The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day - 5 April 2015
Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10:34-43 or I Corinthians 15:1-11
St. John 20:1-18
St. Mark 16:1-8
Background: Resurrection Appearances
I may have made reference to this wonderful resource in the past, and if so please forgive me for referring to it again. I think that it behooves us as people interested in what the lectionary is attempting to teach us to anticipate all the readings during the Sundays of Easter. Reginald Fuller’s book, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, gives a grand overview of the development of these texts, tracing them through the writings of Paul, the synoptics, and John. He begins with the earliest Easter Traditions in the First Letter to the Corinthians, and does a wonderful analysis of Paul’s account. He follows with the narrative of Mark, then Matthew, then Luke-Acts, and finally the Gospel of John and the so-called Johannine Appendix. What follows, in addition, are an analysis of Pseudo Mark, Transposed Resurrection Narratives (proposed), and finally, Resurrection Narratives in apocryphal Gospels. His tracing of the growing complexity of these accounts is helpful in determaining the core of the tradition, and then how to form a sense of devotion or proclamation around these texts.
Peter began to speak to the gentiles: "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."
In this chapter, Luke weaves a series of visions, conversions, and proclamations that enable his goal of proclaiming God’s intentions of salvation for anyone who would desire it. We meet Peter on the cusp of understanding what Paul has been urging, and we meet Cornelius whose own vision, request, and baptism cement the entire enterprise into a whole. It would be good for you, if you wish to understand the context of Peter’s remarks, which form our liturgical reading for this Easter Morning, to see the remarks in the context of these activities. The almost creedal remarks that Peter makes to the messengers from Cornelius form what it is that we need to know about God’s invitation to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. These words seem to pop out at us and form a response we might make to the Easter Gospel: “We are witnesses,” “commanded us to preach…and to testify”, “we were chosen by God as witnesses.” It is not an individual that responds to this message but rather an entire household. Such is the grasp and suasion of God’s message of salvation.
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?
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
This reading from Isaiah telegraphs us beyond to the tomb and its absent body to present a vision of the banquet at the end of time. Here the prophet uses a model present in other Hebrew writings, and used in other ancient near eastern writings, of the celestial banquet that Jesus himself refers to as he gathers with the disciples at the last supper. Isaiah’s vision goes a bit further in his comments in that he declares that God will be the arbiter about the role of death, “he will swallow up death forever.” Of special interest is that the judgment is done for the benefit of “all peoples”, and “all nations.” The concept of time here is complicated – a future vision for which we have waited seems to be a completed fact, “This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” In this way God is with us – now. The Easter message is in one sense hopeful, and in another sense present.
Breaking open Isaiah:
- Who will sit at your banquet at the end of time?
- Whom do you not expect to see?
- Whom will you be surprised to see?
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.
In a way this psalm is a closing parenthesis to Holy Week and to the Triduum. It is appointed in part for reading during the Liturgy of the Palms on Passion Sunday, and then again at the festival services on Easter Day. Let us, however, remove ourselves from that particular celebration to first hear how it might have sounded to ancient Israel, where the speaker, especially in verses 5 through 21, is the king. The personal anguish and threat which beset the speaker and for which salvation he now gives thanks, gives us an intimate understanding of the individual and God. The enemies are not metaphors, and the threat of death is not an undefined thing. The king enters the Temple with not only a sense of triumph but of thanksgiving for the God who has saved him.
So we enter this joyous day, perfect in the knowledge that Christ has won a similar victory over the enemies – death and the grave. Now all who follow in the procession of pilgrims (for whom this psalm/liturgy was written) are full of the thanksgivings that once only belonged to the king, and that now accrue to us as well. The last two stanzas of the liturgical reading are an adequate summary of what we do this day, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. On this day the Lord has acted; and we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
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?
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you--unless you have come to believe in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Reginald Fuller in his book on the Resurrection Narratives (noted above) sees this as one of the earliest witnesses to the resurrection. He characterizes this reading, and others, as “the disclosure of the eschatological within history.” Paul lays out for us two distinct hierarchies that become witnesses to the resurrection. First there is the sequence of Cephas, the Twelve and the five hundred brothers and sisters. Then there is the sequence of James, the apostles, and Paul. What purposes do these appearances take on? Fuller maintains that with the appearance to “Cephas” (one may want to quickly refer to the context of this name in Matthew 16) and to the Twelve the Risen One establishes the eschatological community. Thus he maintains that these appearances are “church building.” Those who experience the later appearances (James, apostles, and Paul) are called to be sent out from this founding community to spread the witness. The closing passage makes clear the intent and purpose, “so we proclaim, and so you have come to believe.”
Breaking open I Corinthians:
- What is Paul saying about the importance of these appearances?
- In what ways has Jesus appeared to you?
- What was his message?
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.
In this reading we see present two different traditions regarding the Easter Appearance. The first is that of the Magdalene who runs and tells the Peter and the disciples, whose story is the second of the traditions present in this reading. She becomes the primary witness, and the others follow in her train. In Mark, the angel points out the absence in the tomb, but in John Mary already knows it and perceives it. The belief, however comes with the other disciple who enters the tomb who then sees and then believes. This layering of tradition and reaction should be natural to John’s Gospel which comes after so many versions of tradition and witness. It is, I think, important for us to follow the example and to not only tell the story in our own words, but to hear and listen to the story from others’ lips. In Paul, we move from individuals to larger groups, from leaders to the whole community. Here, we watch as individuals see, take in, and then make a response.
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. Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Fuller makes two observations on this text. The first is that in its initial rendering, this text was an appearance to Mary Magdalene alone, and the second is that verse seven was a later addition. Already stark in its presentation, the subtraction of these elements (the other women, and the angel’s direction of the women to Galilee) leaves a scene which focuses largely on the appearance of the angel which raises in them a sense of trembling and fear (compare St. Luke 1:22). In a sense their reaction to the vision of the angel underscores the profound truth that they had witnessed, “he is not here.” Mark leaves us to understand what that might mean and to plumb the depths of Jesus’ absence, but also his eschatological presence among us. In Mark we have a Jesus who dies, is buried, and ascends, affording a transition that give us wonder at what might happen next.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- How would this story be different if it were only Mary Magdalene?
- What are her actions after seeing the empty tomb?
- What might an empty tomb mean to you?
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 © 2015, Michael T. Hiller