The Resurrection and the Beatitudes

Third Sunday of Easter (A). Acts 2:14.22-28; Ps 15; 1 Pet 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

In today’s Gospel, two disciples spend some hours speaking with Jesus, but they only recognise him when he breaks the blessed bread at table and hands it to them. In that moment of recognition, captured in a spectacular painting by the artist Caravaggio, Jesus is obviously underlining the link between the Eucharist and his Real Presence, by which he will be recognised subsequently in the Sacrifice of the Mass. This encounter raises the question, however, of why Jesus chooses to reveal the truth of his Resurrection gradually and at intervals to various different groups. St Bede the Venerable, the Father of English History, argued that the miracle was so great that human souls could not take it in all at once, but had to be led to belief gently. I argue in today’s homily that the sequence of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances follows a well ordered narrative. Following a reconstruction of events first proposed by St Augustine, I further propose that this narrative is that of the Beatitudes, by which a soul is transformed and becomes ready for Heaven.

First, the initial appearances of Jesus Christ are not to the apostles, but to the women who have gone to anoint his body, the ‘poor in spirit’. These women see a vision the holy angels, who proclaim that he is risen, just as holy angels had once proclaimed his birth to poor shepherds. Angels are closely associated with the Kingdom of Heaven, so this first appearance fulfils the First Beatitude, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Second, the Gospels describe in detail the witness of Mary of Magdalene. Having seen Jesus die, Mary cannot even find his body to anoint. St John records her subsequently standing and weeping outside the tomb, when Jesus appears and calls her by name. This appearance fulfils the promise of the Second Beatitude, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The third appearance of Jesus is not recounted directly, but is mentioned in today’s Gospel and also by St Paul, who says that Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter. The significance of this appearance is that Peter has, by this time, been through the agony of having betrayed his Lord and his friend out of fear. The tempestuousness with which he struck the High Priest’s servant with his sword has been burned out of him. He has become meek in the totality of his dependence of God. Now he is ready to inherit to inherit the earth, not in the manner of earthly rulers, but as the Vicar of Christ, the first of the line of Popes. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

The fourth appearance of Jesus is the subject of today’s Gospel. Later on that Sunday, two disciples on the road to Emmaus explain that they thought that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel. In other words, they hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus satisfies this hunger by explaining the Scriptures and by the Eucharist that follows, during which they recognize him. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

This appearance also fulfils the fifth Beatitude. The disciples describe the way that their hearts burn within them when Jesus speaks, and they offer shelter and a meal to this stranger who has accompanied them. Benignity, by which a person’s heart “melts” to relieve the needs of others, is the fruit of the virtue of mercy, and these two disciples, who have shown merciful hearts, have mercy shown them. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

The next appearance is to the disciples, but without the apostle Thomas. As in the case of Peter, these disciples have had their presumption and self-reliance burned out of them. Gathered in Jesus’ name, Jesus himself then stands among them and says, “Peace be with you,” fulfilling the sixth Beatitude, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

St John records a further detail. Jesus says to his apostles, “Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” The apostles will henceforth participate in God’s power to forgive sins and bring peace to the human soul, tormented by sin. This divine commission, more broadly shared by all Christians who bring souls to Christ, fulfils the seventh Beatitude, Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God.

Finally, eight days later, Jesus appears to the disciples and Thomas is with them. Jesus invites Thomas to put his hand into the holes made by the nails and the spear on the cross. This appearance signifies the eighth Beatitude. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. The very last appearances of Jesus, on the mountain, the meal by the Sea of Galilee and finally the Ascension are all prefigurements of the Kingdom of Heaven itself in glory. Blessed are those who are called to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

In conclusion, this narrative shows how the road to heaven is not easy, but is by means of the cross. If, however, we surrender to grace, and follow Christ faithfully, allowing him to transform our hearts, we shall see him one day face to face with the saints in glory.

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