March 27, 2016
Acts 10: 34, 37-43
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“We are witnesses [that] … this man God raised on the third day. Everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins thru his name” (Acts 10: 39, 40, 43).
You’re in the wrong place! You want Stop ’n’ Shop or the mall or a park.
We’re here because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the 3d day after his crucifixion. We’re here because he commissioned his apostles to go thruout the whole world to continue his mission of extending God’s pardon, God’s mercy, to sinners “thru his name.”
The 1st reading this morning comes from the Acts of the Apostles, which is the 1st book in the NT after the 4 gospels (and one of the easiest books in the Bible to read—hint!). We read from Acts thruout the Easter season, hearing the Church’s 1st preaching of the resurrection of Jesus and the “forgiveness of sins thru his name.”
One sample of that preaching is our 1st reading, and it’s from a very significant chapter of Acts. St. Peter is addressing a Roman centurion named Cornelius and his household, addressing Gentiles—pagans! Romans! the hated occupiers of Judea—offering even to them the salvation won for us by the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Until this point, the apostles and all the 1st followers of Jesus have been Jews, and they believe that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures (the OT) for the benefit only of the Jews. Too bad about everyone else!
Cornelius the Centurion
Chapel of the Centurion at Fort Monroe, Va.
But God sent Peter a vision, a revelation, commanding him to broaden his outlook, to go also to the pagans with the Gospel of Jesus (10:9-16).
So Peter does that, starting by reminding Cornelius and the others of what they must already have known, of all Jesus’ good deeds all over Judea and Galilee and in Jerusalem. Everyone had either seen and heard Jesus, or at least had heard of what he was preaching and the healings he was performing. And surely everyone knew—especially an officer in the Roman army like Cornelius—that the Jewish and Roman authorities had executed him.
What not everyone knew, and certainly not many believed, was that 3 days after that execution, Jesus rose from the dead and—as we heard in the gospel reading (John 20:1-9)—his tomb was empty when his followers went to complete his burial rites, which they couldn’t complete on Friday evening because of the Sabbath. Few knew that “God granted that he be visible … to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41). The Jewish leaders had put out a story that the disciples had stolen his body—a story spread by the very guards who explained that they were sleeping while it happened (Matt 28:11-15).
But the disciples themselves were slow to believe he was truly alive. After all, who’d ever heard such a fantastic story before? Next Sunday we’ll hear the gospel of “doubting Thomas” (John 20:19-29). The apostles and other disciples believed because, as Peter says, they really had seen and spoken with Jesus, had eaten with him, had touched his very flesh and its wounds.
By the time Peter preached the resurrection to Cornelius, he and the other apostles had already experienced harassment, arrest, and flogging on account of their preaching. 2 chapters later, King Herod will execute the apostle James and try to execute Peter too—who will make a miraculous escape from jail. The apostles are men so thoroughly convinced that Jesus is alive that they no longer fear persecution or death. They are thoroughly convinced that Jesus has truly been “anointed with the Holy Spirit and power” by God (Act 10:38) and has been “appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (10:42), as we profess every Sunday in our creed—or today in our baptismal promises.
Peter gives witness to the resurrection of Jesus and to what that means: “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins thru his name,” and on the day of judgment Jesus will award eternal life to those he has forgiven, and allow those who have rejected his pardon to go their own way—which is not the way to eternal life.
The Church continues the mission of the apostles, the mission to testify to the resurrection and to God’s mercy—mercy offered to everyone, Jew and Gentile, man and woman, rich and poor—offered but never imposed.
That’s why we’re here this morning: to rejoice that Jesus is risen, to rejoice that he forgives our sins, to rejoice that his Holy Spirit empowers us to live a new life—no more “malice and wickedness” but, instead, “sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8).
All of us who are followers of Jesus now are his witnesses—by living holy lives, by practicing kindness toward one another and patience with one another, and by our joy, the joy that comes from believing that Jesus is alive and from being in a relationship with him.
“Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining. Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning! Alleluia!” (Sequence)