Readings for Easter Sunday Reflection:
Acts of the Apostles 10: 34a, 37–43
1 Corinthians 5: 6b–8
John 20: 1–9
Laurel and Hardy, spaghetti and meatballs, love and marriage, law and order.
Some pairs just seem to go together: death and resurrection—a pair that comes perhaps too easily to mind for us. We must remember that the empty tomb was every bit as much a shock to the disciples as was the crucifixion.
Jesus' death was shocking because it was so unexpected. Jesus' resurrection was shocking because it was so unexpected. Remember, this is not Lazarus; that was a resuscitation. What happened with Jesus was a resurrection. The final line of today's Gospel tells us: They did not yet understand.
That Jesus was raised simply did not fit with the disciples' experience of things. How does it fit with ours? How do we make sense of it? Well, let's start with the context of Jesus' resurrection.
During Jesus' lifetime, there was a split within Judaism on the question of resurrection. The Sadducees denied it; the Pharisees believed in it but believed that the entire community of Israel would rise at the end-time, the dawning of the new age. There would be a new age of God's presence and power that was different than the old ways of living, and the Jewish people would flourish in that period.
No matter which school of thought a Jew subscribed to, they would not be prepared for Easter. So it took a while, as the appearance stories in the Gospels attest, for the event of Easter to sink in: One person has been raised and the end-time, the new age, has begun. The usual focus of Easter is on the first part of that early Christian claim—one person, Jesus, has been raised.
Today, however, let us focus on the second part of the claim—the end-time has begun: How to live in the end-time? How to live in the new age that was initiated in the resurrection of Jesus and that precedes the second coming of Jesus?
Let's look to the readings today for some clues to answer the question. In the reading from Paul, we, the followers of Jesus, are to be new yeast in the mass of society. Not being someone who bakes, I did not know that yeast gets old. So yeast has an expiration date. How to be the new yeast that Paul talks about? By speaking with sincerity and truth, he writes. Think how novel that would be. How different a world we would have if we did not go along with the usual lies and evasions, silences and averted eyes, winks and nods, smoke and mirrors that we embrace rather than the truth. To be people of truth, whose word can be counted on, a people whose values endure and don't evaporate at the first sign of hard choices. That is the new yeast that transforms.
In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear a speech of Peter's. Remember the background to this text. We heard just a part of the story of Peter's meeting with the Gentile Cornelius. A Roman centurion, he was the first Gentile believer to be encountered by Peter who was invited to his house to speak to the people assembled there. Oddly, the lectionary picks up Peter's remarks a few verses into the speech. Here is the beginning:
“The truth I have now come to realize is that God does not have favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him. It is true, God sent his word to the people of Israel, and it was to them that the good news of peace was brought by Jesus Christ—but Jesus Christ is Lord of all.”
Peter speaks truth to all; he has been introduced by Easter faith into a wider world than he thought possible. Peter has learned about a new age in which solidarity crosses boundaries of Jew and Gentile, male and female, black and white, rich and poor, young and old, straight and gay, sick and healthy, Republican and Democrat, immigrant and native, Protestant and Catholic, Christian and Muslim.
To live in the truth transforms our world, inviting us into a wider world of new relationships that moves us beyond the old divisions of a tired age. In the new age, people are not dismissed and marginalized but respected and treated with dignity.
In the Gospel of John—to talk about a transformed world—how about Mary? She goes to the tomb to mourn, to grieve. Her expectation is nothing else. She, like the rest, is a person still living in the previous age. But then her world is changed; she is ushered into a new age, the end-time, and must live differently. It is an age where tombs get unsealed, where life conquers death, where love is not lost but validated and given God's approval.
Remember that in Jewish society neither a Gentile nor a woman could count as a valid witness according to the law. Only a Hebrew male had legal standing as one who could give testimony. Luke tells us in the infancy narrative that the good news first was given to shepherds, nobodies who did menial work and who lived on the fringes of the society. But they heard the angels first. In the gospel of Easter, we now see that Mary, another marginal one, sees the truth first. She gives testimony to Peter.
In the new age, the old promises are kept. God's promises: that the poor would hear the good news, that sinners would be forgiven, that men and women might live together as brothers and sisters because they are all children of God. In God's time, relationships are not forgotten, the covenant is kept. People are invited into a new world where they live with one another as genuine equals, not playing power games or trumping one another with their incomes or degrees, not lording it over one another with their homes and cars, nor trying to prove their worth by their jobs or their circle of friends.
The new age inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus is a time so different than the previous age. To live in the new age is to live in a world where relationships are not disposable, but fidelity is valued. To live in the new age is to live in a world where values are not disposable, but the gospel is practiced. To live in the new age is to live in a world where people are not disposable, but they are loved and cherished.
To live in the new age is to live in a world where Jesus really is Lord of our lives. To live in the new age is so different than the world of the previous age. Why, then, would anyone want to live in the old world?
May the blessings of Easter come to you and your family!