Picture: cc Mark Nye
My dear friends, are you a coffee drinker? If you are, then you probably know the powerful effects of that first cup of coffee in the morning. You know the huge difference between how the world looks before and after you’ve had your morning pick-me-up. You know that each day can actually be divided into two parts: before coffee, and after coffee. Before coffee, at least for some of us, everything looks gloomy and grey. Every sight and sound serves only to upset and irritate. Making us wish we could crawl back into bed and declare an early end to the day. But after coffee, the sun suddenly begins to shine. Darkness gives way to light. New possibilities emerge. Opportunities for making new beginnings. Along with the energy we need to seize them, and to make good things happen.
It’s quite incredible, isn’t it, when we stop to think about it? The power of that first cup of coffee to change how we look at the world. Turning night into day. Tiredness into energy. Dead-ends into new beginnings. It’s helpful for us to recall this experience, this transformation, because something like is also what happens to the disciples on the first Easter morning.
The gospel begins with the observation that it was still dark when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. As you know, scholars say that this is not just a darkness of the sky, but the night of unbelief. Mary’s intense grief at the Lord’s death colours the way she looks at the world. It causes her to forget his promise that he would rise again. So that when Mary sees that the stone had been moved away from the tomb, she can draw only one depressing and discouraging conclusion: They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.
In contrast, by the end of the reading, we’re told that, after entering the tomb and seeing the positions of the burial cloths, the beloved disciple saw and he believed. He begins to understand that what he’s looking at is not the scene of a robbery. But rather the signs that Jesus is alive. Like a first cup of coffee in the morning, belief in the Resurrection transforms the way the disciples look at the world. Even within the darkness of a tomb, they receive the power to see evidence of new life. Even while still feeling keenly the pain of absence and loss, they are given the ability to believe in, and to be energised by, the Lord’s ongoing presence in their lives and in the world.
And this transforming power is not just something that happens only once and then fades away into the distant past. Rather, even though the Lord is already risen and will never die again, the transforming power of the Resurrection is an ongoing experience. It can be felt daily. We see this clearly in the first reading, which tells the story of how Peter visits and baptises Cornelius and his whole household.
As you know, Cornelius is a Roman centurion. And, according to Jewish Law, to visit a gentile, like Cornelius, in his own home would make a Jew, like Peter, ritually unclean. Why then does Peter visit Cornelius anyway? The reason is that Peter has earlier received a vision, in which he is told that what God has made clean, you have no right to call profane. This vision radically changes Peter’s view of reality. So that what once looked like a dead-end, is transformed into a precious opportunity to make a new beginning. To share the good news of God’s love to more people.
Even though, at this point in the story, some time has passed since that first incident at the empty tomb. Yet Peter continues to experience the transforming effects of the Resurrection. Its power to change the way he looks at the world. Quite clearly, the Resurrection experience is something ongoing. Like a first cup of morning coffee, it is enjoyed not just once and for all, but again and again. Every single day. As long as one is willing to drink from the cup. To allow oneself to be transformed. To see and to relate to the world in new ways.
And more than just telling us when the transforming effects of the Resurrection can take place, our readings also show us what it moves us to do. It’s quite striking how often Peter uses the word witness in the first reading. I, and those with me, can witness to everything Jesus did… and also to the fact that they killed him… yet… God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen by certain witnesses… we are those witnesses…
When I hear the word witness, I usually think only of someone who speaks about an event that happened in the past. But something more is meant here. For, as we said earlier, the Resurrection is not just something in the past. It’s power continues to be felt in the present. Daily, it changes how Christians look at the world. Moving us to live and behave in ways that show the Lord’s ongoing presence and action in our lives. And Peter bears witness to the Lord’s presence not just with his words, but also through his deeds. His willingness to look at Cornelius and his family in a new way. To visit their home, and to share his faith with them. This is what the Resurrection gives Peter the power to do. This is what it means to be a witness.
And this is also what means when the second reading tells us to look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is… To look towards heaven is not really to look away from the earth. But rather to look at the world through the experience of the Lord’s Dying and Rising. So that we can begin to see light shining in darkness. New beginnings hidden in what may at first look like dead-ends. So that we can access the power of the Lord’s ongoing presence, even in his apparent absence. Allowing us to bear eloquent witness to the reality of the Resurrection. To our joyful belief that Christ our Lord has truly risen! Indeed he is risen! This is the significance of the beautiful season of Easter that we are beginning today. A time for us to allow our hearts and minds to be opened to the power of the Resurrection. To receive the gift of seeing the world in new ways.
My dear friends, as busy as we all are, many of us still take the time to drink our daily morning cup of coffee. And there’s a good reason for this. It’s because we know from experience that we need its power to change the way we look at life. To transform grumpy sleepyheads into energetic seizers of the day. But surely we need the power of the Resurrection just as much, if not even more!
Sisters and brothers, as we begin this joyful season of Easter, what must we do to drink more deeply from the cup of the Lord’s Dying and Rising in the days ahead?