The readings during Easter introduce us to the Acts of the Apostles and the Apostolic preaching. We find a driving concern with Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
Our first reading is Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. He preaches on the Psalms – on Psalm 16, which will be our responsory Psalm this Sunday. He finds that this beautiful Psalm of trust is only fulfilled in Jesus.
The Psalms speak of their original situation, sometimes that of David. But they are also prophecies of Jesus, the Son of David. And so too they can speak of us, members of Christ’s Body and conformed to Christ.
When the Psalm says “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,” Peter says, “David died and was buried . . . . But since he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn an oath to him, that he would set one of his descendents upon the throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ.”
This prophetic strand in the Old Testament reminds us of “the set plan and foreknowledge of God,” and that “God worked through Jesus.” All is in the Father’s hands.
Our short second reading, from the second letter of the same Apostle Peter, makes the same point. What was “revealed in the final time for you” is what “was known before the foundation of the world.” It’s all in God’s hands.
Peter also gives us a key for thinking about the Old Testament, one we find also in the Gospels. We might miss it if we don’t know our Bible. It’s always good to look at the footnotes!
Peter begins, “If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works.” He is quoting Deuteronomy, the last of the first five books of the Bible, and the central book of promises for the people of Israel. We invoke as Father the God of the Old Testament.
We are “ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors.” The key problem, then, is that they didn’t do what the Old Testament taught them.
But the solution is that we are “ransomed” or “redeemed” – “with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” That’s a reference to Passover. Christ, the “Lamb of God,” is our true passover, the one who sets us free from Pharoah and brings us to the promised land, the land of true worship, of God’s provision, and of life according to God’s law.
The Gospel is Luke’s story of the road to Emmaus. It’s such a beautiful reading, there are many things we can draw from it. For now, let’s stick with our theme.
The two disciples are fleeing Jerusalem, and they speak of what happened there, in David’s city. When Jesus asks them what has been happening, they say, “we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel”: the long-awaited, the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
After listening to them, Jesus says, “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary” that all these things happen. He says, yes, it all happened exactly according to prophecy!
“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” Moses speaks about Christ. The Prophets speak about Christ. They reveal what really happened. They give us the way to interpret both his experience and ours.
Later, “he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” This is a reference, obviously, to the Eucharist. But it is also a deeply Jewish action, a fulfillment of the Passover. And it leads the disciples to say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” The Eucharist does not replace Scripture, it opens it up, fulfills it, leads them back into it. The Old Testament should make our hearts burn for Jesus.
We can take away two key points from this discovery of Jesus in the Old Testament.
First, we learn that God is master over history. This teaches us about both God and history. God is wise, and provident, and powerful, the one kind of being who can plan out history itself. And history – every detail of human history – is in his provident hands. Even the worst things are somehow part of his plan.
Second, we learn that the Old Testament is food for prayer. For the Apostles and the Catholic tradition, all of Scripture is a privileged meeting place with Jesus. We should seek him where he can be found.