There is one humanity under God

  • March 25, 2010
Resurrection of the Lord (Year C) April 4 (Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18)

God has saved the most amazing and world-altering part of His revelation in Jesus until the last. Peter recites the ancient proclamation of the good news: the wonderful and powerful deeds of Jesus, the healing that He performed and the many deeds of compassion and mercy that flowed from Him.

The story is tinged with fear and sorrow, for He was arrested and killed. It ends with wonder, joy and amazement — Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to His followers and has been appointed by God as the judge of the living and the dead. This is the good news that is racing through Judea and setting so many hearts on fire.

But in the two verses omitted in the lectionary passage, the real reason for Peter’s wonder and amazement is clear. He is in the home of Cornelius — pagan, Roman, officer in the hated army of occupation — and God has brought him there for a special purpose. With a flash of insight Peter exclaims that he now realizes that God is utterly impartial — anyone in any nation who does what is right is acceptable to God. This might seem unremarkable to us now but it was quite shocking and challenging at the time. On the other hand, it might be as shocking now if all of its implications were fully understood. In a few moments he will witness the descent of the spirit on Cornelius and his household and with that God signals in dramatic form that even the gentiles are included in the plan of salvation. No person or group has a special claim on God; there is but one humanity and one God.

Seek the things that are above, where Christ is. This should not be understood in spatial terms for Christ is not up in the sky somewhere nor are the things that we are to seek. No Hubble telescope or space probe will ever record the objects of our quest, for all that we seek is within us and in our midst. This spatial metaphor describes the degree of harmony with the divine source — God. Seeking the things above is a process of unlearning human habits, opinions, prejudices, values and assumptions and putting on the mind and heart of Christ. The “things that are above” are not an extension or mirror image of our own “things.” They are guaranteed to turn our own little worlds upside down and inside out.

Many insist that the empty tomb is at the core of the Christian message, but what does the empty tomb mean? The frantic race to the tomb revealed that it was indeed empty and Jesus nowhere to be found. The carefully rolled up cloth suggests that what happened was careful and deliberate. Unlike the account in the other three Gospels, there are no angels in the tomb to clarify matters for them. They leave the tomb perplexed, for as the story tells us they did not yet understand about Jesus’ rising from the dead. They have seen the empty tomb but at this point it has virtually no impact on their lives. In a sense many people share that experience — they believe in the resurrection but its life influence is nil.

Mary Magdalene is the one to whom part of the meaning is disclosed. When the voice of Jesus finally breaks through her grief and weeping, He gives her an important mission. She must carry the following message to the others: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God. It sounds innocuous enough at first, but it represents a very different relationship between humanity and God. Throughout John’s Gospel, John’s Jesus has declared repeatedly that He is the only one who knows God or who has been in God’s presence. Jesus refers to God as “my Father” in a very exclusive sense. But now — as a result of His resurrection and return to the Father — we are now invited to share the same relationship with God as Jesus. He is our Father and God too, and that makes Jesus our brother and other people our brothers and sisters.

The experience of the Resurrection — rather than mere belief in it — transforms and enables us to think and live in a way that reflects our unity with God and one another.

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