The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day, 20 April 2014
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10:34-43 or Colossians 3:1-4
St. John 20:1-18
St. Matthew 28:1-10
Ever since the revision of the Lectionary by the Episcopal and Lutheran Churches, following the model of the Roman Ordo, we have been faced with a difficult choice during the Liturgy for Easter Day. One choice would be to read the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, and the other is to read the reading from Acts. In the one case we lose the reading from Jeremiah, and in the other we lose a brief reading from Colossians. What guides me in this internal conversation is the question of what is most urgent to hear, and of course that will provide for a different answer for many of us. I prefer to use the Acts lesson as the first lesson because it addresses the issue of “what must I do now that I have witnessed the resurrection?” The model and examples of the apostles and early Christians serves us well, I think. We live in an age in which Easter (like Christmas) has become a cute accommodation to candy and card manufacturers. I worry that we find the foundational story too embarrassing, or find it difficult to really know what it is that we believe about the resurrection. At a gathering of clergy in the Diocese of El Camino Real, Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, had us go through an exercise in which we had to articulate what it was we not only believed about the resurrection, but also that which we felt we had to proclaim. It was an uplifting exercise.
Could we preach like Peter, and for those of us who are not preachers, could we proclaim like Peter. This is an important question in our day and age, when we find the Church unwilling or unable to tell its fundamental stories. So read these lessons with Peter in mind, along with all the other women and men who followed him. What would you say? What would you choose?
Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how 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. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not 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. He 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. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
It is important to remember two events that precede this discourse on Peter’s part. The first is his visit with the household of Cornelius, in which Peter grants his sanction to the ministry and evangelization of the Gentiles. What follows that is a convenient story about Peter’s vision of the sheet let down from heaven filled with difficulties and conundrums (filled with ritually impure animals, and fish, which God invites Peter to eat). With that difficulty and that innovation well in mind, we then can consider Peter’s discourse.
As I commented on earlier regarding the “models” that the Acts of the Apostles allows us, so it is here in Peter’s speech. The great commentator Dibelius saw this as one of a series of examples that Luke provides to his readers so that might now how to both preach and proclaim. The opening verse clearly states Peter, and God’s position on the matter, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” What Peter (or is it really Luke?) treats us to is an expanded Heilsgeschichte (History of Salvation). As he rehearses the Petrine Kerygma, he also provides a concise summary of the Gospel of Mark. We might ask, “why not Luke?” The syntax in this segment diverges in its elegance from Luke, so Luke might very well be preserving an ancient and earlier fragment that represented the earliest proclamation. Here we see the ancient plan, “all the prophets testify about him” made real and cogent for people not of Israel, but rather those of “every nation.” The last verse is key, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.” What forgiveness does our time need to be convinced of?
Breaking open Acts:
- For you, what are Peter’s main points?
- Who might appear in your sheet of “unclean things?”
- What would be your “kerygma” (your proclamation) about Jesus?
At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Thus says the LORD:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
"Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the LORD our God."
Here Jeremiah speaks about the Restoration of Israel, (and here is, I think, the difficulty of connecting the Easter hope to the seldom seen Easter Visitor.) For those of us who have heard the stories at the Great Vigil, the connection may not be so troublesome, but for those who have not, a more fundamental approach may be required. Jeremiah’s themes, however, are indeed appropriate, in that they are themes, indeed the songs, of joy. There are also thoughts of reconciliation, for these songs are not only known in Zion, but also “on the mountains of Samaria…in the hill country of Ephraim.” The ancient rift his healed, and brothers and sisters from both North and South, from Judah and Israel are brought back to a restoration not only of place by also of relationship with one another and with the God of Israel. There is also new life here, as the returnees are encouraged to plant, and to “enjoy the fruit.” This is a new land, or as Jeremiah puts it, “O virgin Israel.”
Breaking open Jeremiah:
- What is your joy at Easter about?
- What new life do you see around you this Easter?
- What has been restored for you?
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Confitemini Domino
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
Let Israel now proclaim, *
"His mercy endures for ever."
The LORD is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
"The right hand of the LORD has triumphed! *
the right hand of the LORD is exalted!
the right hand of the LORD has triumphed!"
I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the LORD.
The LORD has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the LORD.
"This is the gate of the LORD; *
he who is righteous may enter."
I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the LORD'S doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
On this day the LORD has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
This thanksgiving psalm, which we encountered earlier during Holy Week at the Liturgy of the Palms, seems a bit disjointed, mentioning the tent (a nomadic reference) and the city gate (a more urban example) in the same verses. It may very well be that this psalm is a pastiche of several, perhaps five different works that have been strung together in a song of praise. There is even a sense of a liturgical side to the construct evident in the second verse, “Let Israel now say…” in which the whole nation, and every aspect of the people are urged to replay. The later, but not final verses (14-24) explore what is the joy of the people. The phrase, “Open for me the gates of righteousness,” gives us a clue as to the editor’s intent. Robert Alter argues for a different translation of the word tsadiq, which our translator has described as “righteousness.” Alter suggests that it might really be “victory”, or “justice”. Since justice was the function of the city gates, rather than the temple gates, I think that translation as “righteousness” holds well here. One cannot read verse 23, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes,” without thinking of Elizabeth I, but here we need to supply other marvelous deeds that flow from the Easter hope.
