Christ died on the cross for all of us

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  • March 27, 2012

Easter Sunday (Year B) April 8 (Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18)

The first Easter proclamation was rather simple. It spoke of a spirit-filled man who travelled throughout Judea and Galilee ‘doing good’ — healing, encouraging, challenging and inspiring all who were troubled or suffering. There was little reference to the content of his teaching or to complex theological issues. Shock and grief at his untimely end on the cross was evident but also wonder, joy and awe at the fact that God raised him from the dead.

A very important part of the proclamation is missing from this reading. Verses 35 and 36 (omitted) express Peter’s amazement at something more that had been revealed to him: God is impartial; God has no favorites; anyone who does what is right and fears God — in any nation — is acceptable to Him.

In fact, the context of this entire passage is Peter’s account of the descent of the Spirit of God on Cornelius — a pagan army officer — and his entire household. God had truly upended all of their theological ideas and cultural expectations. Christ died for all, not some or even many. The Christ was now the judge of the living and the dead — all humanity, without distinction — and that was the momentous news that the apostles were commanded to preach.

How does this proclamation play in 2012? Our world is one of many cultures and religious faiths. It is also characterized by fear and violence caused at least partly by the tensions between them. The proclamation of 2012 cannot be one of exclusion or triumphalism, nor can it be condescending or disrespectful to any group. It must be capable of giving hope, meaning and a vision of the future for all people. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus affects every human being regardless of the ideological or theological label they wear. The bottom-line command to all people: do what is right and fear God.

Above and below are spatial categories that depict neither the structure of the universe nor the realm of God. God is not “up there” somewhere and heaven is not some “place” in our sense of the word. The insistence that we set our minds on the things that are above, then, refers to our level of spiritual understanding. The author of Colossians does not want believers to continue life as usual after dying and rising with Christ. The principles and values that govern our human world are bankrupt and are based on fear, selfishness, violence and competition. Believers are urged to elevate their spiritual awareness by patterning their minds, hearts and lives on the divine principles of the Kingdom. 

An empty tomb, grief, and bewilderment — these were not auspicious beginnings for our Easter faith. Death is seldom easy to deal with and always leaves us with a painful mass of grief and countless questions. The followers of Jesus did not really understand what rising from the dead meant, and all of the prophecies and the statements that Jesus made about the Passion were not understood until much later.

Although one of the two apostles saw and believed, apparently neither one picked up the clue Jesus left behind: the cloth from his face was carefully rolled up and set aside. It was a deliberate act, signifying that death was finished. Death is nothing before the power of God. The apostles returned home not much wiser than when they came.

They were not privileged with an appearance of the Risen Christ — that was reserved for Mary Magdalene. The weeping Mary was asked by the angels — perhaps with puzzlement — the reason for her tears. She was captive to her grief and unable to sense the spiritual presence all around her. She was asked the same question again but this time by the unrecognized Jesus who stood behind her in the shadows. Her response was identical and it was only the voice of Jesus calling her by name that broke through the curtain of grief.

The message that Jesus gave to Mary to carry to the others was deceptively simple: he was ascending to “my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” That means that we are sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and brothers and sisters of one another. We are all family, loved equally by God.

That is a very fitting Easter proclamation for the world of 2012.

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