful changes us for years. Our little words can change reality – think of God’s word! How does God make the world? By the power of a Word Speech! God’s word is not descriptive it is creative.
God speaks the world into being. In the beginning there was the Word – the Word became flesh, and What God says IS. Lazars come out! Pick up your mat and walk. What God says IS. The night before he dies he took bread and said THIS IS MY BODY. Notice at Mass how the language changes. This stuns me every time I pick up that host. The priest begins in the third person: “He Took Bread, said the Blessing, broke it and gave to them saying…” Then it changes into the First person. We speak in persona Christi. With this final wandering away from Luke into John, we can see how closely the theology of the Gospels weave together the core of our faith resting upon the revelation given to us by each of the evangelists. Let me conclude by repeating what our Holy Father Francis has been saying over and over again as he allows the Holy Spirit to reshape this church of ours. Evangelization is what we do and evangelists is what we are by the command of Jesus and will of the Father. What Francis is reminding us over and over again is the evangelization is not a matter of words, or saying the right thing, or convincing someone by argument. Evangelization is a quality of life. People are won over to Jesus Christ not by arguments from history or propositions from a Catechism, but by actions of believing people. People came to Jesus because of what he did before they heard him say anything. People still today will be won over by the heart before the brain. Our study of the Sacred Scriptures, our study and knowledge of St Luke’s Gospel is to open our hearts so that we might live this gospel not preach it, because people will see what we do long before they hear what we say, and in the end what we say must come from the heart.