FROM A READING FOR APRIL 19, THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER 'He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name....You are witnesses of these things."' -- Luke 24:46-48

Luke bends over backward in Sunday's Gospel (Luke 24:35-48) to demonstrate that the risen Jesus' presence in our lives isn't just a figment of our imagination.

We must first understand that the early Christian community did not have just one way to surface the risen Jesus in their lives. Because -- as Paul reminded his communities -- the risen Jesus wasn't the resuscitated historical Jesus appearing to His followers, He could be experienced in many different situations and in many different forms.

After all, as the Apostle put it, the risen Jesus is a new creation, unlike anyone or anything we've encountered before. Yet He is real.

It's significant that Luke's risen Jesus makes two Easter Sunday appearances in situations which have something to do with food. He makes Himself known to His two "runaway" disciples at the inn in Emmaus during "the breaking of bread;" and, in Sunday's passage, He proves He's not a ghost by eating a piece of baked fish.

Have some lunch
In Luke's day and age, proof that someone was real and not a ghost revolved around eating something. The latter couldn't pull that off. Whatever ghosts ate would simply fall through their apparent bodies and end up on the floor. They don't have "flesh and bones" as the risen Jesus has.

But there seems to be a deeper reason for Luke putting Jesus' post-resurrection appearances in the context of meals. He presumes the first Christians most frequently surfaced the risen Jesus during those instances in which they also broke bread, when they celebrated the Lord's Supper. It wasn't so much that they discovered this new creation in the bread and wine as much as in those who participated in the meal.

In I Corinthians 11, for instance, we hear Paul bemoan a situation in that Greek Christian community in which some fail to "recognize the body" during the communal meal which then comprised eucharistic celebrations. It's clear from the context that he's talking about the Body of Christ found in the community, not the Body of Christ found in the bread and wine.

No one seems to have had problems surfacing Jesus in the latter; it's the former -- finding Him in one another -- that became the trademark, and the test of true Christian faith. That's why Sunday's first and second readings (Acts 3:13-15,17-19; I John 2:1-5a) are so important.

Christ before us
Discovering the Christ in those around us can be a messy process. People's personalities will always be a stumbling block. Like ourselves, they're not perfect. Dread the thought, some might actually be sinners! Perhaps that's why forgiveness is a constant theme in our Christian biblical writings.

In Sunday's Acts passage, Peter even forgives those who crucified Jesus. Though he's convinced they "denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released," Peter also presumes they "acted out of ignorance." Even those who killed "the author of life" can be forgiven.

The author of I John encourages the members of his community not to sin -- yet, at the same time, he takes for granted they can't always follow through on his advice. That's why he brings up "the advocate with the Father" which each of us has: The risen Jesus is "expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world." If He's already died for everyone, why do we make everyone's sinfulness an obstacle in surfacing His presence in them?

If Jesus is alive among us, He is alive in real people, not only in those who are just a figment of our imagination. Is it possible that our determination to forgive one another might be the first step in discovering Jesus in one another?