Matthew 28:1-10, Acts 10:34-43
Fr. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
April 9, 2023
On many Sundays throughout the year, it would be commonplace for the average person to come to church not knowing what the theme of the liturgy will be. Today is not one of those days. On Easter Day, we know what to expect.
On this day, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – body, blood, soul and divinity. We hear the story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at the tomb of Jesus. An angel appears dramatically like lightning, rolls away the stone, and proclaims that Jesus has been raised from the day as he said. Faced with the angel and the revealing of the empty tomb, the guards were terrified. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid.” Then, Jesus greets them– body, blood, soul and divinity. The two women take hold of his feet with their hands and worship him. He says, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary didn’t show up at the tomb and encounter what they expected to see, nor were they anticipating what would happen on their way to tell the others what they had seen.
In the epistle lesson from the book of Acts, we heard a post-resurrection sermon preached by St. Peter just after the dramatic conversion of the Roman centurion Cornelius. (Cornelius is a Gentile but worships the God of the Hebrews.) As he is saying his evening prayers, he experiences something he certainly wasn’t expecting to experience. Cornelius has a vision in which an angel instructs him to go and call for Peter, who is an observant Jew. While Cornelius’ men are on their way to him, Peter has a bizarre vision in which a voice tells him to kill and eat animals considered profane under Jewish dietary law. He is shocked and doesn’t know what to make of this. Cornelius’ men show up, and Peter accompanies them to meet Cornelius who had gathered his family and friends. Peter acknowledges to the group that as a Jew, he isn’t lawfully permitted to mingle with Gentiles, but because God has shown him that he shouldn’t call anyone profane or unclean, he agrees to come to see him. He asks Cornelius, “Now may I ask why you sent for me?” Peter is beginning to get the message but isn’t quite there yet. Cornelius describes his vision, and as we heard in verse 34, the light finally clicks with Peter and he understands what God is trying to say to him. He says, “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.”
This past week, on social media, I came across a meme which consists of images of Jesus washing various peoples’ feet, including Joe Biden, Donald Trump, a gay man, a prisoner, a Ukrainian mother and child, a young black man, an exhausted nurse, an orphaned toddler, a police officer, Pope Francis, and a young woman ignoring Jesus and focusing on her phone. It is a grouping of images that is designed to trigger each of us in some way or another. While the message seems easy enough to understand – Jesus shows no impartiality and is the servant of all – I began to see people saving and reposting the images but having first deleted the images of Jesus washing the feet of those they don’t like. Oh, the irony.
Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Peter was stubborn, and it took more than God’s still, soft voice in his ear to cause the scales to fall from his eyes and realize that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead truly means that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Fearing God and doing right echo the ancient Jewish summary of the law: the first and greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. In the resurrected Christ, the old law has been fulfilled. The old boundaries that separated ancient Israel and her neighbors that once were important were destroyed when Christ was raised from the dead.
We are often like Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Peter. When we perceive that God is leading us somewhere that is unexpected and uncomfortable, we are terrified, and because of our fear, we cannot hear the message God wants us to hear. Despite God’s impartiality being a part of the DNA of the Christian faith from the very beginning, we Christians, as a whole, are not known for freely and authentically accepting those who are different than we are into our faith communities primarily, in my opinion, because of fear. Fear of impurity, fear of how we’ll be perceived by others, fear of the hard work that is required to be in relationship with someone who makes us uncomfortable.
At Easter, we hear the Scripture readings and sing the hymns and see the beautiful flowers we expect to see. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection with all the joy we can muster in the beauty of holiness, with the finest music, with all of the expected things. But of all the things we do this morning, the most awesome and terrifying is coming face to face with our resurrected Lord in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. The same Jesus who rose from the dead on that first Easter Day is the same Jesus - body, blood, soul and divinity – who meets us at this altar in the simple creatures of bread and wine. We kneel at the altar rail next to someone who looks and dresses and perhaps smells differently than we do; someone who, no matter their station in life, God loves with no partiality. We all kneel at the same rail and encounter the same risen Christ, and we all eat and drink that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood.
Dear friends, as we encounter our risen Lord at this altar, let us heed the words of the angels: do not be afraid. And as we come face to face with those who are different than we are in the most triggering way, here in church and out in the world, let us remember that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.” Thanks be to God, we have nothing to fear – even death itself – for Christ is risen! Alleluia!
 Prayer of Humble Access, 1928 BCP.
 Galatians 3:28, NRSV.
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