ColumnsSunday’s Word

Peter’s Kerygma sermon

April 12, 2020


Acts 10:34, 37-43

Peter’s Kerygma sermon

Ps 118:1-2, 16-18, 22-23

This is the day the Lord has made

Col 3:1-4

Your life is hidden with Christ

1 Cor 5:6-7

Clear out the old yeast

Jn 20:1-9

Magdalen at the empty tomb


It appears that we will not be gathering for the Easter Vigil or Easter Day Mass, as the social distancing required by the pandemic continues. The splendor and display of the liturgy, on the holiest of days, cannot express the glory of resurrection. And we feel bereft.

But maybe we can spend the time with Paul of Tarsus. He gets little attention on Sundays, but maybe this is his time. Paul did not favor law as the basis of moral behavior. In Romans 7 he famously noted that it doesn’t help us obey, but it increases our guilt, since now we know better. But if it is not law, what motivates a Christian life?

For Paul, we are the body of Christ. And since Christ has died and risen, we too in some way have died, and are already risen. In a mystical way, Easter is already present to us and in us, in ways unseen except in the way we live it out.

Not that we are automatically virtuous. Paul’s letters testify to that. His letters typically have two parts, a doctrinal section followed by a moral section. The logic goes something like this: You are a new creation (doctrinal section); so start acting like it! (moral section). Because they lapsed, he wrote letters. And because he wrote letters, they ended up in the New Testament.

The passages from his letters chosen for this feast reflect Paul’s outlook. The selection from Romans 6, chosen for the Easter Vigil, says that we were baptized into the death of Christ. Perhaps the practice of total immersion helped to visualize this, as the candidate went into the water and back out again. But Paul is thinking that in baptism we become members of Christ’s body, and with that, join his story of death and resurrection. While that will be expressed in glory when the fullness of time comes, for the present it is hidden. For now, we must realize that we are “dead to sin.”

The first option for the second reading on Easter Sunday morning is Colossians 3:1-4. It builds on the same thought — “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” We were raised with Christ, Paul says. But if so, it is in a way not si obvious to the observer. Unless, as Paul suggests, it is apparent in our actions, that they are motivated by other than worldly causes.

Paul goes on, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” And here he explicitly uses the word, “hidden.” He is making the case that we have “died” to the self-focused interests that command our societies, including ourselves, apart from this mystical death and rising.

The alternative reading for Easter Day, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, focuses on the need to rid ourselves of the discredited values of the old life to which we have already died. He exploits the imagery of Passover, when the house was cleared of yeast, a biblical symbol of sin. The rich symbolism of Paul’s passage gathers together that of the Passover Seder, the Last Supper, and the Eucharistic Meal. Paul says that as the body of Christ, we are the unleavened bread, and so we had better clear out the leaven if we are to measure up. Easter is a matter of living it now, looking toward fulfillment in the future.

Which is to say, there is much of what Paul enjoins on us that currently fits our situation, as Easter is “hidden” this year behind separate doors.

For reflection: If Easter is in exile, what are its signs of new life?

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.