Have you noticed that during Eastertide, we don’t often read from the Old Testament?
Our usual pattern of readings is changed. Instead of an Old Testament reading, the first reading for Mass is now taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s second great volume about the story of the church – our story.
But the Old Testament doesn’t disappear as something less important in the face of the Good News of Christ’s resurrection: it couldn’t possibly. And, it is notable that the importance of the Old Testament as the foundation of our story is still clear in these new texts; the writings of the New Testament draw on the Old; we learn of Christ in the ancient texts.
St Jerome, the great biblical scholar, warns that ‘ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’ and this is exactly what Jesus thinks on the road to Emmaus.
“O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things…?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24,25-27)
The message is clear – read the Bible and come to know me.
For we must remember that when Christ and the apostles of our faith praise and quote the scriptures, it is the Old Testament they mean. It is the Old Testament that speaks of the saviour; that supports their words; that prepares them for the experience of an encounter with the risen Lord.
Peter shows the Jews this in his preaching today. Hand in hand with his witness to Christ’s resurrection, Peter explains who Jesus is by using the words of King David and calling on his authority to convince his descendants.
He foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ. (Acts 2,31)
This is the extraordinary claim: that now the prophecies have come true and redemption is at hand. But they only know this by learning and going on to teach the witness of the Old Testament.
Filled with the spirit, Peter now speaks with confidence; he exhibits the authority that is attributed to Jesus in his ministry. An authority that is ‘not like the scribes’. And as well as using the psalm, Peter had recalled a little earlier in his speech the prophecy of Joel to explain that it is the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ that has come upon them.
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy. (Joel 3,1-5; Acts 2,17)
This reference to the “last days” also has allusions to Isaiah’s prophecies of the great age to come (Isa 2,2). So, the apostles have become part of the great story of prophecy, recorded in the Old Testament. But now they are filled with the Spirit of the resurrection.
This confidence that the suffering and death of Christ was necessary to enter into glory, comes from the encounter with the risen Jesus. As these two disciples met an unrecognisable Christ on the road he taught them the meaning of their history. Or, in other words, he opened the scriptures.
But we should remember that these disciples were not at the Last Supper Jesus had held a few days before, which was only for the apostles according to Luke (22,14). We have not heard of Cleopas before this (or will again, in fact). These two disciples’ knowledge of Jesus breaking the bread was learnt, not experienced. This means that they do not recognise him because they saw Jesus take, bless and break bread before, but rather, because the risen Jesus is made present in this eucharist. And, as he breaks bread for them in their turn, their journey through the scriptures is complete and all comes together when they saw the Lord.
We too live this journey at every Mass. An often obscure Christ comes to us in the words of ancient men, in the stories of ancient people who seem not to know God. When we hear Jesus’s own words in the Gospel he explains our stories by means of theirs, which are now his stories too. But it is in the breaking of bread that we see him and come to know that all these stories, his, theirs and ours are one.
So, we must continue always to listen to the scriptures – for in them we shall find Jesus and ourselves too.