The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day, Principal Service, 21 April 2019


Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 20:34-43 or I Corinthians 15:19-26
St. John 20:1-18 or St. Luke 24:1-12



Background: Rock-cut Tombs

Such tombs had an ancient history in the Levant. We have tombs carved in the Canaanite period from 3100-2900 BCE. Israelite evidence dates from the 9thcentury BCE in Jerusalem, and there are several that date to the Second Temple period. It was Abraham who purchased the Cave of Machpelah for his wife Sarah. Such tombs are mentioned in Judges, II Samuel, and II Kings. The tombs from the later periods were elaborations on the cave burials. The cut tomb belonged to a family, and the dead were laid out on benches or niches carved into the walls of the tomb. Eventually, the bones were removed to an ossuary so that other family dead might be buried there. Such tombs were the provenance of the rich. The poor were buried in the ground.

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."



The alternate First Reading, printed below, is a passage in which the latter Isaiah announces God’s intent to make all things new. In the reading from Acts, Luke makes us aware of the reality of that intent in the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius. In his “sermon” to the household, Peter, in reality, confesses a new creed in which he proclaims all that Jesus was known for in his ministry. There is the cross and there is the resurrection. It is the core of the Gospel, the Kerygma that Peter proclaims here, and that he does it in the house of a Roman soldier should not be lost on us. The context here is very important for not only is Cornelius and his household made new, but Peter is as well. It might be well for you to read the entire narrative, Acts 10:1-11:18. There are multiple visions in which people are moved to see their lives and the life of Jesus in a new light. Resurrection here is not just the event that Mary begins to understand in today’s Gospel, but a renewal of believers and pagans in what the resurrection of Jesus portends.

Breaking open Acts::
  1. Of what have you been given a new understanding?
  2. Have you had an experience like Peter?
  3. Whom do you need to look at differently?

Or

Isaiah 65:17-25

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord--
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.



John Oswalt, in his commentary on Isaiah[1], describes a prophetic pattern that reaches its culmination in this pericope. It is a pattern of “hope, judgement, hope, judgement, hope.”[2]The people of God vacillate between faithfulness and forgetfulness, but God determines that the final state is redemption and forgiveness – hope for a new future. For this reason, the later Isaiah hears God’s message of recreation and renewal. It would be startingly real for his hearers and readers, for they have returned to a devastated land, called there to renew it. The question that is raised earlier in the book in this directive, “keep justice and do righteousness,” (56:1)causes us to ask “Why?” The first verse of this pericope answers that query by noting God’s intent. God walks with us in our renewal not only of ourselves, but hopefully of our world, as well. A holy place is described, “on all my holy mountain”, where things are reversed and renewed – made different.

We might want to ask who is witness to this renewal? As Isaiah wanders through the various aspects of renewal, nature itself, and the lives that are caught in it become witnesses to God’s intent. It is a new heaven and a new earth that see the Creator come again to speak a word that makes all things new. In the Palm Sunday Gospel at the Liturgy of the Palms were heard the same intent, where Jesus knows that the very stones would sing out if other witnesses were made quiet. 

Breaking open the Isaiah:
  1. What is the importance of Isaiah’s vision?
  2. Where is hope in Isaiah’s vision?
  3. Where is practicality in Isaiah’s vision?

 

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."
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.



Psalm 118 is inextricably tied to Holy Week and Easter. We begin the week with it on Palm Sunday, and we continue with it on the Feast of the Resurrection, and later into the week and Sundays following. The first two verses allude to a liturgical song recommended by the poet, and the latter verses of our pericope for today give voice to the song, “The Lord is my strength and my song.” And later, “There is the sound of exultation and victory in the tents of the righteous.” There are aspects of this psalm that tempt us to think in military terms; the words “victory”, “triumph”, and “the right hand” lead us there. That is, however, not the intent or context of the psalm. It is the victory and triumph of the righteous in daily life that make for rejoicing and exultation. There is another context to these thoughts. “This is the gate of the Lord,” gives us the clue, that we may be accompanying the poet into the Temple. There the commentary on the humble stone that has become “the chief of the corner,” the stone that holds up the whole structure. Other builders rejected this stone – this righteous stone. God, the creator, however, has chosen it and placed it. That is what is “marvelous to our eyes.”

