The Resurrection of the Lord
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9
Background to the first reading: According to Luke’s arrangement of material in his composition of Acts of Apostles, Simon Peter had just undergone a traumatic experience. He was praying on a roof (flat no doubt) at noon. It was lunch time and he was hungry. He fell into a trance during which he saw a vision of heaven opening and a large sheet was let down to earth by four corners. In the sheet he saw every kind of animal and bird, walking, crawling, flying. Luke missed an important notice. The creatures were both clean and unclean, (kosher and non-kosher). A Voice (God) told him to kill and eat, to which he replied, “No way, Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean.” The Voice replied, “What God has created clean you have no right to call unclean.” Peter could be hard-headed, so the vision was repeated twice more, but he still did not understand its meaning. He was about to have a revelation.
A Roman military official named Cornelius also had a vision, in which a Voice (this time an angel) praised him for his good works and prayers, and told him to send a delegation to bring Simon Peter to his home. Cornelius complied. They arrived where Peter was staying just after the vision of kosher and non-kosher foods. The Holy Spirit gets involved. Peter had to overcome his Jewish traditions of not “mixing with people of another race and visiting them.” Peter understands that he must accompany Cornelius’ delegation because “God made it clear to me that I must not call anyone profane or unclean.” The vision of clean and unclean foods taught him not only that distinction of clean and unclean foods was abolished, but more importantly, so was the distinction between clean and unclean races. Christianity was to be a universal religion. When all was clear to Peter and Cornelius, Luke inserts a brief instruction attributed to Simon Peter. It is a compendium of Christian doctrine. Its selection to accompany the gospel of the resurrection was determined by the proclamation that Jesus had risen from the dead “and com-missioned us who ate and drank with him after his resurrection to proclaim and bear witness . . . that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The Responsorial Psalm 118 was a processional hymn during the harvest feast called “Tabernacles” (Tents). The verses selected speak of thanksgiving to God for his mercy, which endures forever. “The right hand of the Lord has struck with power,” originally referred to some action attributed to God, probably the winning of a battle, through which God saved his people. By its use in the liturgy of the resurrection it is given a new meaning — God’s act of power is the resurrection of Jesus. Verses 22-23, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner-stone,” is refitted by Mark, Matthew, and Luke to justify Christian mission to the Gentiles. Acts 4:11 applies the same verse to Jesus — the stone rejected became the cornerstone. The peoples’ response is vs. 24 of this Psalm: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”
The second reading, an excerpt from 1 Corinthians, is Paul’s response to a public scandal among the Christians of Corinth. After excommunicating the perpetrator, Paul warns against corruption of his “parish” through bad example. He cites a homely example: “A little yeast (leaven) infects the whole lump of dough” to form it into leavened bread. He continues the bread-metaphor by comparing his Christians to unleavened (uncorrupted) bread. Leavened bread, he writes, is a symbol of malice and evil. Unleavened bread equals sincerity and truth. Why should they be the latter? Because “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.”
In the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus we first meet Mary of Magdala as a faithful Jew who rested on the Sabbath. Therefore “Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, (the first day of the week when the Sabbath had passed), while it was still dark. She was startled that the round stone, which was set in a groove and rolled across the opening of the tomb to keep out animals, had been rolled back. The tomb was open. She knew the disciples because she and other women of wealth, some of royalty, had been financial supporters of Jesus’ ministry. So she ran to report to the obvious chief of Jesus’ team, Simon Peter. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” was also present with Peter. Mary reported what she had seen, supposing the body of Jesus had been stolen. This was exciting! So the two disciples ran to the tomb. The Beloved Disciple ran faster, got their first, but waited for the chief to catch up. Why this almost comical detail? Maybe just a historical tidbit, but considering the mysterious character of this gospel’s symbolism, it could mean that the special love Jesus showed for this unnamed disciple brought into action a greater shot of adrenalin. Peter had yet to be reconciled with his Lord. The Beloved Disciple stayed to the end at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother. For comic relief; a 9th century bishop, Ishodad of Merv, supposed the Beloved Disciple, being unmarried, could run faster!
Peter entered the tomb and saw the burial cloths. He noticed the cloth or handkerchief that had covered Jesus’ head had been rolled up separately, perhaps a tribute to neatness instilled in Jesus by his mother. Finally, the Beloved Disciple entered the tomb. The authors of the Gospel of John is playing favorites, when he notes that that Beloved Disciple, “saw and believed.” Nothing is said of Peter’s faith, so the conclusion is that at this time he remained clueless. A closing note: “For they did not yet understand the Scriptures that he (Jesus) had to rise from the dead.” What Scriptures demand the resurrection of Jesus? One possibility: Hosea 6:2, which is very difficult to see as a reference to Jesus’ resurrection. More likely the fourth Servant Song, Isaiah 52:13, also Psalm 16:10, “For you do not give me up to Hades, nor let your godly one see corruption.” These and other such references have to be greatly expanded from their original meaning to interpret them of the resurrection of Jesus, but so it was done. Happy Easter!