Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection (A) | Archbishop Malcolm McMahon invites us to envisage the difference that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes for us today.
How does the resurrection of Jesus make a difference for us? You might think that the answer is obvious but that is not what everyone thinks. Some will say, “So what? Even if Jesus was raised from the dead, and there are witnesses to that fact, then what has that got to do with you and me.’
One way to look for an answer to this question is to consider again the story of the conversion of Cornelius and his family. In the first reading today Peter addresses them. It is through Peter’s expression of the good news of Jesus Christ that we see how we are connected to the resurrection and how we receive salvation.
Salvation is probably not a very much-used word nowadays. Do we really need salvation, after all most of our problems can be solved by a visit to the doctor, the bank manager, a therapist or someone else. We may need to be saved from ourselves but that is as far as any idea of personal salvation goes, as our society has little concept of sin. Many of us feel that our future is in our own hands: we can become anything we want to be. This applies not just to career or personal relationships but also to sexuality and gender.
In the time of Jesus the term salvation encompassed many things. There was salvation from foreign oppression, in which Cornelius as a Roman soldier was instrumental, and also there was salvation from sickness, famine or from demonic power. In fact one needed to be saved from everything from war to sin. In most ancient cultures different gods dealt with specific areas of need and these gods were appeased by offerings and sacrifices.
Although a pagan, Cornelius was different; he glimpsed the true God in the God of the Jews. Theirs was a god who cared for his people and Cornelius prayed to their god and gave alms to the Jews. He was rewarded with a visit from an angel and the message that his prayers and alms had been accepted. He was also commanded to seek out Peter. By means of a vision Peter learns that God’s salvation is available to non-Jews and that the laws relating to diet and ritual cleanliness do not prevent them from becoming followers of Jesus, and that if they believe in him they will have their sins forgiven through his name. The Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard Peter’s words, and Peter commanded them to be baptised.
This may not be what was expected or even hoped for, but sin is another word for being separated from God; and this gulf between God and his creatures was overcome by Christ’s death and resurrection. That is why St Paul can say we should look for heavenly things; because we are now living in the way God wanted us to live, in harmony with him, if only we can see that to be the case.
The sad thing is that being reconciled with God is not always in the forefront of our minds as we celebrate Easter Day. Many people are so far from God that they don’t catch glimpses of the divine in the ordinary matters of everyday life, yet we believe that if we seek the God of truth then that God will come to meet us in everyday things. Just think for a moment what our world would be like if people saw each other as places where the Spirit of God dwells. If we saw others as gifts from God and that God dwells in them, our attitude would change to those who live in far off countries as well as those nearer home. We would stretch out the hand of friendship and cooperation; there would be more peace and less war; education would be for everyone throughout the world; and children would not die for lack of food or clean water. The resurrection makes a difference now not just in the world to come.
Mary of Magdala brought the news of the empty tomb to Peter and the beloved disciple, who then raced to the place where Jesus had been laid. Peter saw the grave clothes of Jesus but not much else. Nevertheless these traces of the Lord were enough for him to see and believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. In looking for the Lord they were rewarded with the gift of faith in his resurrection. ‘Seeing is believing’ took on a new meaning at that moment.
Cornelius saw in the life and worship of the Jews enough of the presence of the true God to seek more, and found salvation for his family in Christ. As the redeemed People of God we are able to see with eyes of faith glimpses of the heavenly things that await us. So, Jesus’s resurrection matters to every single one of us, just as it did to Cornelius and the apostles, because we now see clearly that if we die with Christ, then we will rise with him.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. of Easter day (2015) in the Chapel of St Albert the Great, Edinburgh.