Breaking open Psalm 118:
  1. What does it mean to be righteous?
  2. Where do you find righteousness in your life?
  3. Where do you stand where you sense God’s presence?

 

Second Reading: I Corinthians 15:19-26

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.



There is an excellent explication of this pericope in Reginald Fullers, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives. I highly recommend it – it serves as an excellent background to this particular text, and to each of the narratives as well. Before there were the Gospels there was this – Paul’s witness to the resurrection. You would do well to read the entire chapter, for it forms a creed, if you will, centered on the Easter story. Here he continues on teaching us the ramifications of what a Risen Jesus means. 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What’s your first Easter remembrance?
  2. What’s your first religious Easter remembrance?
  3. When did you last share the Easter story?

 

Or

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.



First it was the Magdalene, later it would be Paul. In between there would be others, but Mary and Paul are the parenthesis. There is the personal appearance of Jesus to these two. It indicates to us an extended Easter – a revelation of the Risen One. I don’t want to refer to the dark history of Mary, that is of dubious merit. It does matter, however, that it is the women who first hear the Good News. Like the shepherds in Luke, here it is from the edges of society that the resurrection revelation is given. It orients us to what will be made new and what is continuing to be made new following Resurrection. The gift that is given to Mary, but not to Peter or the “other disciple”, nor to the women either, is the gift of personal presence. Mary disbelieves it at first, until her name is spoken, “Mary!”. 

It is this experience of Jesus, by Mary, that ought to commend itself to us. It ought to encourage us to personally speak of the resurrection. There is so much that is hidden by the trimmings of Easter. It is the difficult vision that Mary sees, and that finally the women and the disciples intuit that is the purpose of this day. The story of Mary helps us in that endeavor. The request of Jesus is quite simple, “Go to my brothers.” The result is just as profound, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’” That is our purpose not only in this Eastertide but throughout the year as well. 

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. In what ways are you like Mary Magdalen?
  2. Have you ever felt Jesus’ presence with you?
  3. How is Jesus present with you?

Or

St. Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.





“On the first day of the week, at early dawn…” You can almost picture and smell it. The fresh dew, perhaps some bird songs, the beginning warmth of a rising sun – the context of the women’s visit to the tomb. In the prior week the context had been different – difficult and troublesome. Here Luke begins to share with his readers the transformation and renewal of those who followed Jesus. It appropriately begins with the women. Luke always begins at the edges: the shepherds in the countryside, the women at the tomb. Those with power will have to wait. 

The message that the women hear is not new. In 9:22we get a glimpse of what had been experienced and what was to be revealed, He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”(italics mine). Even at the mount of the Transfiguration we have a similar scene – the witnesses (here, Peter, James, and John) and the two others with the transfigured Jesus. “two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus(italics mine) that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.(9:30-31). The exodus – the being taken up – are in Luke both cross and resurrection/ascension. Thus, the disciples, both men and women, are being brought through the rough Jerusalem journey to its unbelievable ending. At first notice, it seems like “an idle tale.” However, when Peter stoops to go in, and sees the vacated linens, he is amazed – Luke’s code word for belief.








Central Idea:               Perceiving/Believing

First Instance:            Cornelius and Peter’s Visions (First Reading, Acts)

                                      Isaiah’s Vision and Renewed Creation (First Reading, Isaiah)

Second Instance:       Paul’s recounting of the witnesses (I Corinthians 15)

Third Instance:          The Women and Peter (Luke)

                                      Mary and Peter (John)


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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller



[1]       Oswalt, J. (1998), The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Kindle Edition.
[2]       Ibid, location 12744.

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