Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
Narrative Lectionary: Easter, Matthew 28:1-10 (Psalm 118:19-24)
For the season of Easter, often a reading from Acts is used instead of the Hebrew scriptures. The first selection from Acts 10:34-43 contains Peter’s bold revelation from both a vision he beheld from God in vs. 9-16 and in his encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius in 17-33. In the vision, God gave Peter food to eat that was both from clean and unclean animals, with the lesson that whatever God declared holy, others must not call profane. In Peter’s conversation with Cornelius, a Gentile, Peter understood that Cornelius’s own encounter with the Holy Spirit was valid and true. There was no need for Cornelius to become Jewish, he knew God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God shows no partiality between Jewish and Gentile, for Jesus is Lord of all. Peter and the other disciples were witnesses of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, and called to testify in his name. Peter confirmed that everyone who believes in Jesus may be forgiven of their sins through Christ’s name.
An alternative to the Acts reading is Jeremiah 31:1-6. In the midst of war, in the knowledge that the people of Judah will be taken into exile, God still brings a word of hope to the prophet Jeremiah. Just as God brought the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, God will restore the people with joy. God’s faithfulness will continue, as God’s faithful love of Israel endures forever. Even in the north, taken long ago into exile, there will be vineyards planted and wine poured, because God restores all, and even the people gone long ago will return to worship God in Zion.
Portions of Psalm 118 are read for both Palm Sunday and on Easter, with some overlap. The portion for Easter includes the declaration that God is the psalmist’s strength, might, and salvation. Death will not have a hold on the people, for they will live with God as their God. Though the people of Israel have suffered, God did not allow them to die out, but instead, they have returned to worship as the psalmist calls them into the temple. The people rejected are now the foundation of the knowledge of God around the world, for God has chosen the people of Israel to demonstrate God’s glory and salvation to all.
Colossians 3:1-4 speaks of the life of the Christian with the resurrected Christ. Believers always have a heavenly worldview. Christ has been revealed to the world, and therefore our lives are testimony to Christ’s resurrection. We have already been raised from death as we walk this earth, for death has no hold on us.
(An alternative to the Colossians reading is Acts 10:34-43, if the Jeremiah passage is chosen for the first reading).
In John’s account of the resurrection, it was still dark on the first day of the week and Mary Magdalene was by herself when she came to the tomb and discovered the stone had been rolled back. Mary went to tell Peter and the beloved disciple, who then raced to the empty tomb. Though Peter went in first, the beloved disciple went in after, and he saw and believed. Nevertheless, both he and Peter went home because they did not understand the scripture. Only Mary remained, weeping. She looked into the tomb and saw two angels. They asked her why she was weeping, because Mary thought someone had taken Jesus’s body. When she turned around, she thought she saw the gardener, who asked her the same question. She asked if he had taken the body to tell her where he had put it, so she could take care of the body. She kept asking questions. But then the gardener said her name, and she immediately recognized her teacher. Jesus warned her not to hold on to him, but instead to go and tell the disciples that he had risen and would be ascending to God (the Father). Mary then announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord and what he had spoken to her. Mary is known as the Apostle to the Apostles because she remained faithful and kept asking where Jesus was, when the other disciples went home, and even the beloved disciple who believed. A good teacher has students who ask good questions. And nevertheless, Mary persisted.
Both an alternative Gospel reading for the Revised Common Lectionary as well as the reading for the Narrative Lectionary, Matthew’s account of the resurrection contains both Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary.” Only in Matthew’s account is the stone still in place—it is rolled back by an angel after an earthquake, and the angel sits on the stone. Also, only in Matthew’s account are guards posted at the tomb, but the guards are shaken out of fear. The angel tells the women that they are looking for Jesus, but he isn’t there—he has been raised. Instead, they are to go to Galilee where Jesus will be waiting for them. The women leave to tell the disciples, out of great joy and fear, when they encounter the resurrected Christ. In John’s account, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him, but in Matthew, both women take hold of Jesus’s feet and worship him. Jesus tells them both not to be afraid, but to tell the disciples to go ahead to Galilee, for that is where they will see him.
The supplementary reading for the Narrative Lectionary is a shorter portion of Psalm 118, covered under the Revised Common Lectionary above.
It is hard to know what to say differently this year for Easter than any other year. Death does not have the last word. Love wins. Life endures forever. I’m personally drawn to Mary’s persistence in John’s account of the resurrection, out of grief, out of faithfulness—the way she continues to seek Jesus and will not give up until she has found him. Despite the despair in our world—gun violence, continued Covid-19 illnesses and death, legislation against healthcare for transgender children—the pursuit of Jesus inspires me. The pursuit of life. The pursuit of justice. Despite the hopelessness, a refusal to give up. Mary is not hopeful—she’s looking for a dead body, not a risen Savior. But she refuses to give up until she finds Jesus. And in that pursuit, she finds the unexpected.
Call to Worship
In emptiness of night,
We wait for dawn to break open.
In our grief and suffering,
We weep and look for something to hold on to.
In the finality of the tomb,
We wait for the dead to rise.
In the face of death,
We declare the Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Stormclouds and Sunshine, Springtime and Autumn, we know You are present with us in all seasons of faith. At times we sing Hallelujah with joy and declare that Christ is Risen! At times we sit quietly with our pain and loss and hold on to the small kernel of hope that we are not alone. You are with us in all seasons of our lives. On this Easter day, may we not be ashamed of our doubts or our struggles, nor may we lord over our faith on others who are skeptical. Instead, may we all come to You, reminded of Mary Magdalene who wouldn’t give up until she found you, persisting in our questions. You are our Rabbi, our Teacher, and no matter where we are on the path of faith, You are calling our name, revealing Yourself to us. May we listen and follow. Amen.
From Mary Magdalene proclaiming to the other disciples that she had seen the risen Christ, to each of us saying to one another Christ is Risen, we know that our faith is passed on, shared, and only grows over time. May you live with the assurance that in your times of struggle, others have faith enough to pray for you, help you, and care for you. May you have the grace to accept the help you need. May you pray for others in their times of struggle and be there to lift them up. May we help one another on this journey of faith, knowing that we are not alone, as we question, doubt, praise and proclaim that Christ is Risen. Go and share the good news. Amen.
God of Death and Life, Adversity and Hope, we give thanks for the celebration of Easter, of the hope of resurrection, the promise of new life found in Jesus Christ our Lord. May we remember that eternal life begins here and now and is not about life after death but a life that is transformed and transverses earth and heaven. If we seek You, may we search with all our heart so that we may find You. We pray that You would strengthen our hearts and strengthen our faith, for we know that there will be grief and pain in our lives ahead, but there is also great joy and comfort with You, and with one another. Grant us the courage to live into faith, each and every day, that You have risen and give us the hope of new life, now and forever. Amen.