The risen Christ in the upper room
April 15, 2018
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Peter speaks to the people
Ps 4:2, 4, 7-9
Let your face shine on us
1 Jn 2:1-5
We have an advocate with the Father
The risen Christ in the upper room
In the early weeks after Easter, the liturgy features Bible passages that speak about the Resurrection, as to be expected. The stories of the empty tomb are recounted on Easter weekend. Now we turn to accounts of the risen Christ appearing to his disciples.
Only Luke and John report the appearances to the 11 apostles in Jerusalem. Luke speaks of them gathered in an “upper room” (Acts 1:13). For John it is a “locked room” (John 20:19, 26). Mark—at least in the original version of his Gospel—has no Resurrection appearances. Matthew speaks of the women meeting the risen Christ outside the tomb (Matt 28:9-10), and he tells of the 11 being commissioned by Christ on a mountain in Galilee (28:16-20).
Luke’s account of the appearance to the Jerusalem community is the most comprehensive of the lot. His narrative includes these elements.
Jesus greets them with “Peace be with you,” as in John.
They think they are seeing a ghost, which results in the invitation to touch him and see that he is not.
Also, in connection with their impression of seeing a ghost, they were troubled, and so he displays his hands and feet in response. In Luke’s version this presumably is done to secure his identity. John’s Gospel also tells of Jesus showing his wounds, but it is Thomas who is shown them and invited to touch as a proof.
Jesus asks for something to eat, and they offer a piece of baked fish. This is more of a demonstration of his physicality than it is a shared meal. One is reminded of the passage in John 21, where Jesus eats with them on the lakeshore.
Jesus interprets the Scriptures to them, as he did with the pair of travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27, 45).
He points out that the Christ must suffer and rise on the third day. This is similar to the passion predictions Jesus made on the way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31-34). The announcement that the Messiah must suffer as foretold in the Scriptures is a theme unique to Luke-Acts (Luke 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23).
Jesus says that repentance for the forgiveness of sins be preached to all the nations, clearly anticipating the narrative of Acts of the Apostles. Whereas up to now the Gospel of John has been the parallel to events, this is instead like Matthew’s account of concluding commission to the apostles, given on the mountain in Galilee.
Finally, they are called to be witnesses of these events. The theme of witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus becomes a key piece of the preaching of Acts. It is especially notable in the “kerygma” speeches of Peter (e.g., Acts 3:15. 4:33; 5:32). But Paul also sees himself as a resurrection witness, having encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 20:24).
The Gospel of Luke is about to end, but the liturgical selection omits the final words. In the last five verses we learn that the disciples are to stay in Jerusalem “until you are clothed with power from on high.” This is the only Gospel in which they do not leave the city, for they need to be present for the mission recounted in Acts.
Luke’s Gospel concludes with a brief account of the Ascension, here occurring in Bethany, on the far side of the Mount of Olives. In Acts of the Apostles, Luke will elaborate the story in a different direction. There the Ascension is said to take place 40 days later, when the Resurrection appearances cease happening.
For reflection: Much is made in Luke’s writing of witnessing to the Resurrection. How is that still possible today?
Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.