34Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality,35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all.37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
15Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” That’s how Peter begins his sermon in the house of a Roman military commander named Cornelius. For Peter, God has been turning his life upside down ever since a man named Jesus walked by where he was fishing and said to him, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
Peter followed, and in the course of his three year ministry with Jesus saw healing he never thought possible; he heard about the love of God with power he never imagined; he saw God’s love in Jesus embrace people that surprised him. As Peter and the other disciples came closer to Jerusalem Peter saw the growing conflict with the religious leaders threaten and finally kill this man they had followed along so many roads.
But the journey of God’s unexpected love didn’t end there. Sunday morning finds surprising news reach Peter’s ears, “They have taken the Lord, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Running to the tomb Peter and his companion find…nothing. The linen cloth Jesus was buried in is rolled up; the head cloth rolled up not far away, but no body, no sign of anyone.
Stranger still, that evening Jesus himself appears to Peter and the others, alive and well with only nail marks and a spear wound to show that Friday’s crucifixion had ever happened. Jesus breathes a Spirit of power on the disciples and sends them out to tell the world that he is risen and reigning.
Our passage in Acts finds Peter surprised by God again. There he is, minding his own business in prayer with a growling belly when he sees a sheet coming down from heaven full of animals an observant Jew like Peter would never eat. A voice from the sky tells Peter, “Arise; kill and eat!” Peter protests, “Never Lord, I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” The voice replies, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.” The same exchange takes place twice more before the sheet is pulled back into heaven and a knock at the door shakes Peter from his thoughts. As he heads for the door the voice says, “Go with these men wherever they lead you because I have sent them.”
Well, he may be confused, but God had been pretty clear so Peter goes. The men lead him to Cornelius’s house. Cornelius is a military commander and a man of deep faith, but he is not Jewish. That means Jews like Peter are forbidden by their faith to visit him or eat with him. But it’s clear to Peter that the God who led him to follow Jesus in the first place is leading him somewhere new that day. God shows no partiality, but calls everyone to follow Jesus.
God calls everyone to follow Jesus because God chose Jesus to preach the good news of love; the good news that in spite of everything we’ve done wrong God loves us. God chose Jesus to preach that the kingdom of peace and justice is on the way. God chose Jesus to tell the world that the old barriers and walls that keep us apart and keep some people out of God’s house are coming down, because God loves all of us.
That message was too much for the religious leaders of Jesus’ time because the barriers of tradition and family and fear were so deeply ingrained that any challenge to them seemed a challenge to God. They struggled with Jesus, they argued with Jesus, and finally the leaders put him to death on a cross.
But God wasn’t finished. God shows no partiality and God will never be defeated by hatred or fear or our inability to see new life breaking into the world. God raised Jesus from the dead because Jesus is the Lord of life. Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth and one day he will be our loving and righteous judge.
That’s the good news God sent Peter to tell Cornelius and his friends and family. The good news that they are accepted, that God calls them to be part of the new thing God is doing through Jesus, through the church.
That’s also the good news God sent Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples that first Easter morning. Because God shows no partiality, it was a woman who first proclaimed the resurrection. Mary had been doing her best to keep it together after Jesus died. We see her going to the tomb early in the morning. She watched her beloved Lord die on the cross and with him her hope for a new future. She was holding on to the only thing she could, the hope of ministering to his broken body.
When she gets to the tomb even that is gone. There’s no space in her mind for anything but that body. She sees angels and all she can do is weep and ask where the body of Jesus is. She sees Jesus and all she can think is that he might be the one who has moved the body, and she pleads that he will tell her where to find it. We can picture her on the hillside by the tomb frantic with grief.
She can’t see what’s really going on until Jesus says her name. “Mary,” he says softly. Suddenly everything becomes clear. That familiar voice, that loving tone of acceptance, her vision focuses through the tears on the very thing she’s been looking for. Jesus is alive, right in front of her. She cries out with joy, we imagine her throwing her arms around him with amazed delight. He is risen! Death couldn’t keep her Lord in the grave!
But even here Jesus surprises her. “Don’t hold on to me,” he says, “I haven’t yet gone up to the Father. But go and tell my brothers that ‘I am going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Instead of simply clinging to the joy of finding the Lord she thought was lost, Jesus sends Mary to tell others that death doesn’t have the last word. He sends Mary to tell them that God is still working in the world.
Really, the message hasn’t changed over these last two thousand years. God called me here to say the same thing Mary told the disciples and Peter told Cornelius. God is in charge, and he doesn’t play favorites but accepts everyone into his loving family. Christ is alive, moving in our midst even today wherever we chose life over death, love over division, courage and joy over fear. Christ is alive and going ahead of us when we feed the hungry and comfort the grieving. Christ is with us when we proclaim the good news that love doesn’t leave anyone out. Christ is with us when we go where we are not comfortable to seek those who are lost and afraid.
Maybe you’re here this morning because you’ve heard Christ calling your name like Mary did. Maybe you’re here because you’ve been looking for a place to call home; maybe you were invited by a friend or maybe you’ve been here all your life. Whatever brought you here this morning, know that God is seeking you. God wants you to be part of the new life he has planned for this troubled world. Hear God’s voice in scripture and sermon and song. Feel God’s welcome as we gather at the table. God shows no partiality and all are welcome.
Christ is risen! That means all the voices that preach hopelessness and selfishness are wrong. It means the voice inside you that tells you you’re nobody is wrong. It means the fear and despair you face when you get up some mornings is not going to win. Christ is alive: there is new hope for all who are lost. Christ is alive: God isn’t finished with us and he hasn’t given up on this world. Christ is alive: we all have a part to play in the new life God is bringing forth. Listen to Mary’s timeless word of hope and know that it is still true today, “I have seen the Lord!”
Thanks be to God.
As you listen to the offertory anthem I invite you to listen for God’s voice. Maybe you hear Christ calling you by name, calling you to take a new step in your faith journey. If you feel called, I invite you to take one of the visitor cards and, along with your name and other information, write that you feel God calling you to something new in your faith. Place the card in the offering plate as it comes around and I’ll be in touch with you to explore where God may be calling you, because God calls each of us.