SUNDAY’S READINGS | May 15, 2022
“The circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven’” (Acts 11:2-10).
A large sheet came down and then was pulled up to heaven again. Jesus came down from heaven and then ascended into heaven. “Little children,” Jesus says, “I am with you only a little longer. … Where I am going you cannot come” (John 13:33). We behold, and then we interpret what we no longer see.
Peter’s vision of a sheet illustrates the full implication of the Incarnation. Jesus assumes a human body, and his body partakes of and sanctifies the whole created material world. Commenting on the baptism of Jesus, Gregory of Nazianzus says, “Jesus comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us … The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God” (Oration 39).
The body so honored is the body of Jesus and, by implication, all human bodies and the whole creation of which the human bodies are a part. In Christ, then, all things are sanctified, and this is precisely the meaning of the sheet containing animals regarded formerly as unclean and profane. No longer are foods unclean or profane, nor is humanity divided between them and us. There is one common humanity and one universe that together are sanctified and participate in praise of Almighty God. A Latin hymn for Lent makes this clear, saying that not only do humans sing a new song, having been renewed through forgiveness, but the totality of things praises the Trinity: Te rerum universitas, clemens, adoret, Trinitas.
Part of our vocation as Christian people is “to give voice to every creature under heaven,” to join in a vast cosmic chorus of praise to the Creator. Psalm 148:1-11 calls for such praise, listing participants: the heavens, the heights, all angels, all his hosts, sun and moon, shining stars, heaven of heavens, waters above the heavens, the earth, sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous winds, mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild beasts and cattle, creeping things and winged birds, kings of the earth and all people.
Everything is holy and called to praise God. Writing on prayer, Tertullian gives a touching and true picture of the world praising God: “The angels, likewise, all pray; every creature prays; cattle and wild beasts pray and bend their knees; and when they come forth from their stalls and dens, they look up heavenward with no idle mouth, vibrating the air/spirit in their own way. Even the birds ascending are led up to heaven, and, instead of hands, expand a cross of wings and say something that seems like a prayer” (De Oratio, 9).
Let everything praise the name of the Lord.
Look It Up: A Song of Creation (BCP, p. 88)
Think About It: Praise him and highly exalt him forever.