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A Call to Action
by Stephen Bevans, SVD | April 5, 2012
Scripture Reflection for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord (April 8, 2012)
Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Colossians 3:1-4 or 1Corinithians 5:6b-8
It has struck me that a very rich way to reflect on today’s Easter readings is to read them backwards—starting with the Gospel, then going to either of the possible second readings, and then ending up with the first reading from Peter’s speech in the Acts of the Apostles. When we read the readings this way, it seems to me, we get a real insight into the meaning of Easter faith, which is really a call to action, a call to share the life of the Risen Lord, and to be signs of his life in our world.
Today our churches are filled with joyful “Alleluias,” but the Gospel reading reminds us that, at least on the morning of that first Easter, not joy but confusion reigned. Later in the same chapter of the gospel of John (v. 18), Mary Magdelene will take up the call to action as “apostle to the apostles,” announcing to them that she has seen the Risen Lord. But in our Gospel reading this morning she only sees that the tomb is empty, and thinks that someone has stolen Jesus’ body. It’s not clear what the “other disciple” (John himself?) “saw and believed,” but the text leaves us with the disturbing words that neither he nor Peter “did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” It’s only as the story continues that it becomes clear that Jesus was indeed alive. Toward the end of Chapter 20 Jesus appears to the disciples as they huddle behind closed doors and convinces them that that he had truly risen. But this morning’s gospel is a snapshot of the initial bewilderment, misunderstanding, and confusion of the disciples.
Paul, in contrast, writes from the perspective of several years later, and in either the readings, from Colossians or from the first letter to the Corinthians, he reminds Christians of the fact that Jesus’ resurrection calls them to transformation. This is because Resurrection is not only about what happened to Jesus; it’s about what has happened to us, and climaxing when Christ will come again in glory. Paul links Jesus’ resurrection to our baptism in the letter to the Colossians. We have died, and now live in Christ. We have been raised with Christ, and so we need to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Because Christ as been raised, he writes to the Corinthians, Christians need to be totally renewed. Using a baking image, he says to “clear out the old yeast,” and “become a fresh batch of dough.” Replace “malice and wickedness . . . with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” I always love to recall a saying attributed to the wacky philosopher Nietsche—the problem with Christians is that they don’t look redeemed! Well, Paul would say, because we are redeemed, we need to act like it!
We come finally to our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles. Here, I think, our readings point to the action to which believing in the Risen Christ calls us—witnessing. In this reading we hear Peter, no longer afraid, no longer misunderstanding or unbelieving, fully transformed by the Spirit, testifying to Lordship of Christ. Peter now realizes that to believe in the Resurrection is to be called to action, and so he fearlessly tells the story of how Jesus was anointed by the Spirit, “went about doing good,” was crucified, now is raised by God, and has commissioned his disciples to proclaim his Lordship. Jesus’ message of God’s graciousness and forgiveness, of God’s generosity and inclusiveness, and of the need to love and serve one another is now the message of the disciples. It is that Jesus lives now, as it were, in his disciples.
So Resurrection means that we are called to action. It is not just something that has happened to Jesus two thousand years ago. It’s something that happens to us today, as we get rid of the old yeast of our lives, become fresh batches of dough, and witness by our lives and words to the truth and beauty of Jesus’ vision for us and the world. Paul in other sections of his letters to the Colossians and the Corinthians speaks of Christians as the Body of Christ. This is what become as the Risen Christ calls us to action. Such is his amazing trust of us: he has no arms or hands but ours.
Stephen Bevans, SVD
Stephen Bevans is currently Louis J. Luzbetak, S.V.D., Professor of Mission and Culture at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, USA and the Faculty Moderator for Catholics on Call. He is a Roman Catholic priest in the Society of the Divine Word, an international missionary congregation, and served for nine years (1972-1981) as a missionary in the Philippines.
His publications include: Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004, with Roger Schroeder), Evangelization and Freedom (2009, with Jeffrey Gros), and Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009).
He is past president of the American Society of Missiology (2006) and past member of the board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (2007-2009). In 2009 he was visiting lecturer at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne, Australia, and in the fall of 2009 he served as Scholar in Residence at the Crowther Center of mission studies at the headquarters of the Church Missionary Society in Oxford.