Posts Tagged 'Easter'

For April 20, 2014: Easter Day, Year A

The Reading            Jeremiah 31:1-6

In the time of Jeremiah, Israel was in bad shape; outlying tribes such as Ephraim distrusted the royal double dealing in Jerusalem, neighbors such as Samaria were regarded with disdain, and exile and violence were visited on the land. Jeremiah, surprisingly, foretells the party of parties: the Lord, for love, will bring all the families of Israel home.

The Response            Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Jeremiah’s exuberance is mirrored in Psalm 118. God’s grace has come to one threatened with death, and the result is vindication beyond all hope of human achieving.

The Second Reading            Acts 10:34-43

Simon the Galilean fisherman would have shunned non-Jews, especially agents of the Roman empire; as Peter the Greek-named apostle, however, he is called by the Spirit to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius to announce the great good news that Jesus is the Lord of absolutely all of us, no matter whom.

The Gospel            John 20:1-18

The Resurrection account in the gospel of John, written after the other gospels, may be the most heartbreaking: not only is Jesus stone cold dead, but his body is missing and Mary Magdalene can only assume that it is stolen. Just imagine her shock when the gardener turns out to be Jesus—and imagine her joy!

 

Ponderables

The word of Jeremiah is not for settled, successful homebodies. It is for people wearied by factionalism, strife, and exile. There should have been no hope of things getting better—except that God has other plans.

The word of the psalmist is not for those who win under their own power. It is for and by people stretched to the limit and beyond. There should have been no hope of rescue—except that God has other plans.

The word of Peter is not for those who profit by division. It is for people too desperate for truth to keep playing by the old rules. There should have been no hope of reconciliation—except that God has other plans.

The word that Jesus speaks is not for the comfortable nor the conventionally pious. It is for those for whom worse has come to worst, who have lost even the cold comfort of performing the last rites for their best dreams. There should have been no hope of new life from death—except that God has other plans.

As we rejoice in Easter, let us not forget those who are exhausted, stressed, wounded by division, or in any kind of grief. If we are not among them right now, we surely will be. More to the point, it is for them that God the Ever-Living and Ever-Loving has other plans.

And is it not up to us, God’s people, to show the world through our love just how true these words are?

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For April 19, 2014: The Great Vigil of Easter, Year A

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD

The Story of Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The Response: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

The Flood: Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13

The Response: Psalm 46

Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea: 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

The Response: Canticle 8 (Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18)

The Valley of Dry Bones: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Response: Psalm 143

These four readings and their responses relate the story of humankind before the mighty acts of Easter. Genesis follows the light and delight of God’s very good Creation with the tale of how an Earth sullied by sin is scoured by the once-in-an-eternity Flood. Exodus relates the flight from Egypt, from whining Israelites to God’s literally one-sided victory over Pharaoh’s forces. Ezekiel, one of many prophets to decry the incapacity of humans on their own to be holy enough, uses the arresting image of dry bones called to life to symbolize the saving power of God.

 

AT THE EUCHARIST

The Epistle            Romans 6:3-11

During the weeks of Lent, the readings took into account the somberness of the season but also looked forward to the joy of Easter. Now the first epistle we read in Easter proclaims our liberation from sin but also looks back to the suffering that has once and for all freed us from sin’s bonds.

The Response            Psalm 114 Page 756, BCP

Psalm 114 celebrates the events of the reading from Exodus in which Israel is delivered from the power of Pharaoh. Even mountains and sea are shaken by God’s great deed!

The Gospel            Matthew 28:1-10

Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus differ in details—Matthew’s is the only one that mentions an angel-caused earthquake and guards terrified into catatonia—but the general outlines are consistent: messengers of God remind two or more women that Jesus is risen, just as he promised, and they instruct the women to bid the disciples join him in Galilee.

 

Ponderables

Matthew’s version of Jesus’ resurrection includes the counsel “Do not be afraid,” twice. The first time, these words are uttered by the angel who rolled the stone away from the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid. It seems that angels—in Greek, literally ‘messengers’—in their proper forms are so terrifying as to make hardened soldiers swoon. The second time, the words come from the mouth of the risen Jesus himself. He comes not as the familiar Rabbi with whom the disciples had eaten and walked and lived but as a transformed and astonishing messenger with other business elsewhere.

So the messenger always begins, “Don’t be afraid.”

Then the messenger passes on the sort of word that turns one’s world upside down.

The most obviously counter-to-reality claim that Jesus had ever made—that he would return from death to life—has come true, nail marks and all.

And if that is true, think of all the other things Jesus has said that are preposterous within the world as most of us know it. In God’s realm, the meek inherit the earth. The nobodies matter at least as much as the big shots. The genuine leaders are those who serve. The whole of the Law is summed up as “Love God with all your might, and love each other enough to be Christ to each other.” The people of God are each called to follow Jesus to our own crosses—and to the life beyond.

How on earth can we live up to all of that? We can’t.

But how in heaven’s name can we say no?

