[Reflection on The Word] Homily for Easter Sunday, Year B
Acts 10:34a, 37-43/ Psalm 118/ Colossians 3:1-4/ John 20:1-9
Theme: Witnessing is Our Mandate
Today, we reflect upon the post-Easter experiences of the risen Christ and the fruit of our redemption in him. Therefore, the readings remind us that the resurrection does not mean that the earthly ministry of Jesus becomes a thing of the past; a phase now finished with. Rather, it is through the resurrection that all that Christ stood for in his earthly life namely his word or self-communication of God, his healing activities and the like can now continue in the Church. In other words, what Jesus stood for continues.
In the first reading, we see the continued work of Christ in his Church after his resurrection. This continued work of Christ was made possible as a result of the witnesses of the apostles. Peter’s address to Cornelius and his household was preceded by the baptism of Cornelius and his entire household; a witness which was made possible by the resurrection of Jesus. Peter reminds them that “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…” (Acts 10:38-39).
Witnessing comes as a result of experience. Therefore, Peter makes it clear that it is only those who experience Jesus who have the mandate to witness. The condition for witnessing is clearly stated namely those chosen by God as witnesses and those who ate and drank with him “but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41).
Again, anyone who witnesses must be given the mandate to do so. Luke puts it succinctly “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 … and that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42-43).
Thus, forgiveness of sin is at the very heart of Jesus Passion, Death and Resurrection. Therefore, any gospel that does not preach forgiveness of sin or does not make the forgiveness of sin its priority is not the true gospel and must be rejected outright.
Where there is forgiveness of sin, there lies our hope. Thus the second reading reminds us “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).
Let us consider the man Cornelius. It is interesting to see how religious a person can be and still not be saved. Certainly, Cornelius was sincere in his obedience to God’s law, his fasting and his generosity to the Jewish people (cf Luke 7:10). He was not permitted to offer sacrifices in the temple, so he presented his prayers to God as his sacrifices (Psalm 141:1-2). In every way, he was a model of religious respectability and yet he was not saved.
The difference between Cornelius and many religious people today is this: he knew that his religious devotion was not sufficient to save him. Many religious people today are satisfied that their character and good works will get them to heaven and they have no concept either of their own sin or of God’s grace. In his prayers, Cornelius was asking God to show him the way of salvation (Acts 11:13-14).
Just as the first reading reminds us about the fact that witnessing demands mandate, the gospel reading affirms the fact that the Apostles received this mandate from the resurrection experience. The attitude of Mary Magdalene and the rest of the disciples when they heard the news about Christ’ resurrection suggest that they came to faith in the resurrection gradually; a progression from fear to doubt; from evidence to faith. Mary Magdalene’ faith, like the rest of the disciples, was not extinguished. It was only eclipsed. The light was still there, but it was covered; a spiritual condition that saw them all move out of the shadows into light.
It’s significant that the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ were believing women. Among the Jews in that day, the testimony of women was not held in high regard. “It is better that the words of the law be burned,” said the rabbis, “than be delivered to a woman. Perhaps, this might have accounted for why in the gospel of Mark after the women have encountered the angel and were asked to go and tell the Apostles that Jesus had risen, “ … they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them’ and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). But these Christian women had a greater message than that of the law, for they knew that their Saviour was alive.
The reaction of the disciples when they heard the news also affirms the doubt in their minds. We are told that they ran to the tomb and to their utter dismay, they saw an empty tomb. Both Peter and John deserve the credit for having the courage to run to the tomb when they did not know what lay ahead of them.
However, when they reached the tomb, they saw that the clothes were carefully folded. What kind of faith did Peter and John have at that stage in their spiritual experience? They had faith based on evidence. Those of us who live centuries later cannot examine the evidence, for the material evidence is no longer there for us to see. Therefore, the truth of Easter does not depend on an empty tomb any longer for this generation. Rather, faith in the word of God is now our evidence; the fact that we eat and drink with him everyday.
In sum, the mandate to bear witness to the resurrection has been given to every baptised Christian. Jesus commanded his disciples “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19-20). Unlike the disciples who saw the empty tomb and believed, our evidence today is the Word of God. May our generation find hope in the words of Jesus to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29b).
Source: Rev. Fr. Aaron Agorsor
Facebook: I Thirst