Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Easter Sunday, Year A, April 16, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think
Easter's First Light at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

"We should not see the event as proving resurrection as a belief, since that would have been widespread. It was more that this Jesus had been raised, had been raised first of all, and, as follows later in the chapter, has a role to exercise and a commission to give. That commission, in turn, directs attention to the ministry and teaching of Jesus as the good news."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Easter Sunday,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"It is only fitting that just as the tomb will not contain Jesus, neither can Mark's story. Jesus is not bound by its ending; he continues into the future God has in store for the creation."
Commentary, Rolf Jacobson, Matthew 28:1-10, Easter A, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

(From wikipedia: "The Paschal homily or sermon (also known in Greek as Hieratikon or as the Catechetical Homily) of St John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE) is read aloud on the morning of Pascha (a.k.a. "Easter" in the West), called "the Great and Holy Pascha of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ" in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine rite. According to theTradition of the Church, no one sits during the reading of the Paschal homily. Portions of it are often done with the interactive participation of the congregation.)

Are you God's friend and lover?
rejoice in this glorious feast of feasts!
Are you God's servant, knowing God's wishes?
be glad with your Master, share his rejoicing!
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
now is your payday!

Have you been working since early morning?
you will be paid fair and square.
Have you been here since the third hour?
you can be thankful, you will be pleased.
If you came at the sixth hour,
come up without fear, you will lose nothing.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
come forward without hesitation.
Even if you came at the eleventh hour?
have no fear; it is not too late.

God is a generous employer,
treating the last to come as he treats the first arrival.
God gives to the one and gives to the other:
honours the deed and praises the intention.

Join, then, all of you, join in our Master's rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come now and collect your wages.
Rich and poor, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
celebrate this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

 The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go away hungry.
There's hospitality for all, and to spare. No more
apologizing for your poverty:
the kingdom belongs to us all.
No more bewailing your failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
No more fears of your dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the Master: but he has mastered death

Isaiah knew this would happen, and he cried:
"Death was angered when it met you in the pit."
It was angered, for it was defeated.
It was angered, for it was mocked.
It was angered, for it was abolished.
It was angered, for it was overthrown.
It was angered, for it was bound in chains.

Death swallowed a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth and encountered heaven.
It took what is seen and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Grave, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.

Christ is risen and evil has fallen.
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen and life reigns.
Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb.

Christ is risen indeed from the dead,
the first of all who had fallen asleep.

Glory and power to him for ever and ever!

Some Thoughts on Matthew 28:1-10

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" are the principle actors throughout Matthew's Gospel. They arrive at early dawn.  He omits their purpose being the anointing ritual because as we might remember this was done in chapter 26. (Daniel Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 409)  Earthquake as sign and motif runs throughout this particular gospel as a foreshadowing of apocalyptic events.  While Mark's Gospel leaves the disciples with the question, "Who will roll away the stone?" as a moniker for the work of Gospel sharing, here the angel (not unlike the infant narrative) explains the stage that is set before the women as they arrive.

We therefore are told and are led to understand the events, how the soldiers are powerless and how all this has happened as a completion of a long awaited re-creation moment. The angel tells them to go and tell the Good News and to go to Galilee.  We might well remember throughout our journey with Jesus in the Matthean narrative that Galilee is where the action is!  So go....we are charged with the women and see that the resurrected Lord goes before us to meet us there, out there, where the ministry and mission field lies.

As they are leaving, Jesus immediately appears to them as the resurrected Lord.  He too charges them to go to Galilee...there is the climax of our story.  The action is there. The work is there. The mission is there. Go and I will meet you there.

The Matthean scholar Daniel Harrington points out that so important is the message of he is not here, go and tell, go to Galilee that the words of the angel and of Jesus appear almost as a "doublet." (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 410) We can see it here:

The Angel:
1. He is not here; for he has been raised,
2. go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,
3. he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’

1. [He is the risen Lord] they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
2. go and tell my brothers
3. go to Galilee

It seems to me a number of scholars will tend to write a lot about how Matthew "tidies up" Mark's account.  The problem I have is this too often takes us deep into a historical critical deconstruction of the text. It too often assumes that Mark has no reason for making his testimony in the particular manner to serve a particular mission context or based upon his own understanding of eyewitness accounts.  Both Matthew and Mark give clear testimony and each should be taken in their own right; neither is less or subservient to another.  I guess I am on my soap box now but Mark and Matthew have integrity unto themselves and we sometimes miss the very important witness when we over compare.

