"Play it again, Sam" (from the film, Casablanca) aptly describes the representation of events we hear about in our bible readings for today’s eucharist: play it again. For we have a recapping of significant events in the Jesus story, as well as a capsule formulation of a "typical day in the life of the church".
And, above and beyond all of this, we see the church at work in making the scriptures her own, weaving and re-weaving them into the powerful testimony she wants to provide us about the life and ministry of Jesus.
"Play it again, Sam" occurs in the gospel as we hear events reminiscent of another time recalled again, but on this occasion, in a different key. Periodically, when we hear a melody played in another key from the way we heard it earlier, it sounds like a different song. And so when we hear Jesus refer to Himself in the gospel as "the bread of life", we not only hear a familiar phrase. It also strikes us in a different way from how we earlier encountered it during the ministry of Jesus, prior to His Passion and Resurrection. Back then it sounded strange and odd to us, a challenge to our belief as He proposes that He will satisfy our hunger with Himself. Especially when He proceeds to say that belief in Him means both eternal life for us, and being raised on the last day.
We encounter all this again today, but now, within the setting of the Easter event. It is not a future event; it’s behind us. And we’re better positioned to accept the bread of life as eucharist in the light of the resurrection of Christ that we celebrate during this time period. The same melody, but in a strange key: it sounds so familiar, yet there’s something different about it, much like the body of the risen Lord, which seemed much the same, but yet with a strange quality about it.
And while we ponder this, we’re presented, in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, with "a typical day in the life of the church". We realize, of course, that we’re in a post-resurrection atmosphere where things take on a different hue and tone from what we’re otherwise accustomed to. This typical day in the church’s life sounds familiar: opposition to the message of the church (especially about the resurrection of Jesus), involving persecution (had not the deacon Stephen just been stoned to death?) that scattered this incipient young Christian community just getting its act together. But far from subduing them, this hostility just fired up the group, as in the person of the deacon Philip, to spread the word about Jesus in the places where they’ve just arrived. So enthused are these first generation followers of Christ that their zeal breaks out into miracles of exorcisms and healing cures. All this is a familiar replay of scenes from the life of Jesus during the days prior to His death and resurrection.
We listen to this symphony of the Christ event all over again-now in the post-resurrection period-thanks to the orchestration wizardry of the church, who trusts that, as it plays out before us once more (Play it again, Sam), we’ll realize, not only that we’ve heard this somewhere before, but, this time, in the light of the resurrection, it imparts new meaning and emphasis to our life-an experience comparable to that surrounding the risen body of the Savior. And we’re right: it’s the same melody, but in a different key.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.