The Women at the Empty Tomb is depicted in this stained-glass window by artist Guido Nincheri at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, Ontario. CNS photo/Gene Plaisted, Crosiers

God's Word on Sunday: For God, do what is righteous and good

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  • March 28, 2021

Resurrection of the Lord, April 4 (Year B) Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

Peter had quite a story to tell as he stood before the elders in Jerusalem. He related the ministry of Jesus, who had been anointed with the power of the Spirit by God. His ministry was uncomplicated — doing good and healing people. That should not have been problematic, but it was.

In the course of His ministry, Jesus challenged many of the images and ideas that people held about God, sin, forgiveness, love, pride and abuse of power. This was deeply upsetting to many, as it would be today in our own context. It resulted in His arrest and crucifixion, and everyone expected that His mission and ministry would end there. It certainly did not, for God raised Him from the dead and He appeared to His followers, even eating and drinking with them.

He was appointed by God as the judge of the living and the dead, and forgiveness of sins was offered to anyone believing in His name. This was the first proclamation of the early followers of Jesus, which they were commanded to carry to the ends of the Earth.

There was no complicated theological speculation — just who Jesus was, what He did and what He was going to do.

But there was something that Peter had learned during his first experiences of proclaiming this message, and it is described in the two verses omitted from the lectionary reading. He had come to understand that God plays no favourites, and that anyone in any nation that fears God and does what is righteous and just is acceptable to God. Without this, the rest of the message has little meaning. The message suffered whenever this insight was ignored or forgotten.

The proclamation has lost much of its power today. The message must strike a chord in the hearts of people, speaking to their struggles, hopes and fears. The good news must be credible and lived out by those proclaiming it in a manner that invites others to join. The proclamation and its representatives must be free of bigotry, prejudice, injustice and selfish motives. Overused theological language can seem empty and hollow to many; people are longing for the real thing.

Colossians urges us to set our minds on the things that are above rather than the things of the Earth. Rather than simply a call to self-denial, it is an invitation to expand our minds and hearts. The things of the Earth are here for our use insofar as they help us in our journey and draw us closer to one another and to God. The question is what we value most and where our highest love is focused. If we so choose, we can begin to experience the world through the eyes and the heart of God.

A great miracle had occurred in their midst, but few comprehended its meaning. Mary Magdalene was walking to the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning and when she arrived, she saw that the tomb was empty.

Peter and the Beloved Disciple ran to the tomb and indeed, it was empty, but neither one fully understood. Jesus left a clue: The face covering was carefully and deliberately rolled up and placed to one side — it would no longer be needed. They both then returned home, perplexed and seemingly untouched by what they had seen.

As a disconsolate Mary wept outside the tomb, two angels asked her why she was weeping, followed by the risen Jesus asking her the same thing. The question has an edge, implying that there was no need to weep. Only when Jesus called her by name were her eyes opened.

Like so many people, Mary was trapped in her own grief and desolation. Over this past year, many more have joined her in the face of the world’s fear, isolation, anger and loss of life. Never have we needed to hear our own names called by the Lord as much as we do now.

Jesus sent her back to the apostles with an important message that we too must proclaim. The God of Jesus is our God; the Father of Jesus is our Father; we are all brothers and sisters of Jesus and of one another.

Perhaps the gloom and struggle of the last year has prepared us to receive this message in a deeper way. We need God and we need one another.

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