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Posted  April 14, 2014:

The full week of Holy Week ends and a new week and world begin with Easter Day. We're looking at the lessons for Sunday, April 20, 2014, the Day of Resurrection. Preachers and worship planners do have options or choices, between Jeremiah and Acts for the first lesson, Colossians or Acts for the second, and between John and Matthew for the gospel.

Jeremiah 31: 1 - 6

There is much to be said for retaining the pattern of the first lesson from the Old Testament, especially for those congregations for whom an Easter Vigil service, with its abundant use of the Old Testament, is not the norm. While Easter/ resurrection represents a break, they are not a break with the church's Jewish legacy which remains foundational.

This text comes from the period of Exile, which many-- especially Walter Breuggemann--have drawn upon as an analogy for the recent chapter in the life of mainline Protestantism in North America. We have known a kind of exile, a loss of power, of place, of identity and of trusted rhythms of life. The message of the first verses is of God's love and faithfulness for God's people. God is for you. God is for us. This is said so often and so blithely in many churches and by many people that it may have become part of the wallpaper or a kind of church Muzak, thus feckless. It gains force when a person or people is down, discouraged, has committed a grievous wrong, or is feeling forsaken and hopeless -- that is to say when a person or people have known an exile of their own. Preachers will do well to conjure the exiles that people in their congregations have known and are in the midst of. In such situations and times the word of 3b, "I have loved you with an everlasting love," really is good news. Moreover, God's love is not wallpaper or Muzak, that is to say ineffectual. Rather, it is--this text claims--effectual. It leads to celebration and joy (vs. 4), renewal of planting and harvesting (vs. 5), and unity of separated peoples in worship (vs. 6). In this sense, God's victorious love is about life before death not simply, as some imagine Easter to be, life after death exclusively.

Acts 10: 34 - 43

One might think of this text as "Hearing the Easter Story Again As If for the First Time." Peter, compelled by the Holy Spirit to cross a great threshold to the Gentile world and the household of Cornelius, retells the core Easter story but it is as if he is himself hearing it or hearing its implications, and its challenge to his world, for the very first time. This is helpful for the preacher, as this Sunday we tell a familiar story, just as familiar to most of us as the basic story line was to Peter. And yet it comes to Peter, in context, with a whole new set of meanings and implications.

Can Easter be that for us? Can it not be? Verses 36 to 44 are a kind of recitation of the primal Christian story or kerygma. God's message of peace, Jesus anointed by John, Jesus doing good and healing, put to death by hanging on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, witnesses, eating and drinking with the risen Lord, apostles send to preach the good news of Christ and the forgiveness of sins for all who believe. That is the basic narrative, a creed almost. Note that is about what God has done, not first of all about what we are to do. This is emphasized by the mention that the Risen Lord "appeared" to witnesses. As someone recently mentioned, there are no "sightings" of the Risen Lord only "appearances." We don't get or "sight" God, God comes to you or to us, appears of God's own choosing and initiative. The startling thing that Peter now realizes (verse 34 - 35) is that God shows no partiality, God's love is for all people. There is a tension here that is often skipped over lightly, namely that universality is often based not on a high view of Jesus Christ (what the text says) so much as a high view of human nature. Which of these informs our universality makes a lot of difference. Is it about us ("good fellows with inalienable rights") or about God, who breaks through all barriers by the cross?

Matthew 28: 1 - 10

Preachers have a choice. They can turn to John 20: 1 - 18, an option every year, or stick with the Gospel of the year, Matthew. I'll do the latter.

Matthew 28: 1 - 10, gives us the first two of the four scenes in Matthew's account of the resurrection. These two include the empty tomb and appearance of the angel, and Jesus's appearance to women. Verses 11 to 20 add the bribing of the guards and Jesus' commission to the disciples. Matthew adds considerable drama and tension to Mark's more understated and ambiguous account of the empty tomb. Here we have an earthquake, which moves the stone and an angel of the Lord, his appearance like lightning, descending to sit on the stone. This seems a nice touch: cosmic upheaval with a bit of mischief, i.e. angel sits on stone, as if to say, Bugs Bunny like, "Eh, what's up doc?" Also we have the added touch of the guards who, when all this happens, shake and "become like dead men." The Dead One is Alive, the live ones are dead. The angel does what angels do, delivers a message. And the message is also consistent, "Do not be afraid," and "He has been raised . . . he goes ahead of you to Galilee." Then as the women leave the tomb "with fear and great joy," Jesus met them, saying, "Greetings!" They worship him and he reiterates the angel's message.

So, while following the basic outline of Mark, Matthew adds a lot really, including earthquake, quaking guards, Jesus meeting the women, their worship, and Galilee. The overall effect of the additions is to make the story of the resurrection much more emphatic, unambiguous and decisive. I noted in my comments above on Acts that the resurrection accounts do not give us Jesus sightings, but rather appearances of the Risen One. What's the difference? The difference is the subject of the verbs. With sightings we human beings are the subject. "I caught sight of him heading over the hill there." With appearances, Jesus/ God is the subject of the verbs. "Jesus met them and said 'Greetings!" The further difference is between theology (who God has done and is doing) and anthropology (what we have done or are to do). Easter proclamation will tell the story of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God has promised ("You'll see him in Galilee.")


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