I was honored to be asked to lead Sunday Morning Prayer in the chapel. The reading, which I have included below, is from Acts 10 and consists entirely of the words of St. Peter as he preaches to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, and his household. After the reading I shared the following brief reflection with my brother deacons and their wives.
"Yes, this man God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:40-43
What a wonderful passage. These are, of course, St. Peter’s words. In fact, Peter is preaching to the Gentiles for the first time, to the Centurion Cornelius and his household.
|Peter at the home of Cornelius the Centurion|
Peter begins by summing up the Good News of Jesus Christ, and at the same time lets us know what God desires of each of us.
Jesus, who died on the Cross, has been “raised up on the third day” [Acts 10:40]. He’s alive! He eats and drinks and walks and talks among the faithful, just as He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Yes, Jesus lives. He’s no disembodied spirit. Indeed, His glorified body bears the marks of His passion and death. How fitting that these marks remain eternally, a constant reminder of God’s enduring love.
But there’s more Good News. His Resurrection brings the fulfillment of a promise; for we, too, shall rise. The longed-for hope of humanity is finally realized. Death is overcome by eternal life.
Is it any wonder Jesus so often tells the disciples not to fear? Yes, the Good News just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?
Peter now echoes what the Lord told the disciples along the road to Emmaus: “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets…” [Lk 24:27] Yes, “beginning with Moses,” the law-giver. Peter goes on to tell us that Jesus “is the one appointed by God as judge…” [Acts 10:42] That’s right. Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead – the judge who fulfills the Law and brings it to its perfection.
But perfection means more than justice, certainly more than human justice. For in Jesus we come face to face with divine justice, a justice tempered by mercy. As we stand before Him we see the marks of His passion, the marks of God’s love, the wounds of His mercy…and pouring out of them comes hope and forgiveness.
How did Peter put it? “…everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name” [Acts 10:43]. Yes, through Jesus, and only through Jesus, comes our salvation.
|The Road to Emmaus|
Then, in the very heart of this passage, Peter reveals exactly what’s expected of the disciple… and, brothers and sisters, that includes us. We are called to “preach to the people and testify” [Acts 10:42] – to bear witness to Jesus Christ. It’s a call back to the basics, to the very core of our faith, to the core of our diaconal ministry.
And, yes, it might be our ministry, but we must never forget it's God's work. As the psalmist prayed, "Non nobis, Domine..." -- "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory" [Ps 115:1].
It's a ministry that will get no easier, for the world may deny Jesus Christ, but we, His disciples, His servants, cannot.
The world can imprison us, but it can’t imprison the Truth.
It can silence us, but it can’t silence the Word of God.
It can even execute us, but it can never kill God’s enduring love.
The Word of God will always sound through the lives of God’s faithful ones.
Even our own sinfulness can’t silence it, because Jesus Christ heals all who come to him. The personal tragedies of our lives can’t silence it. We might be tested, but if the Word of God is deeply rooted in our hearts, we’ll survive the test. Even when we’re unfaithful, Christ remains faithful to us.
We’ve been given a mission, brothers and sisters, one that Pope Francis, Peter’s successor, reminds us of today. We are called to bear witness to Christ crucified and risen from the dead, to testify, through our lives, to the Good News of God's mercy and forgiveness, to remind the world that God is love.
And we’re called to return that love to Jesus; for Jesus is the poor, He is the homeless, the hungry, the dispossessed, the rejected; Jesus is the ill and the dying. Yes, we are called to remind the world of God’s love and to do so without fear.