For April 7, 2013: 2 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 5:27-32

During and after Jesus’ execution, the disciples had cringed and cowered as the authorities took steps to ensure no further trouble from Jesus’ followers. The book of Acts, however, recounts the astonishing lengths to which, with Jesus risen, the faithful would go to proclaim the Good News.

The Response            Psalm 118:14-29

The Second Reading            Revelation 1:4-8

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first word in it—the Greek word apokalypsis, which means ‘an uncovering or revealing’. In these opening verses, John greets us in the name of Jesus Christ, witness, liberator, ruler of kings, priest of priests, beginning and end.

The Gospel            John 20:19-31

“‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”

 

Further thoughts

In the evening of the day that Jesus arose, Thomas expressed doubt. Feeling whipsawed after the exhilaration of following Jesus in the flesh followed by the fearsome and horrible events of the crucifixion, Thomas is understandably reluctant to entrust his heart again, until Jesus reveals himself, wounds and all. Notice that the believing disciples are nevertheless still hiding in the upper room in fear of the authorities: there may be less distance between them and “doubting Thomas”—and between them and us—than is apparent in our popular myths about who the disciples are that we are not.

The reading from Acts is set weeks, after Pentecost, after the coming of fire and wind and speaking in languages one had not known before. The once-timorous disciples are now publicly preaching and teaching the risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins. The authorities are distinctly unhappy with this: what is being said runs against their ideas of what is true worship, but it also puts them in a difficult position with respect to their Roman overlords, who disapprove of the sort of public unrest that the disciples’ statements are bound to foment. It seems, though, that no threat that the authorities can unleash is enough to shut these men up about Jesus and his love and forgiveness. Is there more distance between them and us than exists in our beliefs about ourselves as Christians?

The difference between us is not, I suspect, that the original disciples became sinless. That would make them other than human. But equally clearly they’re not shackled by what they do or have done wrong, and Acts is permeated with their support for and love of each other. Might this mean that forgiveness—the getting of it and the giving of it—by releasing each of us from the shackles of self, is among the most important ministries in which we can participate?

For March 31, 2013: Easter Sunday, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 65:17-25

On Good Friday Jesus died, and hope died with him. Isaiah the prophet wrote at another time when it seemed that hope had died—but Isaiah’s words ring out like great bells to bring us back to hope beyond hope.  Yet even Isaiah’s vision is for long life, not everlasting life.

The Response            Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24

The Second Reading            Acts 10:34-43

The hope that Isaiah sketched out comes to full flower in Jesus Christ. This hope is summarized in today’s reading from Acts, Simon Peter’s first speech to non-Jews: Jesus Christ died for our sins, he is alive, and through him everyone everywhere is acceptable to God. Alleluia!

The Gospel            John 20:1-18

“‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

 

Further thoughts

If there is a unifying theme to today’s readings, it is surely Psalm 118:23: “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Isaiah prophesies a time of unprecedented and nearly unthinkable peace and plenty for man and beast: imagine a world in which a cat has a canary to but not for lunch, in which a Walmart worker needs no food stamps, in which no child grows up in a refugee camp, in which long life is crowned by wisdom, not Alzheimer’s.

The psalmist proclaims salvation and righteousness through the Lord—a God who, unlike the classical gods, intervenes in human affairs neither for sport nor spite but rather for mercy’s sake.

The gospel reading tells of unbelievable news become believable: when Jesus’ pierced and tortured body has vanished from the tomb, his followers can only surmise that this apparent body-snatching is yet another horror in a series of horrors—until Jesus, alive, calls Mary by name.

My favorite is the account from Acts. This simple but stirring summary fulfills the promise of Isaiah and the psalmist. Furthermore, consider the messenger.  The Galilean peasant fisherman Simon grew up regarding non-Jews as blue-state intruders on his cozy Galilean red-state mentality, and he almost certainly nursed a remorse hangover through Passover weekend after having denied Jesus three times. Yet here he is, brashness and all, announcing the astonishing news that the God who worked this miracle intends it not just for Israel but for absolutely everybody. If Simon the betrayer can become Peter the rock, what miracle of regeneration might be in store for me?

For March 30, 2013: the Great Vigil of Easter, Year C

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD: God acts to create and restore the world

The story of Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The Response: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

The Flood: Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13

The Response: Psalm 46

Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea: 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

The Response: Canticle 8 (Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18)

Salvation offered freely to all: 
Isaiah 55:1-11

The Response: Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)

The valley of dry bones: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Response: Psalm 143

 

AT THE EUCHARIST

The Epistle            Romans 6:3-11

During the weeks of Lent, the readings took into account the somberness of the season but also looked forward to the joy of Easter. The first epistle we read in Easter rings out our joy, as Isaiah puts it, but it also looks back to the suffering that has freed us from sin.

The Response            Psalm 114

The Gospel            Luke 24:1-12

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

 

Further thoughts

People in Jesus’ place and time had a pretty good idea what death looked like, what with infant mortality, childhood and adult diseases, death in childbirth, farming accidents, the various ailments associated with old age, and the occasional murders, executions and suicides. Adult women, in particular, knew well what they were supposed to do about it: wash the body (especially if there were blood), treat it with spices against stench, dress it, and straighten the mangled or emaciated limbs in preparation for burial.

