Engaging the Word: Readings for 4/5/15 (Easter Day)

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By Barbara Klugh

Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24;  1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

 Happy Easter! In this week’s readings we have an abundance of Good News. Peter realizes that the Gospel is for everyone, not just the Jews; Paul explains the significance of the Resurrection; and three women hear the astonishing news that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

St. Peter preaching at Pentecost, by Benjamin West (1738-1820). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Peter preaching at Pentecost, by Benjamin West (1738-1820). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Acts 10:34-43: The Book of Acts tells of the work of the risen Christ through the birth and growth of the early Church. This week’s pericope is so essential to understanding the history of our faith that it is appointed as the first lesson every Easter Day.

Earlier in Acts, we learn about Cornelius, a Roman centurion who is called “a devout man who feared God.”  This means he worshiped God the Father and observed Jewish practices but had not yet been circumcised. Cornelius had a vision in which he was told to send for the Apostle Peter. Meanwhile, Peter had a vision in which he was commanded to “kill and eat” animals that were unclean according Jewish food regulations. The voice told him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Then the Spirit gave him a message to go to the home of Cornelius.

Our reading begins with Peter arriving at the home of Cornelius. Cornelius must have expected something momentous to occur, because he had gathered his entire household. “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.’” Peter understands that the gospel is for all—Jews and Gentiles alike.

Peter then gives a synopsis of the gospel: Jesus was baptized, anointed by the Spirit, went about doing good, healed the oppressed, was crucified, raised by God, and appeared to selected witnesses. Peter finishes by saying, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness for sins through his name.”

The lectionary stops here, but while Peter was speaking, “The Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word,” and Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Sometimes this is called the Gentile Pentecost. This is indeed momentous, because it was the first time the anointing by Holy Spirit came before baptism.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24: A perfect psalm for Easter, our psalm is one of thanksgiving, giving public expression to God’s salvation and deliverance from death. Jesus quoted vs. 22-23, “The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” We join with the psalmist in singing vs. 24, “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

1 Corinthians 15:1-11: Paul had helped to found the church in Corinth, but later heard about problems in the church and wrote this letter to address difficult issues. This chapter discusses the Resurrection because some in the church were teaching that there was no such thing as bodily Resurrection of the dead.

Risen Lord appears on the Lake of Galilee. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Risen Lord appears on the Lake of Galilee. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Paul begins this chapter by reviewing the gospel message of salvation he had first taught to the Corinthians, “Christ died for our sins…was buried…was raised on the third day” all in fulfillment the scriptures. The Resurrection of Jesus is at the foundation of our Christian faith and is part of God’s plan.

Paul then gives eyewitness evidence of the risen Christ’s appearances—to Peter, to all the apostles, to five hundred followers,  to Jesus’ brother James, and last of all, to Paul himself. Paul considered himself to be an unfit apostle because he had persecuted the church, but, by God’s grace, he was converted and by God’s grace he works tirelessly in his ministry.

Mark 16:1-8: Good Friday ended in heartbreak. Jesus was crucified, died, and was laid in the tomb. At that time, Sabbath was about to begin, so there was no time to anoint Jesus’ body.

The finding of the empty tomb of Christ, statues by Antonio Brilla, 1889. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The finding of the empty tomb of Christ, statues by Antonio Brilla, 1889. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome went to Jesus’ tomb to do complete their sad duty. They wondered how they would roll away the heavy stone. When they arrived, they discover that the stone had already been rolled back.   A messenger, a “young man, dressed in a white robe” told them not to be afraid; that Jesus has been raised from the dead. The messenger told them to tell the disciples what they had seen and that Jesus would meet with them in Galilee. But they were amazed and terrified, and fled from the tomb. They told no one “for they were afraid.”

Many scholars are convinced that this abrupt ending  indicates that that the original ending has been lost, that the earliest manuscripts had been mutilated . Two endings were added later to round out the story, though they are obviously not from the author of Mark’s Gospel. We’ll never know for sure.

I suppose that most Christians easily embrace the Resurrection of Jesus as the central belief of their faith. But until this week, my personal view of the Resurrection was more murky. I didn’t know what happened, only that something happened, and accepted it as a mystery.

While I was researching commentaries about Chapter 15 of First Corinthians, something in me cracked open and it came to me in a flash, “Of course it [the Resurrection] is true!” I have come to know in a deep way that the Resurrection and appearances by the risen Christ are not a mystery at all, but are factually true—still astonishing and mind-boggling to be sure, but absolutely true.  If Jesus died, was buried, and remained in the tomb, that would have been the end of the story. What else but a bodily Resurrection could have changed the fearful disciples into courageous witnesses for the Gospel? If Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples and followers, there would be no Church, no New Testament, and no Christianity. But he was. Alleluia! Alleluia!

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