Scripture: Acts 10:34-43
Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
Reflecting on the readings for today, and the transformation that Easter brings into our lives, I thought about myself in high school. I remember in high school being quite tired of myself, or more accurately, the mold I was in. My sarcasm and need to have the last word were habits that created distance, with classmates, friends, and with my real self.
College was a great opportunity, less for reinvention, as any move can be, but more to renew myself. To follow my instincts to be kind and true, and develop them into habits.
I could break free from the trap of sarcasm. In the shift into a new environment, I reclaimed who God intended me to be, for a time at least.
We are each called to renewal in our journey with God. "Easter is a life, not a day." To learn how to be our most authentic selves through relationship with the love of God - for Christians, this happens through learning and living our faith in community. I now have more habits in need of reformation. The 50 days of Easter are a good time to start anew. In our worship today we will renew our Baptismal Covenant, our commitment to walking in God's ways, saying, I will, with God's help.
There are moments in our lives that change us forever, moments of disruption, that come through triumph, defeat, joy, agony, birth, loss, and death. Our faith is rooted in the Paschal Mystery, the process of dying and rising again revealed in Christ. Even as we'd prefer to skip over Good Friday, the violence of the cross teaches us about God and about humanity. Through Christ on the cross, we see God present in all pain and suffering, abiding with us, even when we feel God's absence most acutely. The cross is a window, which allows us to begin trusting God is with us, offering solace and strength, not flinching from the horrors and injustices of this world. In Christ's crucifixion, and all violence before and after, we witness the capacity of humans to betray, suffer, inflict violence, and flee from people in pain. Fear can also be a way of life.
As they venture to Jesus' guarded tomb, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary tell us that we can overcome such fear. Despite our fear, we can come and see. At this empty tomb, where resurrection has already happened, Jesus doesn't reject his disciples who fled. He sends them a message that he will join them in Galilee. Galilee, where out of love for all he created, God risked becoming human in a violent and power-hungry world.
Matthew uses the language of earthquake to talk about the cosmic shift that happens when God destroys death through Jesus Christ's resurrection. Last week on Palm Sunday, we heard how the earth shook, rocks were split, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two when Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross. Jesus' death and resurrection shakes the foundations of the world God has made. A re-creation occurs. We trust that God's reign has begun. That God's ways can be our ways again. We live out of that trust, out of God's love, even as we inhabit a world driven by hate and fear, full of actions that inflict harm and death, increasingly distancing us one from another.
We only get a portion of the story in our Acts of the Apostles reading today. We hear Peter's proclamation to Cornelius and the Gentiles. I encourage you to read all of Acts Chapter 10. If you don't have a bible handy in the pew or at home, you can always look it up online. This is the wonderful story of Peter discovering the transforming power of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension for his own life and ministry. Peter whose ministry was to the people of Israel, his own people, becomes open to the possibility that "God shows no partiality" through a vision and an encounter with Gentiles who are committed to God. As Peter speaks the words we hear today, the Holy Spirit falls on the people gathered. Peter and his fellow Jewish followers of Jesus are truly shocked. Despite this, Peter remains open. Willing to follow God into the unknown, into love for the stranger. Peter says, 47"Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
Chapter 10 of Acts captures a key moment of Peter's faith journey, as well as that of Cornelius and his household, and most importantly that of the church. God's saving embrace is open to all people. Restoration to wholeness, restoration to relationship with God and one another, is not a commodity to be restricted or defended. The grace, love, and mercy of God are poured out by the Holy Spirit at all times and in all places so that we may choose the Easter life, loving one another as we are extravagantly and unconditionally loved.
Let us pray in the words of one of our Collects for Mission from the prayer book:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP, p. 101)