They were clearly quite unprepared, however, for the idea of rising from death.

We postmillenials have the advantage of two thousand years of exposure to the idea through scripture, analysis, sermons, and old-fashioned hindsight, but it’s not clear to me that we are really any better prepared for the reality of resurrection than were Jesus’ grieving friends. It’s hard to imagine being resurrected to anything but a life like the one that we now lead, with its dishes to wash and its bills to pay. That’s unsurprising, of course: this is the life we know.

It’s the case, however, that many people who have undergone a near-death experience live differently, at least for a while. They wash the dishes and pay the bills, but—like Scrooge at the end of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—they live more in the moment, and they are much more mindful of the wonder of the world around them and the people in it.

And we who still stand on this side of the grave—what if we are called to do likewise?

For April 8, 2012: Easter Day, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 25:6-9

Isaiah the prophet foresaw the disaster that overcame the people of God when they were taken into exile in Babylon. In today’s reading he foresees them rejoicing in their redemption and return to Jerusalem through the power of God. We  Christians read into this Jesus rising to destroy death and sin, and for all peoples. Hallelujah!

 

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 15:1-11

The Corinthians were, like humans in all times and places, a bit thick-headed. In today’s reading Paul underlines for them the main points of the gospel story: Jesus truly did die for our sins and rise again, appearing to the apostles (“Cephas” is Peter) and even to a soul as misguided as Paul had been. Hallelujah!

 

Further thoughts

As the selection today from the gospel of Mark ends, two ladies named Mary, grieving for Jesus, have just gotten news so astonishing that they can neither believe it nor share it, and they run away.

This may help explain why it is customary that one of the readings for Easter Day be Acts 10:34-43. Peter’s simple but stirring summary of the Good News fills in the rest of the story. Even better for us Gentiles, Peter insists that the resurrection is no longer merely a Jewish affair: Jesus lived and died and lives again for anyone from any background who believes in him.

Today’s other readings drive home much the same point, though in somewhat different ways. Isaiah, looking forward from the hard times around the exile in Babylon, shows us the mountaintop where the Lord will prepare the feast of feasts. For those of us who have (or could use) memberships at a gym, the allure of marrow and fat may be a little hard to understand—but what human could resist the allure of an end to grief, frustration, disgrace or fear of disgrace, and even death itself? What is more, Isaiah tells us, The Lord will feast all peoples, take death from all nations, and wipe tears from all faces—all of them.

It falls to Paul to summarize the Good News, though here he is reminding the Corinthians rather than announcing it for the first time. Paul takes the rest of the account in a different direction. We know that Jesus is risen, Paul tells us, because he appeared in the flesh to Cephas or Peter, the other apostles, and many other believers; we know that Jesus died for people’s sins, Paul tells us, because the scriptures say so; but the fact that Jesus appeared even to the likes of the church-persecuting monster Saul of Tarsus (for Paul’s phrase “untimely born” can be paraphrased as “congenitally deformed”) is how I am to know that Jesus’ death and love are enough even for my sins.

And that is astonishing good news indeed.

For April 7, 2012: the Easter Vigil, Year B

The Epistle            Romans 6:3-11

Jesus is both God and man, both high priest and sacrifice, and ready to forgive, if we can forget ourselves long enough to reach for the life he offers.

 

Further thoughts

With the Easter vigil begins the last and greatest day of the Triduum, the three holiest days of Christendom. What extraordinary stories this night tells!

We hear of a God in the business of producing wonders: God who can pull the universe out of nothing, God who can make rainbows, God who can part seas and change hard-headed humans’ minds.

More astonishingly, this God, as Jesus, has willingly taken on human life, and not just selected bits at a suitably high socioeconomic status but the ordinary person’s whole quotidian sequence. Then, in a shocking irony, this God-and-man has allowed the religious establishment to convict him on trumped-up charges and have him executed horribly and shamefully.

The gospel news that knocks the two Marys speechless dazzles us still: this disgraced-and-dead Jesus has not only not stayed dead, but rather he lives body and all, God and man.

But even this life after death is neither the end of the surprises nor the biggest one. The readings from Isaiah and Ezekiel, with their promise of abundance and salvation and real hearts of flesh, set us up for a magnificent, healing, joyous cosmic punch line. As with the best jokes, this one is with us, not on us. For Jesus knows the absolute worst of humanity (yea, even unto adolescence), how judgmental we can be and how obsessive about the unacceptability of what we really are inside; nevertheless he’s setting the best crystal, spicing up the deviled eggs, carving the roast beast, and loosening the corks on the best wines ever, just for us, once we get over ourselves enough to die to our own shame.

The punch line is delivered by the letter to the Romans, and it is this: once we’re dead to shame, we’re alive to receiving the love of Jesus and sharing it—and when we do, the magnificent, healing, joyous party is on NOW.