Christ is risen!
Peter fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 10:10-15)
Christ’s resurrection forced His disciples into a true paradigm shift: the finality of death was gone forever. Yet, life with all its trials and problems was still ongoing and the disciples themselves still feared death. The disciples had to think through what the implications of the resurrection were for all aspects of life and some of the implications caused deep cognitive dissonance for them. They were hopeful that the resurrection was good news for Jews and was indeed the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel as well as the chosen people’s mission in the world. But then, non-Jews began to embrace the faith and the Jew-Gentile divide so deeply engrained in the Jewish mind was being challenged. They were overwhelmed by the idea that God was overcoming His separation from the Gentiles in Christ Jesus. Then Peter has this vision of a sheet filled with animals, clean and unclean, and God telling Peter to eat all of them. Was God abandoning His law on Kosher eating? No, that wasn’t the point of the vision; it had far bigger and more important implications – the Gospel was for all the people in God’s creation, not just Jews. Peter tells the Roman Centurian Cornelius of his realization:
“You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Acts 10:21)
And the implication of this was astonishing to Peter:
“In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)
Peter’s Jewish worldview was being completely overturned. God accepts everyone—Jew or Greek, cultivated or barbarian, male or female, slave or free—who fears God and works righteousness. Godly fear and righteous deeds are not the sole prerogative of observant Jews. The most revered assumptions of pious Jews were being vacated by the universal message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Neither ethnicity, race, gender, language or observing the Law determined who could or could not serve God. Following Torah was no longer a determinant in who belonged to God’s flock. The spiritual world had shifted completely in and through Jesus the Messiah. Peter later speaks to the same issue at the first recorded church council when he says to his fellow apostles and the elders:
“Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. . . . we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:7-11)
Origen, writing in the 3rd Century, comments on Romans 8:38-39 –
For I am confident that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor another creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“… he says that none of these things ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.’ For of human temptations, as if of things that are trivial and light, he confidently declares that we overcome; but with respect to these greater and more than human [temptations], even though we are not strong enough to overcome them and cast them to the ground—for this is the work of Christ alone, who ‘stripped the rulers and the authorities, triumphing over them in himself‘ (Colosians 2:15) – nevertheless in place of a victory there is this: Though they weave together every scheme in their assaults against us, they are nevertheless not strong enough to separate us from the love of God.” (COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS Books 6-10, pp 99-100)
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ and that is paramount life in a Christian parish as well as for the evangelical effort of the Church. Christ died for all the people of the world in order to save them all. This required the disciples of Christ to abandon narrow minded thinking, and to embrace a global vision of God’s chosen people. As Fr Alexander Schmemann writes for us in the Church today:
Being in church should be liberating. But in the church’s contemporary tonality, church life does not liberate, but narrows, enslaves, weakens the man. One starts to be interested in the Old and New Calendars, in what the bishops are doing, one assumes a kind of unctuous sweetness. A great deal of so-called spiritual literature is of dubious quality. Instead of teaching man to look at the world through the church’s vision, instead of transforming man’s view of himself and his life, one feels obliged—in order to be ‘spiritual’—to clothe oneself in an impersonal, soiled ‘garment of piety.’ Instead of at least knowing that there is joy, light, meaning, eternity, man becomes irritated, narrow-minded, intolerant and often simply mean. He does not even repent of it because it all comes from ‘churchliness’, whereas the meaning of religion consists only in filling life with light, in referring it to God, transforming it into a relationship with God. (THE JOURNALS OF FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN, p 33)