The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day, 1 April 2018

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
I Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Background: The Women

In spite of what seems to be a derliberate effort to diminish the role of women in the Jesus movement, and their place among the disciples, the evangelists have preserved poignant roles for some of them both at the cross and at the tomb. There is a humanity that surrounds them both in their grief and in their fear. In spite of that there is a courage that dealt with a difficult resolution to the story. How many of us would have the pluck to announce such an outrageous conclusion to a tragedy that diminished our dreams and hopes? They, however, in spite of society’s expectations, and perhaps their own gender’s doubts, announced the improbable. They are good examples of what we need in our own day, giving us a model of tying our human need to the message of Jesus Christ. We need to rejoice that women in every time and age have been exhibiting that courage in spite of the dangers of doing so. As we rejoice in the Risen One, let us also rejoice in the sisters who first saw him in a glory that alludes so many.

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."

If the women at both tomb and cross seem to be an unlikely addition to the story, then this reading from Luke/Acts is unlikely as well. The good news moves out from its patriarchal past to the women, and finally to the gentiles. Not only is Cornelius a gentile, but he is the enemy as well. Thus Luke wastes no time in making us aware of what the resurrection implies for those who have followed and believed. There are some amazing stories in Acts that move the apostolic movement from that of being a male thing, to the ministry of women and gentiles as well. I should recommend to you Ivoni Richter Reimer’s wonderful study of women in the Acts of the Apostles[1] to get her take on Luke’s (and Paul’s) inclusion of women in the story.

The nexus of this story involves a reluctant Peter who is soon to change his ways and his perspective, and the household of the Centurion. As I often advise, you would be well served to read the entirety of the tenth chapter to understand the context in which Peter delivers his sermon. A segment of that message is almost creedal, giving us a vision of what it is that Peter believes. The second half reveals the consequences of the Easter story, connecting it not only to the prophets before, but to the household that is gathered about him.

Breaking open Acts:
1.     What would your Easter sermon be like?
2.     To whom would you like to preach it?
3.     To whom would you be afraid to preach it?


First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

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.

He breaks a spell of terror. In the chapters that precede our reading for this day, Isaiah unleashes a vision of terror and despair. He breaks that thread with a vision of glory and encouragement. Who is it that feasts in the midst of despair and tears. It is the people of God who feast with God and hear God’s promises. The shroud will be torn away, not only from the people of God, but from all peoples. Already in Isaiah we are seeing the vision that Luke and eventually Peter saw – a universal application of God’s love and liberation. Isaiah notes that this is something for which the people of God must wait, and then there are those who will live and rejoice in the reality of salvation.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.     When have you feasted in the face of danger?
2.     How did you survive the danger?
3.     How did you rejoice?

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.

It has been only a week since we last engaged this psalm. It was the psalm sung as palms were processed into the church at the end of the Liturgy of the Palms. It underscored there, as it does here as well, the triumph of the God of Israel, which light was cast on the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. The liturgy that followed this one made us aware of the cost of victory – the passion of Jesus, and his death upon the cross. Now we are on the other side of the divide, and this same psalm takes on a different context – the victory of the One who was raised from the dead. We can read into the psalmist’s rejoicing our own glad voice on this wonderful day. The good news is that God acts. And when God acts, we are made glad.

Breaking open Psalm 118:
1.     Did Good Friday seem like a defeat to you?
2.     What were the words of victory on that day?
3.     What are the words of victory on Easter Day?

Second Reading: I 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.

Here I must recommend another book to you. It is Reginald Fuller’s unwrapping of the Resurrection Narratives.[2] This will be valuable for you as you read Paul’s creedal statements on the resurrection, and as you explore the other narratives, two of which are noted in the reading options that follow. Up until this point in First Corinthians, Paul has been carefully introducing his readers to the salvific effects of Christ’s death. In the Fifteenth Chapter, however, Paul goes in a different direction, expounding on the resurrection of Jesus. He lays out three series of witnesses – one series beginning with Peter (Cephas), the second of 500 brothers and sisters, and finally Paul himself. If any of his readers should be feeling guilty or unworthy to receive this good news, Paul encourages them with his own guilt and unworthiness. He is outlining God’s plan, and he is emphasizing all those who have been included in this plan. He is the latest moment in this plan, and his purpose is to help us to believe.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
1.     Who first told you the Easter Story?
2.     Whom have you told?
3.     Who needs to hear it?


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.

Mary comes to the tomb first but is baffled by what she sees – discarded burial cloths and an empty tomb. Her fears are not kept inside but are immediately expressed to Peter and John. Their experiences are different than hers, almost noetic and internal. But it is Mary who has a more external and public experience of the Risen One. After all she had already shared what she had seen, but her internal struggle is not revealed. John leaves us wondering. The other disciples “saw and believed.” We’re not privy to Peter’s process, and John’s seems almost miraculous. Aren’t we a bit more like Mary?

Even to strangers, Mary expresses her fears about Jesus and what has happened to his body. Here disconnection is palpable. For Mary she sees, indeed she now sees angels, but does not recognize or believe. It will take more. It is her name given in the voice of the One she thought she had lost – “Mary!” The recognition is complete and the urge to grab onto the Risen One seems almost urgent. More needs to happen however – The giver of the original message must now give a more complete message about Jesus’ intentions. He will not be kept here, but will gather his own in a new place with a renewed and different purpose. Mary now has purpose and resolve and express belief with her own voice, “I have seen the Lord.”

Breaking open the Gospel of John:
1.     How are you like Peter?
2.     How are you like John?
3.     How are you like Mary?


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.

If there is an underlying theme in this pericope, it is one of faith. They go to anoint, but seem not to have wrestled with how the stone would be rolled away. It is only when they arrive at the reality of that situation that they wonder or ponder over their abilities. If their faith was only lately tested by the stone, it is now to be tested by angels. The good news that is announced by the young man only produces terror and amazement in them. Rather than seeing them as expressions of the same emotional response, we begin to understand them as polar opposites. Terror was their partner all through the last days, but now they are going to experience amazement. Their response is human. I am grateful for the short ending of Mark. It has so much to say to me as a human being. To be a Christian in our time is to be accompanied by terror and amazement. The craziness of the Easter story pulls us out of our fear into a world of wonder and possibility. Who knows what the women did next? Who really needs to know? We can see the result of their amazement.

Breaking open the Gospel of Mark:
1.     What do find disconcerting about this reading?
2.     What do you really like about this reading?
3.     How are you like the women?

Question: Where do we stand in the witnesses that Paul enumerates in I Corinthians?

1.     Possibility One: That we have run away from this Gospel, finding it unreal.
2.     Possibility Two: That we find in our inability to believe the need to touch God.
3.     Possibility Three: That we have simply (given the gift of others) believed.
4.     Possibility Four: That the Easter belief depends on a community of amazement.
5.     Possibility Five: That we need to move from Easter to a Galilee or ministry in which we find Jesus, and ourselves.

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 © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Richter, I, (1995), Women in the Acts of the Apostles: a feminist liberation perspective, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 302 pages.
[2]     Fuller, R. (1980), The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, Fortress Press, Philadelphia.


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