An Easter people Acts 10:34, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9 The New Testament proclaims the astounding reality of the resurrection in a variety of ways: the startling discovery by women witnesses that the tomb in which the crucified body of Jesus was laid is now empty and the risen Jesus appearing to his dumbfounded disciples in various settings — at the tomb itself, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, cooking breakfast on shore of the Sea of Galilee and, for Paul, on a fateful journey to Damascus. During these first days and weeks of the Easter season, we will hear of these accounts during Mass. Today’s readings are for the Easter Sunday morning Mass. In the first reading for today, we hear Peter’s testimony at a crucial turning point in the Acts of the Apostles. While staying in the home of Simon the Leper in the port city of Joppa, Peter goes up on the roof to nap in the Mediterranean sun before lunch. In a dream, he sees a cloth containing non-kosher foods presented to him and he is invited by God to dine on them. When Peter protests that, as a devout Jew, he does not eat “unclean foods,” God declares that Peter is not to call “unclean” what God has created “clean.” The message of the vision becomes clear when emissaries from Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a Gentile living in the city of Caesarea Maritima (the seat of Roman power in Judea, by the way), ask to be baptized. Peter’s reluctance about including a Gentile in the early Jewish-Christian community is dissolved when he realizes that God’s Spirit has embraced Cornelius and his whole household. The passage we hear reflects Peter’s dawning realization that the death and resurrection of Jesus has opened a new horizon. God’s embrace of his beloved people Israel now extends to all the peoples of the world. Throughout this passage, Peter uses a term that is important for Luke’s theology. It is that of “witness.” “We are witnesses of all that [Jesus] did.” The Greek word for “witness” is “martyr”, one whose words and way of life give testimony, a term that becomes sacred in Christian tradition. What Peter and the early Christians are to give witness to is proclaimed in the Gospel reading from John. Jesus cannot be confined to a tomb, as Mary Magdalene first discovers. Not yet understanding what has happened, she brings the news to Peter and the unnamed beloved disciple, a key role she will continue to play in John’s account. They run to the tomb and see not only is it empty but there are signs of quiet deliberation: The cloth that covered the face of the Crucified Jesus is now carefully rolled up. As the events continue to unfold (in the next scene, Mary Magdalene will encounter her beloved Jesus in the garden), the Gospel reminds us that the astounded disciples did not yet understand that Jesus “had to rise from the dead.” The heartbeat of our Christian faith is that in Jesus’ own destiny, we get a glimpse of our own: God’s love is stronger than any form of death. This is what the Easter sequence, the poetic hymn included with the Scripture readings, proclaims: “Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous. The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal!” We don’t celebrate Easter in a timeless vacuum. A ferocious and senseless war of attrition brings death and terrible destruction to thousands of innocent people in Ukraine. We are still uncertain about the threat of COVID-19, even as we relax our guard. Wanton shootings plague our neighborhoods. Our civic community is profoundly divided and its discourse abysmal. The Christian witness we are commissioned to give in these troubled times is on behalf of the sacredness of life as a pure gift of God. The tomb is not our destiny. Freedom and abundant life are. Our compassion and service are not to be restricted only to our own kind, but offered to all those in need. We are not to call anyone “unclean” for God has made them “clean.” We are an Easter people.