I.Theme – Easter celebrates the reality of Jesus’ resurrection in all its many aspects. Hope, Transformation, Evangelism and a new life.
John’s Gospel 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.’
The Acts reading emphasizes the broader nature of the resurrection spreads the message of Christ to all and in particular the Gentiles.
The Psalms and Colossians 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)
"Noli Me Tangere" (Touch Me Not) – Correggio (1534)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Old Testament Jeremiah 31:1-6
Jeremiah witnessed the fall of Jerusalem. The city was first overrun by the Babylonians in 597 BC; ten years later they occupied the whole of Judea and deported many of the leaders. Today’s reading is a prophecy that the exile will end, that God will not desert Israel. It depicts the return from exile as a new exodus. The people “found grace in the wilderness” (v. 2), God loved them then and has done ever since. His love is “everlasting” (v. 3). The nation of Israel will be rebuilt, the people will make merry, and agriculture will prosper (v. 5). Even in Ephraim, the first part of the country to be conquered, the call will be to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem (“Zion”, v. 6).
Psalm Psalm 118:1-2,14-24
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 – 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.
Epistle – Colossians 3:1-4
This passage marks a transition in the letter from the philosophy being urged on the Colossians by certain false teachers (2:8-23), to a sustained appeal to the Colossian Christians to live an authentically human existence – one that is pleasing to the Lord (3:5 – 4:6).
The author has described baptism as being “raised with Christ” and becoming sharers in his suffering and death. In the early Church, those to be baptised removed their clothes before the rite and donned new ones after it, symbolizing the casting aside of their old ways (“died”, v. 3) and their new “life” in Christ. Our reading summarizes this teaching. We already have close fellowship with Christ, but this is not yet fully revealed; our lives are still “hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3), unseen by worldly people. When Christ’s glory is “revealed” (v. 4) at the end of time, our complete union with him will also be seen. (Early Christians saw Psalm 110:1, “… Sit at my right hand …”, as showing that Jewish messianic hopes are realized in Christ.)
Being baptised has ethical implications (vv. 5-17): we are to cast aside both sins of the body (v. 5) and of the mind (v. 8). “Fornication” (v. 5), porneia in Greek, means all forms of sexual immorality; the “impurity” is sexual; “passion” is lust; evil desire is self-centred covetousness; “greed” motivates a person to set up a god besides God. “The wrath of God is coming” (v. 6) at the end of time on those who indulge in immorality. In the baptised community, racial and social barriers no longer exist, for “Christ is all and in all” (v. 11).
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 -Matthew 28:1-10
On Friday, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (“the other Mary”) have seen Jesus’ body laid in the tomb, the stone door sealed, and a guard mounted. Now, soon after dawn on Sunday morning (“the first day of the week”) they return to “see” and probably to mourn. Matthew highlights important milestones with displays of cosmic power, God’s power: here, and when Jesus died, an “earthquake” (v. 2), which heralds the arrival of “an angel”, a messenger from God. The sealing of the tomb has marked death’s victory, but now God’s agent rolls back the door (“stone”) and sits on it – symbolizing Jesus’ triumph over death. The angel’s “appearance” (v. 3) shows God’s presence and power (“like lightning”); his clothing is like Jesus transfigured. The guards are paralysed with “fear” (v. 4), but the angel is no threat to the women (“Do not be afraid”, v. 5). As Jesus has told his disciples (“as he said”, v. 6), Jesus has risen from the dead. The disciples will see him again in Galilee. The women leave the tomb filled with awe (“fear”, v. 8) and “great joy”. Jesus meets the Marys again later (v. 9). That they “took hold of his feet” attests to his bodily resurrection. Jesus refers to the disciples as “brothers” (v. 10): he has forgiven them for deserting him.
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Epistle 1 – Colossians 3:1-4
Epistle 2 – Acts 10:34-43
Gospel 1 – John 20:1-18
Gospel 2 – Matthew 28:1-10