Sunday, March 31, 2024

Were You There...?

Easter Sunday

Readings: Acts 10: 34, 37-43; Psalm 117 (118): 1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3: 1-4; Colossians 3:1-4

Picture: By Stephen Mease on Unsplash

My dear friends, were any of you there to watch Taylor Swift perform at Marina Bay? I wasn’t. But I wonder what it would have been like if I was, and what steps I’d have to take to make the most of the experience. First, I imagine I’d have to carefully keep in mind who the star is. Whom everyone had come to see. So as not to be distracted by other things. Also, I’d have to try to be as present as possible, to soak in all the action. And, finally, I’d probably share the experience with others in some way… To be mindful of the star, to be present to the action, and to share with others. We find these same three steps in our scriptures today.

In the first reading, the word witness appears no less than four times. We are those witnesses, Peter says. And in his witnessing to Cornelius and his household, Peter takes three steps. First, he tells us exactly who the star is. Not Peter himself, but Jesus, who was anointed by God, and through whom God was at work, when he went about doing good. Jesus, who was killed by the wicked, but raised… to life by God. As the psalm reminds us: this day was made by the Lord. Not by us. This is why we rejoice and are glad. Jesus is the star. Not us. And what a humbling yet blessed relief it is to remember this! Especially when, despite our best efforts, we fail to dispel the darkness that so often threatens to engulf us.

Second, although his focus is on what God has done in Jesus, Peter also talks about what he and his companions have been through. How they have been present to the action, and even changed by it. We find an example of this in the gospel, where Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple are gradually drawn out of the darkness of unbelief, and into the light of faith. Gently led to understand… that he must rise from the dead. And we too can lay claim to this illuminating and liberating power. By allowing ourselves to be present to the action. If not in body, then at least in spirit. As when we return in prayer to those places in our hearts that may remain clouded by the darkness of unbelief.

Isn’t this the good news Peter has been ordered… to proclaim? The experience he is sharing with Cornelius, and that we, in our turn, are called to share with others? Not just in words, but also by our example. As when we keep looking for the things that are in heaven, while remaining engaged with the things on the earth. And isn’t it true that we cannot take this third step–of sharing with others–without also taking the earlier two steps, of being mindful of the star, and present to the action. Which may remind us of that haunting hymn we often sing on Good Friday, stopping at the question, Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?… But there’s one more verse, which we usually don’t sing… Were you there when the stone was rolled away? Were you there…? If not in body, then at least in spirit… Sometimes it causes me to tremble… and even to be changed… Were you there…?

Sisters and brothers, Taylor Swift’s fans often go to great lengths to be there at her concerts. What shall we do to be wherever the Lord is waiting to usher us into newness of life?

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