April 1, 2018 - Easter Sunday

AN INNER JOURNEY INTO THE RESURRECTION

BIBLE READINGS
Acts 10:34-43
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Mark 16:1-8

REFLECTION

Many of you would probably know durian, a very popular seasonal tropical fruit in South East Asian countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia where I came from. Durian is considered a delicacy and, as such, it can be expensive to buy. During one of my holidays in Singapore with my family, we spent an entire night only to find a particular vendor that sold a particular kind of durian that we were after. We finally found the place and bought the fruit for $100! It’s a lot of money to spend on a fruit, but boy it was worth every single penny.

The thing is, what some people consider as a delicacy, other people consider as an abomination. The fruit has a specific foul smell that is hard to describe (some say it’s like rotten eggs mixed with garlic and custard – I say it’s like all of those mixed with a very good rum).

And if the smell is bad, the taste is even worse. The common reaction that many people have when they are exposed to the fruit for the first time is disgust. Nausea and vomiting are not uncommon reactions too.

Now, I can’t understand why people are disgusted by it; for someone who grew up with durian, the smell of durian would whet my appetite. And I always consider myself as someone who can eat anything. I like food that others consider disgusting like kimchi or, of course, vegemite (I like to lick vegemite when there is nothing else in the fridge and I’m hungry). But I do have limit: raw scallop. That’s one thing I can’t swallow (even thinking about it now makes me feel like vomiting). Indeed, we all have preferences, which are shaped by the environment we were born into and grew up with.

Food preference was also the background of our reading today from the book of Acts. Growing up as a Jewish child, Simon Peter must have been told that he should avoid certain kinds of meats from some animals because these animals were ritually unclean. To consider eating those meats would definitely make him feel disgusted.

But that was what he was confronted with in the wake of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When he was alone in his room, he had a vision of unclean animals being lowered to his sight and a voice from heaven telling him to kill and eat those animals![1] He fervently rejected the offer, but the heavenly voice said to him, “Don’t treat as unclean something that God has considered clean.”

The vision had a spiritual meaning. Immediately after, Simon was asked to go to the house of Cornelius, a Roman, a Gentile, an unclean person in the eyes of the Jews. A Jew like Simon was forbidden to go to the house of a non-Jew like Cornelius. But Cornelius and his family were ready to receive Christ.

This was the background of Simon’ speech, which we hear today from the book of Acts in the Bible. The speech was made in Cornelius’s house, just before he witnessed the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Cornelius and the rest of his family.

The risen Christ had indeed broken down the old barriers between the Jews and the Gentiles. The early Jewish Christians must learn to embrace their new non-Jewish brothers and sisters in their midst. There were no longer clean or unclean people, insider or outsider, them and us. The risen Christ had created a new identity for the Jews and the non-Jews: they were all now the new temple where God’s Spirit dwelled.

Easter had indeed become a journey of self-reflection for the early followers of Jesus. The risen Christ challenged their core beliefs. He tore down their old assumptions and prejudices and, out of the ashes of their old self, a new identity was born.

Nowadays, you can’t listen to the news without hearing the ball-tampering scandal that has rocked the cricket world in Australia. My apology that you have to hear this again from me, but I’m a fan of cricket. It’s the only national sport in Australia that I can genuinely enjoy watching, so the news came as a shock to me as well.

Now, many people have said that the issue has been blown out of proportion. Ball-tampering is one of the least serious offences in the world of cricket (there are other more serious sins that players can commit). Many experts believe that it is a dark art that is common in the sport, even though it is hidden from the public eye. And the Australians were not the only ones who had been caught red handed tampering with the balls. Other big names from other nations in cricket had also been caught doing the same thing. Players around the world had been caught trying to tamper the ball with dirt, fingernails, teeth, mint, even zipper! So why has it become such a big thing this time around? There are many explanations, but I think the real reason why the offence has huge implications this time because it goes to the heart of our identity as a nation.

Australia has always considered itself as a great sporting nation. Successful athletes gain not only lucrative financial deals; they gain a respectable status in our society. Champion athletes become role models of what one can achieve by determination, dedication, hard work, experience, and skills. We punch above our weight, competing fiercely and successfully against other bigger nations in sporting fields. And we believe that we can be like that because we dare to play hard, but fair. So highly we think of ourselves that, at least in cricket, we believe that we are the standard bearer for how cricketers from around the world should behave.

Well, that kind of illusion was shattered by the scandal. Our national cricket team, perhaps the most revered sporting team in the country, has revealed its dark side. None other than the captain– the most important job in the nation after the Prime Minister - admitted that he was part of the group that orchestrated the cheating. It was shattering to hear how the golden boy of cricket - who was dubbed the best batsman since Sir Donald Bradman – admitted that he was behind the failed plot.

The shattering of Steve Smith’s image is painful to witness perhaps because it shatters our very own perception of ourselves. It bares to all of us that we are not holier than others; that we too can be manipulative and deceitful.

But the public reaction, I think, has been generally great. There was no denial from the public, especially from the fans of Australian cricket, that this had happened. There was no defending of the actions of those involved. And there were plenty of self-reflections.

So I think, the whole saga will lead us to a better place. Perhaps, our false sense of identity needs to be humbly shattered by an event like this so that we can move forward as better people.

Easter too invites us to self-reflection, deep self-reflection. The risen Christ invites us to journey deep into our very selves to discover again about who we are and who we are not.

Indeed, Easter is about transforming what was not possible before into a reality. When the three women went to Jesus’ tomb in that first Easter morning, they worried about the large stone that covered the entrance to the tomb. Who would roll the stone for them? They knew that they wouldn’t be able to roll the stone themselves.

But when they arrived, the stone had already been rolled. They thought that the door was closed for them, but Easter is about opening doors that are closed.

Now, some of you may think that the women were looking in the wrong place. Just like what the angel said, they should have believed what Jesus had said before and gone to Galilee instead to see him. But perhaps, the journey into the empty tomb was a necessary journey to make. Perhaps, it was important that these women witnessed that there really was nothing to be seen there. Perhaps, it was only then that they realized that they needed to go to the place where Jesus actually was.

Likewise, perhaps it is necessary for us to journey deep into ourselves - to those places in our hearts that we often visit - to find out that what we truly need may not be there. Perhaps, we need a moment like it to realize that we have been looking in the wrong place. Perhaps, that is the moment when we can take the hand of the risen Christ and be resurrected with him into a new life and new adventure.

We can take the Apostle Paul as an example. He too began his Easter journey as a man who often boasted about his spiritual pedigrees and achievements.

But the illusion of his grand self was shattered when he met the risen Christ. His encounter with the resurrected Jesus humbled him deeply; but out of the ashes of his old self born a new man. The person who was once a staunch opponent of the Gospel and persecutor of the Church had become one of the Gospel’s most formidable defenders and messengers.

Friends, Easter is indeed a journey that begins inside, with self-reflection. It’s a journey of challenging the false impressions of ourselves and the pretences that we like to keep up. Easter is the time to let the risen Christ lead each one of us to a better understanding of ourselves and of our place in the world, and to become a new person as the result.

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] Acts 10:9-16