The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day, 4 April 2021
or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
or Acts 10:34-43
or Mark 16:1-8
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.
The 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."
In this story about Peter and his conversion from an exclusive vision of mission to a more inclusive vision, we have the Lucan agenda at its fullest. The structure of the entire story is interesting, and you might want to read the entire chapter in order to see the context of Peter’s sermon. The story begins with two separate visions, one to Cornelius (10:1-8), in which his bidden by an angel to send agents to Joppa to meet Peter in Joppa. The second vision is to Peter (10:9-23), in which he is bidden by God to eat what was offered him in the vision, a large sheet filled with animals, reptiles, and birds, some of which were unclean. Peter’s rejection of the invitation is given a reply by God, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” The vision is followed by the visitation of the visitors sent by Cornelius, and then in verses 24-33 a journey to Cornelius’ household and a sermon of Peter’s (verses 34-43, our reading) in which Peter confesses his faith in Jesus, his message and resurrection.
The sermon is almost credal in nature in which Peter details the life and ministry of Jesus. The theme is succinctly stated at the beginning, “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.” This same stance is reflected in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (2:10-11), “But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, Jew first and then Greed. There is no partiality with God.” Based on this assumption Peter then proclaims the kerygma – the Christian good news. There are several phrases which are given to explain this belief, but with classical phrases, such as the description of Jesus Christ as “Lord of all” (10:36). Hans Conzelmann notes in his commentary that the sermon is written in the Qeios anhr (divine man) style, the manner in which the Greeks told the stories of Heracles, and rulers who were characterized by their good works. So, Peter details the goodness of Jesus, “how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” What follows Peter’s words is the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit upon all who were there, and the Baptism of Cornelius and his household (10:44-49). There is the typical Lucan note of amazement (belief) in that “the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also.”
Breaking open Acts:
1. Who are the members of God’s family as far as you are concerned?
2. How might you be better in including others in your church community?
3. How has the Holy Spirit blessed you?
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, a collection of three segments that deal with “The End of Evil”, is a commentary on God’s victory over sin and sorrow. The first segment, verses 1-5, is a thanksgiving song in the style of several psalms. The last segment, verses 10-12, mentions the mount that will be prominent in our reading, and the destruction of the nation of Moab that is symbolic of the general theme of God’s victory.
Our reading, verses 6-9, focuses “this mountain”, most likely Zion or the entirety of the promised land, as a place in which victory is celebrated. There is a universalistic cant to the verses in which the fabulous feast is made “for all peoples.” That theme is continued in verses that declare that all peoples and all nations will have the shroud, or sheet of sorrow taken away from them – all tears will be wiped away. If we explore verses 1-5, we will find a typically Isaiah theme – that of the remnant. Here they are joined by peoples from other nations to see and witness the victory of God over sorrow. Its theme joins nicely with Peter’s sermon in the alternate first reading.
Breaking open Isaiah:
1. Are you a part of the remnant, the faithful? How?
2. What victories of God have you witnessed?
3. What tears do you need to have wiped away?
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Confitemini Domino
1 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.
The first two verses of the Psalm introduce us to a psalm of thanksgiving – most likely a liturgical psalm, given the repetitive nature of the first four verses. We are given just a snippet of the thanksgivings that are mentioned in the psalm (God as helper and protector, victory over other nations, the day of salvation, God’s visitation to Israel with a savior, and finally, God’s mercy. One commentator sees this psalm as a victory song reformulated to celebrate the return of the exiles from Babylon, and the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The clues for that scenario lie in verses 19 and 20 which describe opening the gates of victory, and entry. The verses that make this such a fitting psalm for Easter Day are verses 17 and 18:
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.
The cornerstone in this psalm is Israel – rejected by the nations, now becomes the keystone of the building – God’s creation.
Breaking open the Psalm:
1. How is God’s steadfast love eternal for you?
2. From what has God delivered you?
3. When have you nearly fallen, and God picked you up?
The 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.
