We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Easter Year B

 "Noli Me Tangere" (Touch Me Not)
– Correggio (1534) 

I.Theme –   Easter celebrates the  reality of Jesus’ resurrection in all its many aspects.  Hope, Transformation, Evangelism and a new life.

John’s Gospel, one of the longer accounts of the Resurrection, shows the ability of the risen Christ to bring transformation and hope into the most difficult situations of human pain and grief is powerfully and movingly highlighted. With this encounter, John ‘leads the reader from the empty tomb to that which is the real meaning of the resurrection – the creation of a new relationship between Jesus and those who believe in him.’

By contrast, Mark’s account is the shortest. And in Mark’s account, not even the women, who faithfully come to the tomb on that first morning, go out to proclaim the good news–instead, they flee in terror and amazement, and say nothing to anyone (vs. 8).   However, it should be noted and appropriate that  the first witnesses to the Resurrection are women,  who would not have been considered reliable witnesses at the time.  It is a life changing event and one outside our normal expectations. The Resurrection is The Resurrection of Jesus, though foretold in the Gospels, was never expected or understood by the people closest to Jesus. It is something new, something amazing, something so wondrous that it takes a while for it to sink in. 

The Corinthians reading is the oldest of all testimonies to our Lord’s resurrection from the apostle Paul. Indeed, the point at which 1 Corinthians 15 stands closest to the Gospels is the identification of Simon Peter (Cephas: verse 5) as among the first to whom the risen Lord appeared (cf. Mark 16:7; Luke 24:34; John 21:1-8). At this point, Paul’s list omits the most obvious part of all the gospel resurrection narratives, when his account is set next to them — where are the women? Paul’s writings precede the writing of the Gospels. It is historically impossible to know what kind of information Paul received from others about the resurrection.   The point is that while Paul was late to the Church, Paul senses God’s presence and grace and that Jesus dies to save sinners for all.  

The Acts reading emphasizes the broader nature of the resurrection spreads the message of Christ to all and in particular the Gentiles.  It is Peter’s missionary speech to Cornelius, a Gentile centurion, and his household. The conversion of Cornelius marks an important turning point in the understanding of God as impartial and consequently the outreach of the Church to Gentiles. Many “circumcised believers” (11:2) rejected and feared the possible inclusion of Gentiles in the Church, but Luke makes clear that Peter himself (even before Paul) began the mission to the Gentiles under the direction of the Holy Spirit (1:8) because his idea of God had changed. 

The Psalms speak to the type of life we receive in Christ. 

1. In death to sin, self, and the world (v.3a; cf. 2:20; Rom. 6:6-11)
2. In spiritual resurrection to newness of life (v.1a; cf. 2:12-13; Rom. 6:6, 11)
3. In new, spiritual life, aliveness to God (vv. 3b, 4a; cf. Rom. 6:11, 13)
4. In resurrection glory (v.4b; cf. Rom. 8:17-18; 2 Thess. 1:10) 

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm – Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Page 760, BCP 
Epistle- Acts 10:34-43
Epistle- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel John 20:1-18
Gospel – Mark 16:1-8

II. Summary

Old Testament Isaiah 25:6-9

Our passage is found in the section of the book of Isaiah, chapters 24-27, which deals with the judgement of the world and the ultimate deliverance of Israel. It follows a more specific section dealing with judgement on the pagan nations, those nations which sought to destroy Judah and Israel, chs.13-23. Chapter 24 is an apocalyptic poem which predicts world-wide judgement and is followed by our two poems for study: A song of praise for God’s deliverance, 25:1-5, and salvation for all the nations in Mount Zion, 25:6-8

This poem speaks of the final day of salvation and makes a number of points which, for the people in Isaiah’s day, would be regarded as quite revolutionary. In the coming day, the nations will gather as one people in Jerusalem. It will be a time of fellowship, of feasting, a time of great joy for all peoples and not just the descendents of Abraham. It will also be a time when death will be no more; the tears of mourning will be wiped away. In that day all will rejoice in the God in whom they trust.

The concept of all the nations sharing in the day of salvation at the coming of the kingdom of God is not new, but was seldom considered by the people of Israel. As for the notion of a defeated death, of no more dying, or even better, of resurrection, this was indeed a novel idea. For us, even now we experience unity in the church through oneness in Christ, and we experience new life through the resurrection-life of Christ. We look forward to the day of Christ’s return when we will all be completely one in Christ and the tears and mourning of death will be wiped away.

Psalm   Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Page 760, BCP 

This was Martin Luther’s favorite Psalm

Vv. 1-2 are a call to thanksgiving: God’s mercy, his “steadfast love”, is everlasting. May “Israel” (v. 2) and “those who fear the Lord” (v. 4) proclaim this! Following this is the the voice of an individual worshipper sounds out, bearing thankful testimony to a personal experience of God’s rescue from a situation of danger and distress (vv. 5-18).

