EASTER WEEK 04 01
The Cross and Resurrection
(Acts 11.1-18; Ps42; Jn 10.11-18)
Sr. Lùcia Silva’s nephew was walking home one night with a friend when he looked up and saw they were by a tall wooden cross bathed in bright moonlight. The scene was so striking he took a picture of the cross with the bright moon in the sky behind it. What struck her even more than the picture, however, was her young nephew’s comment that to him the scene seemed like Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus, all rolled into one digital frame at the same time.
That incident provides a background for the readings today in this fourth week after Easter as we continue to plumb the depths of this mystery of our salvation through the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Deep within the first reading is an innocent line loaded with meaning and potential, not just for the man from Caesarea, but also for us: “Peter will bring a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.”
Faith in Jesus risen from the dead is meant to bring us salvation. But what does that salvation entail? What meaning does the moon, shining down upon and illuminating the cross, hold for us?
A first obvious element from the reading itself is freedom. For centuries, Jewish religious life was ruled and dictated by dietary laws, rules and regulations. While these provided identity and security, the danger was that they would become ends unto themselves, and be seen as ways by which people would be led to earn their own salvation.
In fact, it seems to this day the Orthodox Jews are waiting for a time when there will be a broad enough “national repentance” of Israel that will make it possible for the Messiah to come back or to reveal himself. But that borders on Pelagianism – the tendency many people have of trying to earn God’s love and making themselves holy to please God.
Peter’s vision, in which all foods were declared clean, suddenly and certainly set him and all those who believe, free from any need to focus on food, to think that what foods we eat really matters, to be so concerned with what is truly not a matter of religious importance at all. That is a first element of salvation Peter takes pains to explain to his fellow Christian Jews, and in the end, they accept this new freedom. Their comment “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to live” highlights this repentance as a freely given gift flowing from faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and counters the above tendency to earn salvation.
A second element of this salvation, again from the reading itself, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. No sooner had Peter begun to speak to the men from Caesarea, that the Holy Spirit came upon them, in-spiriting them as the apostles had been at Pentecost. To experience salvation is to be filled with the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and to enjoy all the gifts that this Spirit bestows on those who believe – wisdom, knowledge, understanding, courage, awe and reverence, piety and so much more. The moon could be a symbol of the Holy Spirit shining down on the crosses in our lives.
Noted spiritual writer and speaker, Richard Rohr, OFM, offers a wealth of information on the deeper meaning of salvation, of this moon shining on the cross. His first insight states that the Cross is all about revealing the depth of God’s love, more so than atonement for our sin. “Jesus wasn’t changing God’s mind about us, but rather, he was changing our minds about God. The image of the Cross was to change us, not to change God, and so Duns Scotus concluded that death was not at all necessary. We were not saved because of any problem whatsoever, or to pay any debt to the devil or to God, but purely to reveal Divine Love.” (Dancing Still, p. 71)
Then, like the moon shining down on the Cross, he offers profound insights into the meaning of the Cross: “But if you do choose to walk through the depths – even the depths of your own sin and mistakes – you will come out the other side, knowing you’ve been taken there by a Source larger than yourself. Surely this is what it means to be saved. Being saved doesn’t mean that you are any better than anyone else or will be whisked off into heaven. It means you’ve allowed and accepted the mystery of transformationhere and now. And as now, so later!
If we are to speak of miracles, the most miraculous thing of all is God uses the very thing that would normally destroy you – the tragic, sorrowful, painful, or unjust – to transform and enlightenyou. Now you are indestructible; there are no dead ends. This is what we mean when we say we are ‘saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus.’ This is not a one-time cosmic transaction, but the constant pattern of all growth and change. Jesus is indeed saving the world by guiding us through all would-be deaths to a life that is always bigger than death” (Meditations, Resurrection).
Rohr also critiques any mechanical view of salvation as only he can, with these thoughts: “The recognition that ‘it is finally done unto me’ is the supreme insight of the Gospels. It is the same prayer of Mary at the beginning of her life, and of Jesus at the end of his life (Lk 23:46). The real problem is our modern private and personal decision for Jesus as my Lord and Savior vocabulary, without any real transformation of consciousness or social critiqueon the part of too many Christians. Faith itself became a good work that I could perform.Such a mechanical notion of salvation frequently led to all the right religious words, without much indication of self-critical or culturally critical behavior. Usually, there was little removal of most defects of character, and many Christians have remained thoroughly materialistic, warlike, selfish, racist, sexist, and greedy for power and money, while relying on amazing grace to snatch them into heaven at the end. And it may, but they did not bring much heaven onto this earth to help the rest of us, nor did they speed up their own salvation in the present” (Adam’s Return,p. 56).
Jesus himself, in the Gospel, adds a tender, gentle touch to our experience of salvation in him – he is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep of his flock, intimately united to him in contemplative prayer, and love – his love for us shown on the cross, our love for him manifested in our worship, and our love for all others, even our enemies, through the power of the Holy Spirit given to us.
The Eucharist is itself a sharing in that salvation that he offers as gift. We hear and ponder his words, we are nourished and healed by his Body and Blood, and empowered to go out and share this Good News to others, as did Peter in Caesarea.