By FATHER DONALD DILGER
The Resurrection of the Lord, Years A, B and C
First Reading: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Response: Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; Gospel: John 20:1-9
The first reading is part of a sermon attributed to Simon Peter sometime after Pentecost. It is unfortunate that the Lectionary omits the most important part — the introduction. Peter began, “Now, I understand that God shows no partiality, but in any nation, anyone who reveres him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Why does he understand this only “now?” Peter had been lodging at the home of Simon, a tanner, in the city of Joppa, 35 miles west of Jerusalem. He was up on the flat roof of the house praying. He became hungry. While waiting for a sandwich he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open and a big sheet being let down by four corners from the hole in the sky. Contained in the sheet were foods of all kinds, “clean and unclean,” (kosher and non-kosher). A voice said, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat!” Peter comes up with the original “Read my lips,” answer, “No, Lord, I have never eaten anything . . . unclean,” (not kosher). The voice, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean!” Peter was something of a hardhead, so the vision had to be repeated three times to get through to him.
About the same time in Caesarea, a seaport 55 miles northwest of Jerusalem, a Roman officer named Cornelius, a Gentile, also had a vision. An angel told him to send to Joppa to summon “Simon, who is called Peter.” He obeys. Cornelius is described as an upright, God-fearing man, well-spoken of by the whole Jewish nation. His delegation arrives in Joppa, asks for Peter, and Peter goes with them. Peter entered Cornelius’ house, though no observant Jew would normally enter the home of a Gentile (a non-Jew). Peter, referring to his vision on the rooftop, now interprets the vision as meaning that it was not about clean or unclean food, but a command from God that no one, no matter of what nation or origin, is unclean before God. That is why Peter began his sermon in the house of a Gentile with the words quoted above, “Now I know that God shows no partiality . . . .” Thus, the way was opened for Christianity to spread – not just among Jews, but to all nations. The reason for the selection of this reading for Easter Sunday: it is a short resumé of what Christians believed about Jesus from the beginning, including his resurrection from the dead.
Psalm 118 is the last psalm in the Hallel, a collection of Psalms 113-118, psalms of praise chanted in homes at the close of the Passover meal. In Matthew 26:30, Jesus and his disciples close their Passover meal (and Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist) with these Psalms. The verse, “The stone which the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone,” was used by the early church to try to understand the rejection of Jesus by his own religious rulers, which led to his execution (See Mark 12:10; Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11). The same verse also served to justify the Christian mission to Gentiles. The people’s response is verse 24 of the psalm, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.” For Christians, this verse applies to the resurrection of Jesus.
The second reading is Paul’s response to a scandal among the Corinthian Christians. He excommunicates the offender and warns against corruption of the Christian community through bad example. Though Paul can be confusing when promulgating his theology, in this case, he uses a homely example like Jesus would. He writes, “A little leaven (yeast) corrupts (infects) a whole lump of dough,” as every bread baker knew, to form it into leavened bread. Unleavened bread was required for the Passover meal. He wants Christians to be unleavened bread (uncorrupted, uninfected with yeast = sin) “because Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.”
The first part of the post-resurrection gospel is about Mary of Magdala. The author wants us to know that she was a faithful Jew. She rested on the Sabbath and therefore did not come to Jesus’ burial place until Sunday morning, “. . . while it was still dark.” This may be John’s characteristic play between light and dark throughout his gospel. It was dark because Jesus, the light, had not yet been seen. The grave was an opening dug into the side of a hill. A circular stone rolled in front of these hillside tombs kept out animals. The stone had been rolled back from the opening. Mary did not look inside at this time. Instead she ran to the place where Simon Peter and his sidekick, “the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” were staying, and reported, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we do not know where they put him.” The “we” tells us there were other women involved, as is the tradition in the other gospels. The author of the gospel now leaves Mary of Magdala to concentrate on Simon Peter and that unnamed disciple.
A bit of comedy follows. Both disciples ran, but that other disciple was a faster runner and beat Simon to the tomb. The funny part is an ancient interpretation suggesting that the other disciple was unmarried, thus able to run faster. The only biblical support for this opinion might be in Sirach 25:23. It describes an unhappily married man as having “sagging knees.” We know Simon Peter was married. He had a mother-in-law whom Jesus cured. The other disciple waited respectfully, (or fearfully) outside the tomb. He did steal a quick look inside and saw the empty burial cloths. Simon Peter arrived and entered the tomb. John writes: “The cloth that had covered his head was . . . rolled up in a separate place.” A neat Jesus not dropping his clothes just anywhere! Though the author showed respect for Simon Peter by having the other disciple wait for him, we now see who the author’s real hero is. “The other disciple, who had arrived first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” Nothing is said of Simon Peter’s faith; so we have to conclude that for the moment, he remained clueless, “for they did not yet understand the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” The next chapter, 21:7, continues the uber-importance of that other disciple whom Jesus loved. When Jesus appears on the shore of the sea, that disciple is privileged to identify Jesus to Simon Peter, “It is the Lord!” Happy Easter!