Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 27 March 2016
Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9 (Find them here)
This is the day that the Lord has made! Today we rejoice in the wonder of the Resurrection, the triumph of our Lord. The psalm bursts with joyous amazement at the surprising work of God which takes the rejected stone and makes it the cornerstone.
The words of the Gospel reading are surprisingly muted in comparison. The hope and realisation dawn slowly, more like a sunrise than a fireworks display. Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty but she does not yet know how to make sense of it. I wonder what the beloved disciple believed when he saw. That’s not quite the right way to ask the question: it is not what he believed, but in whom. He still had not understood the resurrection but, believing in Jesus, he was open to the journey ahead, the journey of coming to understand Easter. There is real wisdom in the Church calendar which gives us the next 50 days, a whole season of Easter, to explore this radical, transformational mystery which is the root and foundation of our faith. The empty tomb – the realisation that Jesus is no longer confined in that place of death and hopelessness – is just the beginning of the journey. The disciples, including Mary Magdalene, are still to meet the Risen Christ. May that be our journey this Easter season – from a vague intuition of the hope that is Easter to a transformative encounter with the Risen Christ.
We know the story, of course, we hear it every year and enter into it week by week in the liturgy, but let us ask again for the grace of knowing this earth-shattering, world-transforming reality in our daily lives. When Paul encourages us to set our thoughts on heavenly things, he is not proposing that we become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. No, he knows that there is a deeper reality that has been unleashed through resurrection power and he wants us to allow our lives and our loves, what we think and what we aspire to, to be shaped by that. St Paul uses images of above and below, heaven and earth. I find myself imagining it more in terms of the surface of things and the inner depths of reality. The seeds of the resurrection have taken root. Our own resurrection life is hidden in Christ, yet to be revealed in all its glory, but there are already green shoots breaking through. The deepest truth out of which we live is that Love has triumphed.
By the time Peter stands up to give the sermon recorded in Acts 10, Pentecost has come. The disciples have been encountered by Jesus risen from the tomb and they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. That encounter and gifting has transformed them from bewildered followers of a crucified man to bold proclaimers of the Gospel and apostles of forgiveness. But there is still more for Peter to discover. Although today’s reading does not make the context of Peter’s homily clear, this is actually the first time that Peter has ever been in a non-Jewish home, and he is about to be surprised by the eagerness with which God welcomes these supposed ‘outsiders’ into the community of the People of God. Before he has even finished speaking the Holy Spirit will be poured out on his audience. So even Peter, who has come to the profound understanding of the crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus that he is able to articulate here, has more to discover of the power and possibility which is our Easter faith.