We are one with the divine

  • April 12, 2011
Easter Sunday (Year A) April 24 (Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18)

What was Cornelius the centurion expecting to hear? Although a foreigner, a pagan and an officer in the hated Roman army, he was a thoughtful and just man, giving alms and offering prayers to the God of the people whom he was governing. That prayer was heard — in a vision, a dazzling figure stood before him and commanded him to ask that Peter come to his house. He has no idea who Peter is or what he is going to say. Peter simply relates the story about Jesus that is travelling through Judea: divine anointing with the Spirit, compassionate deeds of power, betrayal and death. But that is not all: God vindicated Jesus by raising Him from the dead, thereby affirming His teaching and deeds. He has transcended death and some of His followers are witnesses.

At this point Cornelius might say, “Fine — great story and a great man, but what does that have to do with me?” The answer is stark and simple. Jesus now stands astride history itself as the judge of the living and the dead but with the desire to grant forgiveness to those who believe in Him.

It is interesting that in the two omitted verses of this passage Peter has a startling insight that he shares with Cornelius. God does not play favourites or show partiality, God accepts anyone who strives to do good regardless of where they are from or what label they wear. The story of Jesus — and the opportunity for faith — must be shared with all. No more fences, boundaries or narrow, incomplete images of God. Cornelius was able to accept this account because it was still vibrant and alive — there were still those who were personal witnesses.

What about our own time? Repeating a story by rote is usually an ineffectual tool especially when in the perception of many it has gone stale. We cannot impart the faith story to others unless we ourselves have been touched and transformed by it and are excited and joyful to be part of it.

In the spiritual world “above” and “below” are not spatial terms. They denote the degree of closeness and harmony with the divine source. Christ is not “up there” but everywhere. The exhortation to seek the things that are above rather than earthly things calls for a reordering of values. What sort of things do you set your heart and expend your energy on? We are in the process of fashioning who and what we will be for eternity. There is nothing more tragic than a life squandered by the pursuit of things that are not oriented to the building of spiritual character and service to others.

John’s narration of the Resurrection event is so strikingly different from the other three Gospels for he has another point to make with his version of the empty tomb. There is no doubt that the empty tomb was just as puzzling and mysterious then as it is now. Even the apostles who had been closest to Jesus are a bit perplexed. After all, death is shrouded in fear, grief and misunderstanding and is one of the toughest realities that humans wrestle with. The story of the empty tomb has to make sense in a world of mass graves, wars and natural disasters. The apostles return home uncertain of the meaning of the empty tomb and what to do next. Even Mary Magdalene is convinced that someone has taken the body away and she remains lost in grief. But the cloth that covered the face of Jesus is carefully and deliberately rolled up and placed to one side signifying Jesus’ victory over death.

The privileged charge that Jesus gives to Mary Magdalene is also revealing — she is to bear a message to the others, and to us, that proclaims a new relationship between God and human beings. We share the same God and Father as Jesus does making us brothers and sisters of Jesus and of one another. God has included humankind in a familial relationship — we are part of the divine life.

The relationship will not allow injustice, cruelty, hatred or exclusion of any kind — and when we permit them to take root we undo the work of God. How different the world would be if we lived out this proclamation.