The second thing that seems to be dealt with in the literature is Matthew's own section of material which serves to prepare the disciple for this message:
17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
You and I cannot preach (I don't think) with a sense of purpose if we do not preach the testimony of the resurrection in Matthew's Gospel for the purpose of bring people to:

1. Worship the risen Lord
2. Aid people with their doubt
3. Proclaim the risen Christ as Lord
4. Make disciples
5. Understand, articulate, and offer baptism as the primary way of becoming a member of God's family
6. glorify God and love neighbor
7. walk with Jesus through life's pilgrimage
I love what Daniel Harrington writes when he describes the nature of what has taken place:
The empty tomb is the necessary presupposition for christian belief in jesus' resurrection.  By itself it does no prove Jesus' resurrection, for the emptiness of the tomb can be explained in several ways. Christian must also appeal to the appearance stories and tot he growth and development of the Church as additional supports for their belief.
The controversy surrounding the empty tomb ought not to obscure the starling content of the early Christian proclamation about Jesus...An event reserved for the end of human history [as believed by most in Jesus' time and in our own] has happened in the midst of human history....To this extent the kingdom of God is among us. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 413)
This it seems to me is the proclamation of Easter Sunday - Jesus is risen for a purpose.  This resurrection is an apocalyptic event in the lives of those who experience it such that they in turn do these things.  If there were ever an altar call in the Episcopal church (outside of baptism and confirmation) this Sunday is it!


Some Thoughts on John 20:1-18
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel
We begin with  Mary discovering that the body is not there and reporting it to the disciples.  There is the famous disciple race.  The beloved disciple loves Jesus more and so he arrives at the tomb first before Peter; this is the intent of the story teller at least.  When he arrives he sees the burial clothes and he believes. He sees, he experiences, the resurrection and he believes.

Mary Magdalene then experiences the risen Jesus.  She has been searching for him; she sees him but does not immediately know him.  In fact she does not know him until her name is called.  Raymond Brown points out a number of reasons for this in John, vol 2, 1008ff.  Playing out the reality of Jesus' own words in John 10.3:  "The sheep hear his voice as he calls by name those that belong to him."  "I know my sheep and my sheep know me."  Her response is to announce to the disciples that she has "seen the Lord."

Two different experiences of the risen Christ from two loving followers are what we have to preach on this Easter.  They give us a sense that the risen Lord is known in many ways and experienced in many ways.  While true belief will come with the Holy Spirit, we are given here in John's resurrection account the beginning of the new creation story.

The Victory has been won on the cross. The chasm that separated the earth and the heaven is no breached.  The disciples begin to experience a new order and a new creation. They begin to understand the things which have been told them.

In these resurrection accounts we have the beginning of faith which comes from experiencing the risen Lord.  Their faith will grow even as Jesus continues to make his journey to the father. He remarks that we are not to cling to tightly to these experiences for the unity if fulfilled in the ascension which is soon to come.  Jesus is even now, as he stands before Mary, making his way to the Father.  Then, and only then, will the comforter and Holy Spirit be unleashed in the world.  Then, and only then, will the disciples come to a fullness of belief.

John's Gospel tells us clearly that resurrection is not simply a bodily, this world, experience but it is a resurrection into unity with God.  Only when Jesus is resurrected and unified will the new creation truly spring forth.  So now...on Easter we read John's Gospel we prepare and raise our heads for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the salvation of creation which is even now upon us.

"The first ones ever, oh, ever to know of the rising of Jesus, his glory to be, were Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene, and blessed are they are they who see.  Oh blessed are they who see the Lord, oh, blessed are they who see." (Hymnal 1982, 673)

"The reference to 'all' may also have a much wider focus: all people and all of creation. That is at least the goal of this love which flows from the heart of God and that needs to be the goal of that love in and through our lives as well, so that no one is beyond it and no part of creation beyond our care and concern."

