Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8
Narrative Lectionary: Resurrection, Luke 24:1-12 (Psalm 118:17, 21-24)
Throughout the Easter season, the Hebrew scripture selection is often replaced with a reading from Acts in the Revised Common Lectionary. We begin with Peter’s confession to the Roman centurion Cornelius, as Peter understands that Jesus came for all people, Jewish and Gentile. Peter tells Cornelius how Jesus, anointed with the Holy Spirit, healed and freed the oppressed, and how Peter and others were witnesses to all he dead, including his death. God raised Jesus on the third day, and he appeared to those who were called by God as witnesses and commanded those witnesses to preach and tell others that Jesus is the one ordained by God to judge the living and the dead. All who believe have forgiveness of sins through the name of Christ.
The alternative passage is from Isaiah 25:6-9, the prophet’s vision of the great heavenly banquet table where all people will gather for a feast with rich foods and well-aged wines. On that day, death will be swallowed up forever, and there will be no more grief and sorrow, for God is their salvation.
As with Palm Sunday, the psalm reading is from 118, overlapping a bit with last week’s reading with verses 1-2 and 14-24. This different selection covers how God is the people’s salvation, and the psalmist’s declaration that they shall not die but live. Though Israel has suffered punishment, they have survived. The gates of the temple, the gates of righteousness are opened, and the people who were rejected by the world are the foundation of God’s covenant. God is the people’s salvation, and they will rejoice.
The Epistle selection is either the reading from Acts 10:34-43 (see above) or 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth that has suffered deep division within itself and calling for reconciliation. This was a church divided by economic standing, by a hierarchal understanding in spiritual gifts, and by which human leader of the church they followed. Paul’s argument is that they are one body in Christ. In chapter 15, Paul declares what ought to unify them: that Christ died for their sins, was buried, and raised from the dead on the third day. Jesus appeared to Peter and the disciples, to his brother James and the apostles, and to many others, and then to Paul, who persecuted the church. However, even Paul was called to proclaim the good news by the grace of God. It does not matter who you are, God called believers to proclaim the good news in Jesus Christ, not in any human authority.
In John’s account of the resurrection, it was still dark when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found it empty. She told Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved, and they both ran to the tomb. Peter saw the empty tomb and the linen wrappings, but the other disciple saw after him and believed. However, they both returned to their homes, leaving Mary behind. Mary, in her grief, sees two angels in the tomb but is concerned that Jesus’ body has been taken away. She then mistakes someone for being the gardener, but when he calls her name, she immediately recognizes Jesus, calling him Teacher. Mary followed Jesus’ instructions, and told the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”
Mark’s account of the resurrection, according to scholars, is the earliest, and it’s also the shortest. Because it is so brief, and ends with no sighting of Jesus, there are later additional endings in most of our Bibles. In Mark’s account, the sun had already risen but it was early, and Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to the tomb, wondering who might be up to roll the stone back from the tomb so they could anoint Jesus’ body. However, when they arrived, they found the stone was already rolled back. They enter the tomb and discover a man dressed in white, who tells them “don’t be alarmed.” Jesus isn’t there, he has been raised. The two women are told to go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, but they flee from the tomb and say nothing to anyone. The rest of the story is left to us, to know that at some point, their fear left them, and they did go tell others.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Luke’s account of the resurrection, which takes place at “early dawn.” The women who followed Jesus from Galilee, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others went to the tomb, and found the stone rolled away, but the body missing. They saw two men in dazzling clothes, who asked them why they looked for the living among the dead. Then, they remembered Jesus’ words, and went and told the remaining disciples. The men didn’t believe them. Verse 12, which some ancient authorities do not contain, gives Peter the benefit of the doubt that he at least looked inside the tomb, and went home amazed at what happened.
The Narrative Lectionary’s scope for Psalm 118 is narrower than the Revised Common Lectionary, focusing on verse 17, “I shall not die, but I shall live.” The psalmist is thankful that God has become their salvation, and praises God for making the rejected people the cornerstone, the foundation, of God’s promises for all people. The psalmist calls the people to praise God and be thankful and rejoice, for this is the day God has made.
Focusing on John’s account, we are reminded that grief has a purpose: we are supposed to miss our loved ones when they are gone. There is nothing wrong with us for grieving—it is what we are supposed to do. The resurrection, in all three accounts referenced here, doesn’t immediately bring joy, relief, and wonder. It begins with grief, then invokes fear—but the kind of terror that comes when things are not what we expect. That moment before we recognize that it’s a surprise party and the lights have been turned on. Something incredible, amazing, and unexpected has happened. Before we can comprehend it, we are afraid. We are perplexed. Then we remember, and then we rejoice. It’s the moment in John’s account, when Mary recognizes Jesus’ voice. It’s not immediate joy; it’s first the recognition the surprise has happened. Then it turns to joy, confidence in her witness of the Lord’s resurrection. But for a brief moment, the world was caught, our hearts skipping a beat, before we adjusted to the new reality of what has happened: Christ is Risen!
Call to Worship (from Psalm 118:1-2, 23-24)
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good!
God’s steadfast love endures forever!
Let the people say,
God’s steadfast love endures forever!
This is God’s doing;
It is marvelous in our sight!
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
For Christ is Risen;
Christ is Risen Indeed!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Life, we are in awe of what You are doing in all of creation and in us. Break open our hearts of stone to perceive Your goodness and mercy. Break open our minds when we have closed ourselves off to the needs of this world. Break open our whole lives, to live into Your created intention for us: to love You and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Break us open, O God, as dawn breaks across the land. In the name of the risen Christ, who broke open the tomb, we pray. Amen.
Christ is Risen; Christ is Risen Indeed! If Christ can break forth from the tomb, there is nothing that can hold you back. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are set free to love one another in this world. Share the good news of the resurrection, of new life in Christ, now and forevermore. Amen and Amen!
God of the Banquet Table, we graciously thank You for the invitation, and we humbly remember that we all have a place at Your table. Help us to make room for those we have forgotten. Help us to move down to let those we have left out have their rightful place. Help us to serve one another. For we know Your vision of life is an eternal one: a full life where all are welcome, and will hunger and thirst no more. Help us to live into Your vision, and to make sure everyone knows they are invited and welcome to Your table. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.