Vv. 5-13 say that, when the psalmist (possibly the king) was in distress, he “called on the Lord”, who heard him. With God on his side, there is nothing to fear; trusting in God is better than trusting in humans. Surrounded by his enemies, “in the name of the LORD I cut them off” (v. 12), with God’s help. V. 15 recalls Exodus 15:2a, Israel’s classic victory song sung by Moses and the Israelites after crossing the Reed Sea.

The “glad songs” (v. 15) are heard in the Temple, the community of the faithful. The psalmist expects to live to old age (v. 17). The voice of personal testimony includes the striking words, ‘I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount then deeds of the Lord’ (v. 17).

He has suffered greatly at God’s hands, as a discipline, but God has preserved his life. He seeks entrance to the Temple (“gates of righteousness”, v. 19) to give thanks; only the godly may enter therein (v. 20). V. 22, possibly based on an ancient proverb, may speak of the king’s rise to power or his victory. On this day (v. 24) God has either saved his people or punished the ungodly – or both.

‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’ (v. 22; quoted in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7). The clear implication that powerful people in Israel were complicit in the utter rejection of this individual, mistakenly judging him unsuited for the proposed (kingly?) role, together with the surprising news of Yahweh’s subsequent vindication, makes natural the repeated New Testament application of v. 22 to Jesus.

This is a time for rejoicing. In v. 26, all proclaim he who was “rejected” (v. 22), but is now God’s chosen ruler. All the faithful share in the power and blessing of God, who “has given us light” (v. 27). The cry of the congregation, ‘Save us, we beseech you, O Lord’ (v. 25a), once the Hebrew is transliterated into Greek, gives the word ‘Hosanna’ 

Epistle – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians speaks of the resurrection as a contemporary event that continues to save us, not just once but throughout our lives. Paul recognizes that his resurrection experience is anomalous, different in kind from Jesus’ first followers who met him in the world of the flesh. Paul has a mystical encounter with a being of light. Perhaps, like the burning bush Moses encountered, that light had been guiding Paul’s way, even in his persecution of the church. It might have been revealed in feelings of restlessness, uneasiness with his actions, and insights that he could not fully fathom…until that mystic moment when the doors of perception were opened (William Blake) and he experienced Christ in all his infinity, and heard God’s magnificent word, “Yes!” – “Yes” even to a persecutor of the faith.

Paul proclaims that his resurrection journey has been synergetic. Paul has worked hard. He believed he has excelled his fellow apostles in ardor, but his efforts were never solitary nor were his achievements entirely of his making. The grace of resurrection has energized, guided, and inspired him every step of the way. God’s vision has become the center of Paul’s reality in a way similar to Jesus’ alignment and unity with God’s aim toward healing, wholeness, and transformation. Christ is in Paul, and Christ’s presence fills him with hope for a glorious future and confidence that he will have the resources to share good news wherever he goes.

Epistle  –   Acts 10:34-43

These verses contain Peter’s speech in the home at Caesarea of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. It shows the role of the spirit in the early church

Peter’s address was the outcome of two visions, the first given to Cornelius (10:1-8) in which he was instructed to send to Joppa for Peter, and the second to Peter himself (10:9-16) in which he was directed to kill and eat animals regarded as unclean in Jewish law. It is a summary of the gospel from this newly gained perspective that the mission and good news of the risen Christ who is now ‘Lord of all’ (v. 36b), does not exclude anyone on account of racial or other human-created distinctions. The message to be preached is one that proclaims both the universal authority of the risen Jesus (‘he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead’ v. 42), and, deriving from that authority, the inclusive promise of forgiveness ‘through his name’, to everyone without exception who ‘believes in him’ (v. 43).

He tells the assembled company that God does not favor Jews over others: anyone, whatever his nationality, who reveres God and lives in unison with him “is acceptable to him” (v. 35). In vv. 36-38, Peter summarizes Jesus’ earthly ministry; he applies prophecies found in Isaiah 52:7 and 61:1 to Christ. (Psalm 107:20 says “… he sent out his word …”) Christ is Kyrios, “Lord of all” (v. 36).

In baptism, the Father “anointed” (v. 38) Jesus “with the Holy Spirit” and with the “power” of God (but he was already integral with God’s very being.) The good news (“message”, v. 37) spread throughout Palestine (“Judea”); he “went about” (v. 38) “doing good” and combatting evil, doing deeds so powerful that it is clear that he was God’s agent: he is a model for all to follow. He suffered death as one guilty of a capital offence, per Deuteronomy 21:23: he hung on a “tree” (v. 39) and was cursed. (By Jesus’ time, the “tree”, a pole, had acquired a cross-arm.)

