27 Mar 2016
“‘They put [Jesus] to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses.’” (Acts 10:39b-41a) In the name …
Let me start with a little story. When I was a seminarian, we heard about the previous Prime Bishop. He would walk down from his office to have coffee with the seminarians on most Fridays. Back in those days there were a good number of seminarians who would come over from Poland, and obviously their first language was not English. The American seminarians were supposed to try and help them learn their new language, but sometimes, on a rare occasion or two, they would do the exact opposite, as young guys are wont to do to each other. The story was told that the American seminarians had taught their Polish classmates that when somebody sneezed the polite thing to say was close to “God bless you,” but in actuality it was more like “God – opposite of bless – you.” This joke backfired, however, when the first one to sneeze and to be greeted with a chorus of “God – opposite of bless – you” was the Prime Bishop sitting in the Seminary dining room having a cup of coffee. Needless to say, it wasn’t the Polish guys who got in trouble for cursing the Prime Bishop.
Knowledge makes all the difference. I’ve never been a science-fiction or super-hero fan. I don’t honestly know if you’re supposed to root for Storm Troopers or root against them. I don’t have a preference for Super Man or Batman, and I definitely cannot imagine how you have a movie showing the two of them fighting against each other. For me to make sense of any of these sorts of things I would need a Sheldon, Howard, Leonard or Raj to teach me.
Now think about Peter’s words that we overhear in the reading Karen shared with us a few moments ago. The first foreigners are being welcomed into this new faith that wasn’t even called Christianity yet, and a very surprised Peter realizes that, “‘God shows no partiality.’” (Acts 10:34) Peter thought that Jesus came, died and resurrected only for the Jewish people, for people only like himself. He was surprised by how inclusive God was.
Or let’s try and place ourselves 2,000 years back in time and imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to tell other people that a woman discovered Easter, that a woman led the male disciples to the resurrection. When we look at a lot of places still today, women don’t count. Some executive from a California tennis tournament told the women players just last week that they should kneel before the top men players because they ride on their coattails. Is it any wonder that Serena Williams was furious? If the authors of the Bible could have told the Easter story some other way 2,000 years ago, some more orthodox way, they would have. However, the fact that Mary Magdalene, not Jesus’ mother Mary, not one of Jesus’ disciples, but Mary Magdalene, who cannot be categorized, that she discovered the empty tomb was too well known to hide. And again, Easter surprised everyone by how inclusive God is, that “‘God shows no partiality.’”
But how is anyone supposed to know this when even the closest followers of Jesus were surprised by Easter? Easter is illogical and I’m not even talking about Jesus coming back from the dead. In a weird and amazing kind of way, I have no problem believing that Jesus was raised by God. Peter says to us today: “‘They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day …’” Pilate wouldn’t even be remembered if it weren’t for Jesus. The Roman Empire has come and gone. These are the so powerful “they” who crucified Jesus, but they fade to insignificance before the God who raised Jesus on the third day. This is why I have no problem believing in Easter. What continues to amaze and inspire me, however, is that when Jesus resurrects He comes back to His disciples who had fled and to Peter who had denied and cursed Him, He comes back even for the ones who nailed him to the cross or who ignored Him as He hung in misery. This says something utterly amazing about our God who “shows no partiality” in the extreme. But how is anyone supposed to know this blessing by intuition?
There has to be another way. When Peter continues with his speech he refers to himself as one of those “chosen by God as witnesses.” Peter says this to a Roman centurion and his gathered family. These people in the Roman enclave of Caesarea would have had no idea who Jesus was, and Peter recognized the sacred importance of his role as witness. Cornelius was a good, God-fearing man, says the Bible. He was generous with his wealth and he was fair in his administration. He did what was right, and that is the beginning of righteousness, but not its culmination. He was searching for something, but Cornelius didn’t know for what or for whom. That is until he met Peter, and until Peter served as a witness to Jesus and His resurrection.
There are a lot of Corneliuses in our world today. They are the good people who make this a better place in which to live, but who don’t know Jesus, and who don’t think they need to, who don’t feel the power of Easter, of a God who loves us so much that He came back to us and is still with us. Cornelius had Peter as his witness. Maybe today’s Corneliuses need us. The seminary story I began with was the message that with knowledge comes responsibility. It was the English-speaking guys who heard a word or two from the Prime Bishop after he sneezed. And just maybe Jesus is now turning to us to be His witnesses out in a world of ordinary and accepted disbelief. This is the day that defines our faith. Let us not keep this wonder of Easter locked inside of us or this building because as Peter said, we are “‘chosen by God as witnesses.’” Every one of us and every single person we know are the reasons why Jesus came back on Easter. He loves everyone. We know this and find our joy and hope in Easter, and for those who don’t yet know, may we be their Easter Sheldon, Howard, Leonard or Raj, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo