Third Sunday of Easter – April 23, 2023

When I was a university campus minister, there was a volunteer at the campus ministry center who was aptly described as “one who gives goodness a bad name.”  The volunteer was willing to do anything except treat the students benevolently.  For reasons I never understood, the volunteer always imagined the worst about the students.  Admittedly, the students’ occasional immature behavior did not help their case.  For the most part, however, those college students were energetic, devout, and gracious. 

Like that volunteer, the two disciples in today’s Gospel also imagined the worst, that is, the worst about Jesus’ death.  They were the sort of people who were prone to disappointment.  They assumed that Jesus’ words about God’s Kingdom were believable but that his words about rising from the dead were mere fantasy.  Their tendency to assume the worst about a person and a situation is a good example of the power of imagination.  Imagination isn’t pure fantasy; there is always some element of reality in it.  The invariable reality represented by imagination is the reality of one’s predilections and biases.  The hopeful tend to imagine positive outcomes from people and events; the hopeless imagine the opposite. 

Last Sunday, I mentioned a collection of prayer resources that can be found on the parish website.  Those suggestions for prayer and reflection are intended to help you participate more actively in the Sunday celebration of Eucharist by guiding you to pray with the Sunday Scripture readings throughout the week.  The thoughts and reflections are examples of the style of prayer Ignatius of Loyola taught the members of his community. 

Ignatian prayer relies heavily on the imagination.  This imaginative character of Ignatian prayer is the result of Ignatius’ conversion experience.  He was a professional soldier who was wounded in battle.  During a long and difficult recuperation, he read a book on the lives of the Saints given to him by his sister-in-law.  At first, he found the stories of the Saints to be a little dull.  As he continued to read, he began to notice a change in his demeanor.  He began to imagine himself doing the kinds of things done by the Saints; Francis of Assisi was one of his favorites.  Eventually, he came to realize that God was calling him to a life of service to the Church. 

Under the influence of the heroic virtues of people like Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola came to a deeper knowledge of God and a greater willingness to accomplish God’s will.  It was Ignatius’ imagination that led him to see himself as someone who could live a saintly life.  His style of prayer expresses his hopeful attitude toward human nature and the world.  This style of prayer is easy to practice and particularly well suited for prayer with the Scriptures. 

Today’s Gospel reading is an excellent text to use for Ignatian prayer.  The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus contains quite a lot of detail but it has room for one’s own imaginative engagement, as well.  Let’s take a few moments to imagine what those events must have been like for the two disciples. 

We might imagine the weather, the color of the sky, the clothing of the disciples, the faces of other pilgrims leaving Jerusalem, the town in the distance, Jesus’ own face, and the demeanor of the two disciples.  There are numerous opportunities to place ourselves in the story.  You might identify with the two disciples, one of the bystanders, or one of the Eleven who already knew about the Resurrection. 

In my imagination, I would want to be in the room with the Eleven when the two who returned to Jerusalem told them that they had seen the Risen Lord. I think I would enjoy seeing the Eleven welcoming the returnees without engaging in one-upmanship about their own experience of the resurrected Jesus. 

If we can imagine ourselves as being like those disparate groups of Jesus’ followers who found both communion with one another and with the Lord through their experience of the resurrection, then we can see what God intends for us. Our individual and shared experiences of the Risen Lord unite us as a single community with a shared faith. 

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to individual followers, two on the road leading away from the Cross, and the Eleven hiding for fear of persecution. In addition to their former association with Jesus, these individuals and groups had something significant in common; they wanted greater faith.  Jesus is present to us, as well, when we gather to be strengthened in faith.  Our shared experience of the Risen Lord unites us with him and one another. Our experience of being members of a community of faith begins with imagining that such a thing is possible, and that God calls us to that life.

3 thoughts on “Third Sunday of Easter – April 23, 2023

  1. Today’s Gospel brings up a question…I’ve heard different answers but how many actual days did Jesus appear to disciples after His resurrection and then on to His final appearance?

  2. The Gospels were crafted to address theological rather than historical questions. As the Gospel authors intended to address the unique concerns and misunderstandings of the congregation to which they were writing, the Gospels do not agree with one another about the details of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. The varying lengths of time during which Jesus is said to have appeared to his disciples in the Gospels reflect the theological perspective of the individual authors.

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