But, although cursed, the Father “raised him” (v. 40) and “allowed him to appear” to those chosen by God – to be “witnesses” (v. 41). In Luke 24:41-43, Jesus eats broiled fish with them, so he was clearly humanly alive again, i.e. physically brought back from death, resurrected. Jesus, the Kyrios, is the one appointed by God to set up the Kingdom and to judge both those who are alive and those who have died at Judgement Day (v. 42). Then v. 43: he fulfills many Old Testament prophecies: he is the one through whom sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is now available to “everyone who believes”, not just to Jews.

Gospel –  John 20:1-18

Early on Sunday morning (“the first day of the week”), before dawn, Mary Magdalene (witness to Jesus’ death and burial) comes to the tomb and finds that the “stone” door has been rolled back, so she and those with her (“we”, v. 2) tell “Peter and the other disciple” (traditionally thought to be John) that they suspect that someone has removed the body. The “other disciple”, apparently younger, outruns Peter (v. 5). But the orderliness of the “cloth” (v. 7) and “linen wrappings” show that the body has neither been stolen nor spiritualized. John, when he sees, comes to trust that God is active; by implication, Peter does not understand yet. They do not yet understand the significance of what is occurring (v. 9), of how it fits into God’s plan, because they have not yet fully received the Holy Spirit.

The remainder of the reading (vv. 11-18) concentrates on the experiences of the solitary Mary Magdalene in the garden: her weeping (v.11a); her sight of two angels inside the tomb and her response to their question about the cause of her tears (vv. 11b-13); her sudden sight of the ‘gardener’ whom she failed to recognise as Jesus (v.14); Jesus’s identical question to that of the angels, with the additional and significant, ‘Whom are you looking for?’ (v. 15a;) and Mary’s uncomprehending response (v.15b).

She recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. But something has changed: they are in a new relationship: “do not hold on to me” (v. 17). Since he has not yet reached his goal of returning to the Father she must not cling to him or try to keep him to herself (v.17a). Significantly, Mary again becomes an ‘apostle to the apostles’, charge with a message of promise (ascension) as much as of fulfilment (resurrection), conveyed in a manner that highlights the deepened relationship his followers would enjoy with the risen, ascended Jesus as his brothers and sisters, and with the Father as his beloved children (vv.17b-18).

John is concerned to show that the order established by the resurrection of Jesus means that we are invited into God’s new world, in which we experience the most profound and intimate relationship with Christ (as brother) and with God (as Father).

Gospel – Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8 in its simplicity paints the picture of an empty tomb and an open future. In no way does its starkness or lack of post-resurrection encounters weaken its witness to the amazing realities of Easter morning. The stone has been rolled away, the tomb is empty, and the future is full of promise. We don’t need the exact details of resurrection to believe that Christ is alive, unbound and ever-present.

It is good that the first witnesses are women, whose testimony would not be considered reliable in first century courts of law. The resurrection cannot be reduced to mere fact anymore than the moment of conception or the wonder of life can be reduced to political wrangling. Resurrection is beyond rationality – though not irrational – and invites us to a deeper vision of ourselves and the world. Whether we see resurrection in terms of energetic quantum body, a spirit body, or a paranormal experience encompassing a whole community and continuing to this day, resurrection will always defy the reasoning of those who reduce everything to what can be experienced through the five senses or the bottom line. In fact, we are learning that the five senses are just the tip of the iceberg of experience and reality. As important as facts are to everyday life, they gain their significance by the unseen and unspeakable lying within and beyond them.

Still, the women’s question haunts us in our every day experience, “Who will roll away the stone for us?” There are boulders that stand in the way of the future, that block the pathways of hope, and imprison us in fear and self-limitation. Resurrection turns boulders into highways and limits into possibilities.

The messenger at the tomb tells the women that Jesus is going ahead of them. This is our hope as well, that Jesus is present in whatever futures we face and he is working in all things to bring forth God’s shalom and inspire us toward partnership in healing the world. The women are overcome with awe and amazement – even terror – and initially don’t tell anyone, but eventually the word gets out. They go forth to the male disciples and to Galilee and discover the spirit, energy, and life of Christ is there to meet them. Like the most important things in life, resurrection can’t be reduced to mere fact – or the suppositions of scholars who speak of stolen bodies or carcasses eaten by dogs – but pushes us and our experience toward new horizons of wonder and amazement. More than that, it is wonder and amazement that gives us the energy and inspiration, like those first women and men who witnessed resurrection, to transform the world.

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

Old Testament Isaiah 25:6-9
PsalmPsalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Page 760, BCP
Epistle 11 Corinthians 15:1-11
Epistle 2Acts 10:34-43
Gospel 1
John 20:1-18
Gospel 2Mark 16:1-8