The context for our First Reading is delightful. Cornelius, a devout and prayerful man and a centurion of the occupying Roman army has a vision while praying in his house in Caesarea. In this vision, he is told that his generosity on behalf of the Jews has been accepted by God. Cornelius is then advised to send for Simon, called Peter, in Jaffa.
Meanwhile Peter has a vision while experiencing hunger shortly before dinner. A large sheet presents Peter a menu of various creatures and is told to eat. Peter announces that he does not eat unclean things. The accompanying voice admonishes Peter, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane.” Peter was pondering all this when the two men sent by Cornelius arrived to take him to Caesarea. Corrnelius has gathered his relations and friends to listen to Peter’s words. We hear Peter’s proclamation which is a brief summary of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Peter assumes that these unbelievers have heard of the events of Christ’s death.
After Peter’s address, we do not hear this as part of our First Reading, the Holy Spirit descends and Peter announces that all will be baptized. The Jews who accompanied Peter wonder at their being baptized without their being circumcised. Peter’s vision of the unclean creatures then comes into focus. Peter and the early church is to extend the baptism of the Spirit from Jerusalem throughout the entire world. All creatures are clean now in the universal love of God through the redemptive love of Jesus.
The Gospel is also delightful and tender. It is dark and Mary Magdala goes to the tomb of Jesus. She finds the tomb’s stone rolled back, but, fearing some perverse body-snatchers have taken the Body away, she runs to tell Peter and John. They come running and entered the tomb, empty except for the cloths which had draped the dead corpse. They saw and believed, but they did not understand or remember what scripture had said about His rising.
In these next few weeks we will hear various descriptions of the drama produced in the lives of the early followers of Jesus after His Resurrection. There is some drama in this first account of His being raised according to John’s Gospel. Instead of perversity there is “reversity”. The darkness in which Mary goes to the tomb is changed into the new-day’s light. The emptiness of the tomb results in the fullness of creation. The enclosedness of the tomb becomes the fullness of revelation. The private experience of Mary Magdala begins the communal believing. The personal searchings of Peter and John are changed into the glorious searching by Jesus for all of humanity.
Peter’s view of clean and unclean was reversed by his vision of the symbols of creation on this wide screen. Our belief in the resurrection of Jesus is a wide-screen view of the holiness of all created reality. His rising begins the rising and gathering of all into the Kingdom which Jesus will present to His Father. All things which were created as a blessing and breathed upon by the Spirit of God and seen as “good” have lost now their ambiguity.
The “reversity” will be highlighted even more as Jesus appears to those who had lost faith and abandoned Jesus. They will be gathered into the beginning of the Kingdom, the Church as He untombs them from their shame. What was thought by the fragmented as unclean, is newly risen with Jesus. This “reversity” continues in the lives of those who allow the resurrected Jesus to untomb them. The Resurrection of Jesus brings us out of our darkness and ambiguity into the light of who He says we are.
The joy of Easter is that death is not our final stop as was death not the final stop for Jesus. We have celebrated in the Easter Vigil the newly-welcomed baptized into our communities. We also recelebrate our own being baptized into Christ’s immortality and the for-evering of God’s creative and redemptive love. Jesus came out of His tomb to call us out of ours and He sends the Spirit to keep us out, if we desire. Ambiguity is now an option, but not an absolute necessity. We have not seen, yet we believe and in this sight we receive the sacraments around us which point beyond to the Creator’s Hand and we join J. M. Hopkins, S.J. in his praise of the Giver and the variety of gifts.
Collaborative Ministry Office