Greetings in the strong name of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen Savior:
We have a few days yet before the feast of Easter, and we need to tread thoughtfully through the remainder of Holy Week. But print and publishing deadlines stir me to say a word about the joy and power we anticipate anew because of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. So as I looked ahead to the lectionary readings for Easter, I kept tarrying on the first reading from Acts 10:34-43 (there is also an alternate reading from Isaiah). Here it is:
"Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘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.’" (Acts 10:34-43)
It occurred to me that I had never ventured to preach from this text on Easter, always opting for the Gospel (most often) or the epistle reading. But there it was all along, and there it is every year. To be sure, this text can be more fully understood if you start at the beginning of the chapter. Here are a few thoughts for all of us to ponder:
First, the resurrection of Jesus turns everything upside down and inside out. It undermines our notions of stability and security. Whatever your comfort zone is, taking the resurrection of Jesus seriously will mess with you. After all, the Gospel is completely disinterested and unconcerned with our comfort, though it is deeply invested in our well-being and wholeness.
The text speaks powerfully to the undermining of stability, getting out of our human-shaped boxes and living in a way that feeds the wholeness that God yearns for us to have. Consider Cornelius and Peter - one an insider and the other an outsider. Of course all of that is driven by custom and worldview. But both are questing to love and serve God and are responsive to new insights and revelations, and so their lives come together in ways that transform and give hope to each. And the Gospel is proclaimed in deed as well as word.
Secondly, in this short passage the power of God at work in Jesus is summarized cogently, proclaimed boldly, and the “altar call” is extended. Peter leaps over the barriers of race, culture, politics, custom and religious practice to share the Good News. He twice declares (v.34-35, 43) that the Gospel is for all, and he means it - because that is what God intends. We should all be more attentive to this. If we really took this truth into ourselves I suspect we would be having different conversations about membership, participation and engagement.
There are all sorts of ways that Christians and the church ignore, exclude and marginalize people from the glorious Gospel we are called to bear into the world. We do it by the assumptions we make and the prejudices we live out of. We turn it on and off based on our comfort (or not) with certain people or particular groups of people. You fill in the blanks. We sometimes are not even consciously aware that we are missing the mark. In part this is because we who are so acculturated by the institutional church are trained not to say much about Jesus, except if we know who we are talking with or in an environment perceived as safe for church and church talk. How far we have come from being an apostolic community. Lord help us, if you please.
But before you go take a look at those verses again and be reminded that we – that would be all of us, not just a religious professional class – have been commanded to preach and to testify. May we all hear and heed the command and not treat it as an 'if you get around to it' suggestion, but rather preach and testify in word and deed that 'the Lord is Risen.' He is Risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.
Yours because Jesus Christ lives,
+Gregory V. Palmer