The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day, 16 April 2017

Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
Saint John 20:1-18 or Saint Matthew 28:1-10

Background: The Paschal Candle

The Pesach is the rite and celebration of Israel’s freedom and delivery from Egyptian slavery, known to us as Passover and its meal. This connection of the Easter feast with the ancient rite is one that underscores God’s plan of salvation, made manifest in the raising of Jesus from the dead. The Paschal Candle then is named in remembrance of these celebrations and this history. Lit from the flames of the new fire of the Great Vigil of Easter, the candle remains lighted throughout the Easter Feast, all seven Sundays of it. It will be lit again at baptisms and funerals to signify, in the case of baptism the participation of the candidate in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the case of a funeral, the hope of resurrection that surrounds the faithful departed.

The use of such and candle or light stems from its use in the Lucernarium at Evening Prayer, a vigil that began on Saturday in anticipation of the Sunday celebration. It’s role as a vigil light was expanded in the ceremonial of the Great Vigil of Easter. We are aware of its use in the fourth century in a letter from Saint Jerome to Presidio, a deacon in Piacenza, Italy, in 384 CE. The hymn, Exultet, is an Easter hymn that proclaims the feast day and honors the candle. They hymn has as traditional authors Ss. Ambrose and Augustine. The current text is believed to have been written in the fifth century.

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other 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."

Peter was, apparently, a quick study. After the vision that he has on the rooftop in Joppa, he quickly answers the call of Cornelius, a gentile. This is a natural development for Luke to include in his Acts of the Apostles, for the role and ministry to Gentiles is prominent in his Gospel. Here we have a sermon, delivered by Peter on the occasion of Cornelius’ baptism. The words are almost creedal in nature, and in reading them; one is tempted to speak them as a Credo. The history of salvation is rehearsed in Peter’s sermon, and in spite of the fact that this is a witness to a gentile household, Peter is certain to mention and maintain the importance of Israel’s role in salvation history. The approach to the gentiles is not unique to the New Testament; there are several developments in the Hebrew Scriptures that outline a theological approach to the gentiles. One such example is Isaiah 56:6-7 which serves as an invitation to gentiles “to love the name of the Lord.”

Peter’s claims about Jesus are unambiguous, “he is Lord of all.” He continues with a rehearsal of Jesus ministry throughout Galilee and Judea. Peter also underscores the witness that is demanded of those who accompanied Jesus and who were his disciples. It is God who provides the model and example of who their audience might be, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” Thus the stage is set, not only by Paul, who will be the supreme actor in the Acts, but also by Peter, the first of the Apostles. The apostles’ footsteps move gently from the Levant into the rest of the Mediterranean world.

Breaking open Acts:
1.          Who are the gentiles of our time?
2.          How would you preach to them, what would you say?
3.         What do you believe about Jesus?


Jeremiah 31:1-6

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.”

It is in Jeremiah that we see the interaction of theology and politics. Here Jeremiah prepares Israel for a different kind of existence due to God’s displeasure (theology) and the geopolitik of the time, weighing Egypt against Babylon and visa versa. In the midst of this controversy Jeremiah attempts to direct the people’s attention to their God. Jeremiah has the difficult task “to pluck up and to tear down, to build and to plant.” Some institutions will not survive, but the people will, and hopefully their relationship will be renewed and thrive. Thus we encounter themes that speak to building and planting, “Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!” In the midst of difficulty Jeremiah speaks for the ability of the people to thrive. The key to this restoration is God’s faithfulness to Israel in spite of their lack of faithfulness to God. The people will be brought together again, from the north (Ephraim) and Samaria they shall come to Zion – a Zion restored.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.          What needs to be torn down and built back up?
2.          How might you be renewed?
3.         How might you renew life for others?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Confitemini Domino

     Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2      Let Israel now proclaim, *
"His mercy endures for ever."
14    The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
15    There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
16    "The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!"
17    I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.
18    The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
19    Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20    "This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter."
21    I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22    The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23    This is the Lord's doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24    On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

We last encountered this psalm in the Palm Sunday Liturgy, where it serves as a psalm of entrance into the main Liturgy of the day.  The verses about the “gates of righteousness” seem to speak to that liturgical function, but it is verses 16 – 18 that seem to expound the themes for a celebration of the resurrection. The notes of triumph and of life speak to the day. There is an interesting aspect to verse 17, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” It is only the living that can praise God. Psalm 115:17f. delineates this notion:

“The dead do not praise the LORD,
not all those go down into silence.
It is we who bless the LORD,
both now and forever.

So this is praise for the living God from a living people.

Breaking open the Psalm 118:
1.         What do you see differently in this psalm on Easter?
2.         How will you celebrate the resurrection?
3.        How do you celebrate life?

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

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.

Paul again contrasts the heavenly with the earthly. He encourages the reader to focus on the Christ that is above, rather than on the concerns of daily life. There is a complete understanding of the believer’s connection with the crucified and resurrected Christ, “you have died, and your life is hidden.” Easter then is a revelation of what we shall be.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What is heavenly in your life?
  2. What is earthly in your life?
  3. How do you reconcile them?


Acts 10:34-43
(See above.)

The Gospel: 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 John’s resurrection narrative we have three distinct traditions that are preserved or reflected by John in his Gospel. The first is the tradition of the women who come to the tomb, find it opened, and then run to the disciples. The second tradition is the visit of Peter (primarily) to the tomb, and the third is the appearance of Jesus to Mary of Magdala. While John’s version seems limited, as far as the women are concerned, to the Magdalene, the quotation in verse 2 seems to indicate that Mary was not alone, “and we do not know where they have laid him.” This development in John accentuates the richness of the appearances hinted at in I Corinthians 15. The interruption of the Mary story at verse 2 gives us an indication of the primacy of Peter, or of the importance of that tradition. In addition it folds in the tradition of the Beloved Disciple, which adds to the richness.

It is the story of the women, especially in the Marcan account, that attracts me. The ambiguity of the women speaks to the difficulty of belief in our time. That same ambiguity is not absent the Magdalene story.  Mary weeps, and grieves; she searches. Such human emotions are helpful as we talk about the resurrection and what it means for us. She has the same desires as Thomas; she wants to touch the Risen One. If Peter’s story is primary, it is so because of his status among the twelve. But Mary’s story enjoys the primacy of belief and witness, for it is she (and the women) who announces the good news to the disciples.

A helpful resource for looking at this pericope and the one following is Reginald Fuller’s book, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1971.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     With whom do you most identify, Peter, the Beloved Disciple, or Mary?
2.     Why?
3.    When have you grieved for Jesus?


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.”

Matthew’s resurrection narrative preserves the Magdalene tradition as well. Here they come to visit the tomb only, and in doing so become witnesses to momentous events – the earthquake, the angel of the Lord, and the words. Here the women seem to be the only ones aware of the angel’s presence, and of the words directed to them, “do not be afraid.” The response is almost immediate and with reward, for the women encounter the Risen One, who greets them and sends them. This is good preaching material, for it is not the “professionals” who are given the message of the day, but rather those whose motives were simple and straightforward.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What do you fear in life?
2.     How does God meet your fear?
3.    What does it mean to “fear God?”

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.

or this

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.

or this

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 © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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