Posts Tagged 'resurrection'

For June 8, 2014: Pentecost, Year A

The Reading            Numbers 11:24-30

The book of Numbers tells of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness. As the current reading opens, Moses has cried out for help in dealing with the people’s complaints, and the Lord has commanded him to gather seventy elders to manage things. Then something Pentecost-like happens.

The Response            Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Psalm 104 celebrates the power of the Lord, who has only to look at the earth to make it tremble—but it also celebrates the wisdom of the Lord in creating and sustaining quite simply all that there is.

The Second Lesson            Acts 2:1-21

The name Pentecost comes from the phrase pentekoste hemera ‘fiftieth day’, by which Greek-speaking Jews like Luke referred to the feast of Shavuot or First Fruits fifty days after Passover. As Luke tells it, all the nationalities converging on Jerusalem to be Israelite for this Shavuot experience mind-bending phenomena.

The Gospel            John 20:19-23

The Gospel reading takes us back to the evening of the Resurrection. The disciples have heard rumors but can’t entirely believe them—and then, quite unexpectedly, Jesus appears alive among them.

 

Ponderables

The readings for Pentecost all bear on the gift of the Holy Spirit. The psalmist’s account is the most orthodox in reminding us that all life on earth is itself the gift of the Spirit as the Lord chooses. The remaining lessons show human reactions to the gift appearing where it’s not expected. As Numbers tells it, the Spirit that comes on the elders in the wilderness is diverted from Moses and, worse, given to two men who aren’t even at the tent with the other 68; Moses’ assistant Joshua reacts to news of the errant gift with what sounds like jealousy. John 20:19-23 shows us the Spirit as simply Jesus’ breath—but in verse 25 Thomas will declare that, because Jesus didn’t appear to him, it can’t have happened. In the familiar account of Acts 2, the Spirit comes as wind and fire and leads the disciples huddled in Jerusalem to speak in other languages; some onlookers wonder how mere Galilean fisherman could possibly be so gifted while others simply dismiss them as publicly drunk, or at least full of spirits less pure.

As shocking as the flame and languages are, however, Peter’s explanation includes assertions that are even more eye-opening to those in Jerusalem and all the welter of nationalities that have converged on Jerusalem to be Israelite experience two utterly mind-bending phenomena: “God’s people” means absolutely everyone.

How often do we take it upon ourselves to decide where and how and to whom the Spirit ought to be given? And how do we help God help us stop doing that?

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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 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.