This reading is of paramount importance on Easter Day. Reginald Fuller introduces this particular reading in his book on the Resurrection Narratives with this paragraph: “The Resurrection Narratives of the Gospels are by no means the earliest tradition of the Easter events which we have in the New Testament. Writing in the middle of the first century A.D. to the Christian community at Corinth, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the traditions which he had delivered to them when he had established the community there in A.D. 49-51.”Fuller goes on to remind us that Paul did not compose this tradition, but rather passed it on from the others who had given it to him. To reflect on an ancient tradition that precedes the Gospel accounts causes me to tremble.
Hans Conzelmann in his commentary on I Corinthians reminds us of the importance of this tradition, “Here the idea of tradition is fundamental. Faith is dependent upon the transmitting of faith, and therewith upon the witnesses and the preachers.” It is with this notion that we see the role that this reading plays in the Easter mystagogy that will follow our celebrations of the Resurrection. As Paul reviews the Easter Event and what follows, the witnesses, and the apostles, we are given an almost credal account of what was experienced. There seem to be two groups: the first composed of Cephas and then The Twelve, and a second group: 500 brothers, James and all of the apostles, and last of all Paul. “So we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” Here is the heart of Christian ministry, proclamation, and liturgy. This is the verse to return to year after year, celebration after celebration – allowing us to center in the proclamation: “The Lord is risen – risen indeed!”
Breaking open I Corinthians:
1. How would you describe your Easter faith?
2. What does this day and its solemnities say to you?
3. What do you say to others?
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.
Raymond Brown titles this pericope as “The Risen Jesus: - Scene One”. John will treat us to several other scenes, while Mark (below) will leave us breathless with a simple scene and the women. Here there is only one woman, Mary Magdalen, and in her John would have us see the primary and intimate nature of her witness. The second seen will be Thomas, and as a result we will compare the Easter scene and the faith that evolves for each of these characters. One is immediate and profound, the other is more involved and will be explored on a coming Sunday.
John outlines Easter perception for us in the person of Mary, who comes to the tomb, reports what she has seen, and then returns to the tomb, there to confront the Risen One and her own grief. In the midst of this we have the experience of Peter and the Beloved Disciple, but their experience is not as gripping as that of the Magdalene. There are several traditions here, and each of them ought to be honored: Peter sees the burial cloths, but makes nothing of it, the Beloved Disciple sees the cloths and believes, and Mary returns to the tomb to make something of it and encounters the Lord. One wonders if John’s agenda here is to reflect our own experience of hearing the news, “He is risen!”
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. With which character do you identify?
2. What is your history of dealing with the Easter story?
3. Jesus doesn’t allow Mary to touch him, but does allow Thomas to do so – what do you make of that?
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.
I prefer this reading. I like its simplicity and its humanity, especially the ending. The fear of the women indicates the impossible implications of the event, and the thoughts that will engage them as they wrestle with their witness. What leads up to the revelation are some very human concerns: the early hour, the rolling back of the stone, the discovery of the open tomb. These women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, were indeed blessed, for it is an angel that deciphers the scene for them and sets the agenda for those who would still feel called to follow Jesus. Mark keeps cluing us in to the story of Jesus, where he is mentioned as “the Nazarene”, and as the one who was crucified – the parenthesis of the story. The connection with God the Father is underscored here as well. As the angel explains, Jesus has been raised from the dead. The women are marked as apostles, for they are enjoined to share the news with Peter and the disciples.
And what are we to make of their fear? Was it holy fear, having been in awe at God’s presence and act, or was it fear of what they were being called to do – being witnesses to the Resurrection? It is a fear that silences them. If indeed this is the ending to Mark’s Gospel (there is a longer ending), then the future is written by others and seen by others (see the Second Reading for today).
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. What troubles you about the Easter story?
2. What gets in the way of your belief?
3. Which of these two readings do you prefer? Why?
General idea: For whom is this story given?
Idea 1: Easter hope is for everyone (First Reading, Psalm)
Idea 2: Learning to hear the witness of others (Second Reading)
Idea 3: Living with our humanity and with our grief (Gospels)
Questions and comments copyright © 2021, Michael T. Hiller
 Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987, page 83.
 Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), Page 9.
 Hans Conzelmann, I Corinthians, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975, page 249.
 Raymond Brown, The Anchor Bible, The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi), (Garden City: Doubleday & Company Inc. 1970), page 979.