Monday in the Octave of Easter


Monday in the Octave of Easter
Lectionary: 261

 

This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.

 


If someone were to ask, “Okay, Jesus was crucified and has been raised up. What difference does it make?” we could cite the Acts of the Apostles. We’re already familiar with these feckless fellows from the Gospel of Saint Luke. We remember them as clueless, jockeying for position among themselves, sometimes eager, often distress and confused. With Luke’s second book we’ll find them energized and wise in the ways of God. They will fearlessly announce the Gospel to the whole world  beginning at Jerusalem and ending in Rome. For the season, the book has been neatly broken down into passages; we’ll read them daily until Pentecost Sunday.

In today’s reading Saint Peter begins the herculean task of rewriting the history of the Jewish people. The facts will not change but the understanding  of them will be totally altered. His story begins with the recent crucifixion of Jesus, which occurred fifty days ago, just before Passover.  

Everyone should remember; Jesus had been welcomed to Jerusalem with hysterical excitement. Some speculated he was the Messiah; and he didn’t exactly deny it. His disciples certainly thought so as they flooded the city. Then suddenly the mood soured; the welcome turned hostile. There were reasons for that; Jewish leaders and Roman authorities had grave misgivings about this unorthodox preacher. But the “man in the street” might ask himself, “Why did I become so enraged at the stranger? Why did I stand with the crowd and demand his crucifixion? What came over me?”

On Pentecost, Saint Peter offered an explanation. He was “delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God….”

People, cities and nations can be swept along by strange, irrational moods. They can perpetrate unspeakable crimes one day, and then wake up the next day wondering, “What was that about?” They may have long standing anxieties about strangers, especially peculiar strangers like Hispanics, Jews, Muslims or Sikhs. They might not even care which is which; they’re all strangers and they’re all suspicious.

They have resentments born of poverty, hardship and disappointment. Looking for real persons to blame – a cabal or conspiracy -- and dissatisfied with global, impersonal explanations like “the economy” or “history,” they direct their grief at the usual suspects

Then suddenly something happens and the mob goes berserk, each person urging the other to more outrageous acts. Even persons of their own race or religion who might urge caution or plead for rationality will be swept away by the violence and destroyed as alien sympathizers.

Later some people will wonder, “ Why did I do that?” Or they might just prefer not to think about it, as if it never happened. It was a dream, a nightmare, an anomaly; it doesn’t fit anything of what I know about myself or about my people. It doesn’t matter; it never happened. That was not “me.”

And so Peter with the Galilean accent must first remind the people of Jerusalem about that little episode three months ago, just before Passover. It’s a painful memory but, in fact, “This man was delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God.”

The crime exposed the criminal mind of Jerusalem; there is no evading remorse and shame about the incident. But the all-merciful God has turned it to our advantage, because it was impossible for him to be held by death.

When they realize they crucified the Messiah and that he was raised up again, the people must rejoice in God’s mercy even as they freely acknowledge their part in the violence. It is not possible to know Jesus without facing one’s complicity in his death.  A grace that does not penetrate and illuminate the heart of darkness is unworthy of the name. A salvation which forgets the past, whether it be the Shoah in Europe or slavery in America, is only skin deep.

The Easter season must lead us ever deeper into a realization of God’s love. In the revelation we will see the enormity of our sins and the superabundance of God’s mercy. Having dug holes in the sand by our sins, we will see them completely erased by a flood of blessings.

 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.