Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12
Narrative Lectionary: Resurrection of our Lord, John 20:1-18 (Psalm 118:21-29)
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!
In the Easter season, the first scripture reading for the Revised Common Lectionary is usually from the book of Acts. To give some background to this passage, in chapter 10, a Roman Centurion named Cornelius was sent by a vision to Peter. Meanwhile, Peter beheld a vision in which a tablecloth was spread with all kinds of food, including foods considered unclean. A voice beckoned him to eat, but Peter refused. However, the voice told him to never consider unclean what God made clean. This was different than what Peter had been taught. Then Peter met with Cornelius, wanting to know why Cornelius sent for him when it was known that Peter, as a Jewish man, was not to associate with Gentiles, according to the writer of Acts. Note that according to The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, some Jewish people did associate with Gentiles, so this was not a universal understanding. Cornelius shared his vision from the angel. In the reading for today, Peter declares that he now understands God shows no partiality, but that the message of God is for all nations, all people. Peter understands that Jesus was sent by God, anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit, to preach peace to the people of Israel. Peter and the others witnessed his ministry along with his death on the cross, and that God raised him on the third day. Peter declares that Jesus commanded them after his resurrection to preach to the people and testify to him, and that all who believe in Jesus’ name will have forgiveness of sins.
The alternative for the first reading is from the prophet Isaiah 65:17-25. The prophet, having witnessed the return of the exiles both to their home and back to their old ways, speaks on behalf of God, who is about to create new heavens and a new earth. There will be no more sorrow or mourning, no more death. All that was in the past will be forgotten. There shall be peace in all of creation, and everything that the people have worked for, to build community, health, and well-being for all people of all ages and abilities—they shall enjoy the work of their hands and the fruit of God’s creation. God is making all things new.
The selection for the psalm is similar to Palm Sunday’s, choosing Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 (the Narrative Lectionary follows the reading from Palm Sunday as it’s secondary passage of vs. 19-29). Repeating the refrain of God’s steadfast love endures forever, this slightly different selection begins at verse 14 with songs of gladness for victory. The psalmist declares that they shall not die, but they will live. Calling the congregation to worship in the temple, as the people prepare to process in, the psalmist reminds the people that though the world rejected them, God has chosen them. This is God’s day—rejoice and be glad!
Paul declares to the church in Corinth that if Christians don’t believe that Christ was raised from the dead, we have indeed been foolish. In 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 Paul addresses the controversy where some Christians were saying it only seemed like Christ raised from the dead. Christ is the first of the new creation, as Adam was the first of the original creation. We are created as something new because of Christ, who is the one who will outlast and endure over all other rulers, and all power will come under him, including the power of death, the last enemy to be destroyed.
(If the Isaiah passage is chosen, then the Acts passage is chosen in lieu of the Epistle reading).
John 20:1-18 is the primary Gospel lesson for the Revised Common Lectionary and is the lesson for the Narrative Lectionary. All four gospels tell this story slightly differently: in John, it was still dark when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb alone and found the stone was already rolled away. Mary ran to tell Peter and the “other,” “beloved” unnamed disciple that the writer of John alludes to as being present in the second half of the gospel, and they both came running. The other disciple outran Peter, but Peter managed to go inside first, finding the linen wrappings and the cloth on Jesus’s head all rolled up neatly. The other disciple then entered the tomb, and “saw and believed.” However, both Peter and this other disciple returned to their own homes. Mary stayed. She was weeping in the garden, and she looked in the tomb and saw two angels who asked her why she was crying. She told them that “they” (we assume some local religious authorities, although it isn’t explained) had taken her Lord and didn’t know where he was. She then confronted a gardener who also asked her why she was crying, and she asked him if he had taken away the body. Then the gardener said her name, and Mary recognized her teacher. Jesus told her not to hold on to him, but to go and tell the disciples that he was ascending to God. Mary went and witnessed to the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord and told them all what Jesus said to her, the first to witness the resurrection and proclaim the good news.
An alternative selection is Luke 24:1-12. In Luke’s account, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other women who traveled with Jesus came to the tomb at early dawn. They found the stone rolled away and were perplexed. Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. These angels remark, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Then they remind the women what Jesus told them in Galilee, and they went and told the remaining disciples and “the rest,” other followers of Jesus. At this point, Peter ran to the tomb and found the linen wrappings by themselves, amazed at what happened.
Even though Jesus said that on the third day he would be raised, how could anyone believe it? How could anyone who witnessed such horrors as the crucifixion, the last and final punishment by the empire, believe that anything good could still happen? How could anyone live again after dying? Paul knew that some were skeptical and believed that Jesus only appeared to die, or appeared to live again, that it couldn’t be a physical resurrection. But that’s just it: God has done the impossible. Everything else in our world and our lives can be explained, but not this. God made life triumph over death. This is unexplainable. It is unbelievable—and yet, belief has triumphed over skepticism. Love has triumphed over hate. Life triumphs over death. The reign of Christ triumphs over the empires of the world. Christ is Risen!
Call to Worship
On the first day of the week, at early dawn,
The stone was rolled away!
The women entered the tomb,
There was no body to be found!
The angels said to them,
“Do not be afraid!
He is not here,
For Christ is Risen!”
Christ is Risen Indeed!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We confess, Loving One, that Christ is Risen Indeed! We confess that we are still beholden to worldly notions of what is final and done, and do not yet understand the fullness of Your Gospel, that Your love endures forever. Guide us from the shadows of the tomb into the radiance of dawn. May we understand now that even if we see in a mirror dimly, one day we shall understand face to face and be blown away by Your compassion, mercy, and grace. In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray all things. Amen.
We know who our Redeemer is. Flesh and blood, born as one of us, living and breathing as one of us, and dying as one of us, we confess that Christ is Risen, and there is nothing that holds us back from the love of God. Beloved, you are forgiven. You are precious to God. In Christ, you hold the resurrection, and new life that is blooming now. Go and share the Good News of Christ. Amen.
God of Ever-Flowing Life, our ancestors in the faith paused for a day after Your death. They paused before entering the tomb. They paused at the words of the angels. Life flows on in endless song, as we are taught, and nothing can stop love and life, but remind us that the pauses are necessary. Even now, as we rejoice in Your resurrection, help us to pause and ponder what it means to move from one moment to the next. Help us to remember to pause for death so that we have space to grieve, and then the space to rejoice in Your resurrection. Help us not to fill pauses with busy-ness, but to create more pauses in our life so that we might contemplate Your life, death, and resurrection, all for us, out of Your great love. For Your love and life are ever-flowing, and will sustain us in the pauses and rests. Amen.