Breaking open Psalm 118:
- Where do you see justice in our world?
- Where do you see righteousness in our world?
- How are you a part of such righteousness and justice?
If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Here St. Paul sets before us two contrasts – things “from above” and things “on earth’, and the notions of being “hidden” and “revealed”. The difference between these two modalities becomes the gift of the apostle’s message. With the resurrection, and our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we move from being just another part of the earth to being a thing that is from above, and in an obvious and delightful comparison “hiddenness” and “revelation” are made clear as well. The body, like the body of Christ, was hidden in the earth (burial). The resurrection reveals the risen Christ, no longer hidden by the earth. The final statement of the reading is shear good news, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
Breaking open Colossians:
- What in your life is “from above?”
- What do you enjoy “from the earth?”
- How do you reconcile the two?
Or Acts (see above)
St. John 20:1-18
Early 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. So 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." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and 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. They 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." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" 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." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus 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.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Before I begin commenting on this “First Scene” from John’s Resurrection Narrative, I should like to commend to you Reginald Fuller’s The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (1971), now available in a reprint from Fortress Press. Here the preacher who introduced us so lovingly to the new lectionary in his articles in the Benedictine publication, Worship, in his articles on “Preaching the New Lectionary) takes us step by step in a chronological fashion from Paul to John and explores the development of the Easter Narrative by each. I recommend it highly.
Raymond Browngives an exhaustive analysis of this first Scene of the Resurrection Narrative, which is really two episodes. The first involves (tangentially) Mary Magdalene, and (initially) Peter, and the “Beloved Disciple”. The second episode involves the Magdalene and the risen Jesus. Brown discusses the heavy editing of this section with its many discrepancies. We need to be, however, interested in each of these individual’s stories. There is the quick yet cautious “beloved disciple”, and the brash Peter, along with the sorrowful Mary. Each of them represents an approach to the resurrection. It is Mary who discovers not the empty tomb, at least not yet, but rather that the stone has been rolled away. Her first reaction is not one of wonderment (at least this is not how John relates it) but of urgency to tell someone else – namely the disciples. This might serve as a first clue for us how to react to the Easter story – it must be told to another, and in doing so we tell it to ourselves.
Mary reacts to the scene by making an assumption that the body has been “taken away.” The two disciples go to investigate, and their separate reactions become important to us. The first, the beloved one, sees the evidence (the linens on the tomb) but does not go in. Perhaps for us this can be a sign of “bowing to the mystery” as Alan Jones would put it. There is an aspect of the story that stuns us into a silence. It is Peter who goes in, and then the other. There they “see and believe,” although this becomes a personal statement of the beloved one. It is Mary who is caught in the lack of sight initially, but it is she who both sees (the angels) and does not see (Jesus). For her there are many possibilities given at the scene. What is missing in sight is regained in her hearing, “Mary!” We could explore many aspects of this reading, but perhaps it is enough that each of us will perceive it differently. It will be in the telling, that we will confront belief.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- With which of the characters do you identify the most?
- What is convincing to you in this story? What is not? Why?
St. Matthew 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
Once again we are faced with a choice, between John and Matthew. Perhaps some words from W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann might be helpful. In their conclusion to the Resurrection Narrative in Matthew they make this comment:
“For all the confusing chronology, for the manifest variations in tradition, the one thing upon which all four evangelists are agreed is that the tomb of Jesus was empty.”
“We confine ourselves to the single assertion that the Messianic Community for which Jesus had made provision during his ministry, and for which he was the instrument of a New Covenant, believed not only that the tomb was empty but that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Apart from that faith, there is no understanding of the New Testament.”
It is helpful for us, I think, to look beyond the shaking guards, the angel, and the lightning like appearances accompanied by clothing “white as snow.” What it is important to see are two things: the tomb, and Galilee. The first minds us in the new reality the all the Gospels seek to mete out to us, and the second reminds us of Jesus’ constant call to mission. The empty tomb calls us to think about all that Jesus had done in his ministry. Following that we are called to Galilee and beyond. But what shall we say?
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Does your resurrection story require a lot of flash?
- How would you describe the resurrection?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Questions and comments copyright © 2014, Michael T. Hiller
Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms, A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, eBook location, 9187..
Brown, R. (1970) The Anchor Bible, The Gospel According to John (xiii – xxi), Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1208 pages.
Albright, W. and Mann, C. (1971), The Anchor Bible Matthew, Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, p. 360.