Acts 10: 34a, 37-43; Ps. 118; Colossians 3: 1-4 (or I Cor 5: 6-8); John 20: 1-9

by Jude Siciliano, OP


Dear Preachers:

Picture those two disciples running towards the tomb. Their world had collapsed, their beloved Jesus cruelly killed. Was he just another failed liberator, whom they had hoped would free them from the iron fist of the Romans? Some of his country folk hoped so. Perhaps Peter and John were also among those who placed their hope for revolution on Jesus. Formerly Luke described an event that happened as Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem. Despite a previous prediction of his upcoming passion, the mother of James and John – speaking on behalf of her sons – requested from Jesus seats of honor for them when he "entered his kingdom" (Matthew 20:17-28). See what they were hoping for – power and privilege? As they entered Jerusalem the crowds’ excitement was at a fever pitch. Finally, the Messiah had come to set them free! But the high priest and the Sanhedrin, in collusion with the Romans, quickly crushed their dreams by crucifying Jesus.

Back to the two: Peter and John ("the other disciple?") rushing to the tomb. Mary of Magdala, had gone early in the morning and found it empty. She drew the logical conclusion: "They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we do not know where they put him." A sensible response – what else would have explained the empty tomb? Unless… the totally unexpected and new had taken place. What were the two, closest to Jesus, thinking as they rushed to the tomb. What expressions were on their faces? Fear? Confusion? Shock? Hopeful astonishment? Probably the same expressions that we have on our faces when, after a stressed time, we look back on what had happened and draw on a slim thread of hope for the future.

They were running. Away from what? The old and tired? The used-up and uninspired? Were they running from death’s grip over their lives? Towards what? God? The unimaginable? A whole new beginning? They don’t know quite what is ahead of them, all the evidence isn’t in yet. Sound familiar?

The homiletician, Thomas Long ("Journal for Preachers," Easter 2001) asks: Where are the senior folk in Luke’s account. They were there in the beginning of his gospel: Anna (2:36) and Simeon (2:25), Zechariah and Elizabeth (1:7). The elders played significant roles at the beginning of Luke, but are no where to be found towards the end – at the resurrection. Is Luke speaking symbolically in his omission of the important elders in Jesus’ life? Is it because the elders at the beginning of the gospel represent the former prophetic tradition and its Temple worship? Do they also sum up the best of Israel’s faith in a God who made an unbreakable covenant with the people: that God would not desert them and would fulfill the promise made to a people in need?

Luke’s story began with a living hope among a faithful people. Now we are approaching the end of his narrative – but not the end of the story! A new generation of believers is about to spring up, to find their hope fulfilled in a most unexpected way: Jesus has risen from the dead! God has fulfilled the hopes of Israel in a merciful and surprising way.

I also wonder about the expression on Peter’s face later on. Our first reading tells us of his preaching on the occasion of the baptism of the Gentile Cornelius. While Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit descended on everybody present (Acts 10:44). What a surprise for Peter! He was being sent as a witness to the resurrection to the Gentiles who, like the first disciples, were also gifted with the Holy Spirit.

The gospel has Peter and his companion running to the empty tomb. Acts finds him preaching Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to Gentiles. Can you imagine the surprise on Peter’s face in Cornelius’s home? I would like to be open to God’s surprises in what, on my own, is an impossible situation.

Have we in the past, or even now, boxed God in? Have we imagined God to be just a bigger version of ourselves, with our preferences and agendas? Maybe that’s the past that we, with the two rushing to the tomb, have to leave behind. We do not know what is up ahead for us. Perhaps, like the two, we have fears, confusion – and, hope against hope. At the end of today’s gospel "the other disciple" enters the place where death had formally ruled, but he "sees and believes" – even without the completion of the story. Which is what we are asked to do, in our waiting for God to finish the story of our lives – "see and believe." We wait and we believe Christ is raised from the dead and so shall we be. In the meantime, like Peter, we will go out into the world and see Christ’s risen presence in the most unexpected places: among people so different from us, who also show the signs of the Spirit’s presence in their lives.

Today we celebrate Easter. With God’s grace we have left behind, or are trying to leave behind, our old ways of thinking and acting, our presumptions and our prejudices. Jesus is risen from the dead and our life will never be the same. Sometimes, because of present uncertainties and trials, we tend to look back over our shoulder to formal ways and simpler times. At these times God’s word strengthens us to keep our eyes on the present and look forward to the future, trusting in the promises God holds for us.

The disciples rushing to the tomb could never expect what God had in store for the them. They had to wait for God to take the next step. Later, in the upper room, the risen Christ will appear to the two, huddled with the rest of the disciples,. But not yet. What will happen next is completely beyond their timing and schedule.

Don’t most of the deepest life experiences, come as a surprise: a loved one gives us a warm hug; the word of forgiveness comes completely undeserved; the stranger helps us; we find Christ in the face of the poor; our teacher praises us; a simple family meal with loved ones is a feast. And so on. Where does all that come from? By chance? Not for the person who "sees and believes" the presence of the risen Christ coming in surprising ways.

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