"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 11, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Since the author recognizes the ongoing reality of slavery in his instructions to slaves in 3:22-25, the final contrasting pair, slave/free, in 3:11 helps show that for the author what has been negated in baptism is not the existence of such contrasting groups. Rather these contrasts no longer serve as the prime identity of people's separateness since they are all in Christ who gives them their prime identity."

Commentary, Colossians 3:1-11, Richard Carlson, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

The passage we have for today from Paul's letter to the community in Colossia comes after a concern about a bunch of rules or ways of doing ritual that are drawing the members from the real focus of worship and life in Christ.  (2.21ff)  Some scholars believe that these may be rooted in purity laws. Paul offers a very important vision of Christ - he offers freedom and reconciliation. The Christ that Paul and I believe in is one who is not an oppressive liturgical fundamentalist!  Worship itself should mimic a God of freedom and liberation.

Paul then says (in the beginning of our passage) Christ has left the ways of the past behind, we are now able to be joined directly with God through Jesus's work on the cross.  Evil has been trampled and so too any distractions which draw us from the love of God.  So we are to "rise up" as Ray Wylie Hubbard sings and become united to God in Christ Jesus.

Certainly the images of "above" language are about "harmony, justice, and peace" says William Loader.  The things that are below are of a more worldly nature.  These will get in the way of our worship and life with God.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)...8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
Paul's view is that when these things are set aside, not as new rules or laws, as a way of living together new life is revealed - resurrection life is revealed.  And in this we receive the poetry of love and unity that is found in the last verses:
11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!


Some Thoughts on Acts 10:34-43

We are reading from the book of Acts during Easter. Luke is believed to be the author of this book and so it is a continuation of the story of the Gospel. When we look at it this way we see an important story arc that has been in effect from the earliest passages of the Gospel – Jesus is Lord of all.

Drawing on Richard Hays’ work we easily see a narrative that begins to portray Jesus as Lord – as the Kyrios. Luke begins in 1:16 and carries the term to our passage for today. Of all the Gospel authors, Luke uses the term the most. He ties it into Isaiah’s prophecy and the suffering servant as we discussed in the readings during Holy Week. (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 253ff)

In this Easter reading we have the high point of Luke’s arc in the words of the Peter:
“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. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
…All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
What is revealed here is the immortal nature of God’s Word – the Immoral Word – the second person of the Trinity. God acting through the word, in this case Isaiah’s prophetic word, long before the unique person of Jesus. God reveals the ultimate unity of God and that just as this God was Lord of Israel so this God in Christ Jesus is Lord of all. The incarnate Word made flesh reigns because God reigns. Jesus is Lord of life and Lord of death it turns out on this Easter day – of all.

We should probably be clear before moving along, we humans are the ones who put boundaries on God. We, the religious, like God to be lord of insider our church walls but not outside. We like our God to be lord of us but not them. We desire a God who is lord of our country but not theirs. We confuse this lordship (with a little “l”) because we think we get to be in charge of God. We believe we get to decide who God likes and doesn’t like. That is of course is all very silly nonsense. We have no control over what God is Lord over. It turns out, as our passage tells us today, that God in Christ Jesus is Lord over all. The scripture says something about this: the son sun rises on both the righteous and unrighteous alike.

Because the Revised Common Lectionary Loves Acts 10 you can chose it for your third reading OR

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 31:1-6

I fear nobody every choses Jeremiah for their Easter Sunday preaching. This, however, is a fantastic text.

Let us begin by rehearsing a bit this Jeremiah person…. Jeremiah had the vantage point of seeing the people wonder this way and that to other gods in times of stress and fear; and he saw his king call people to return to the worship of the Lord too. It was a highly-charged time of politics mixed with religion and foreign diplomacy. We probably underestimate the pressure he felt on every side to offer a vision and path towards God.

Our passage for this Easter Sunday begins by reminding those who hear Jeremiah’s words that God intends to be the God of all the people of Israel – the faithful and unfaithful. God loves his people and wishes to draw them closer to God’s self. God desires that they return and bear fruit of faithfulness and fruit that can be harvested. And, Jeremiah hopes the people will return to worship at Jerusalem – on Zion.

Matthew leans heavy into Jeremiah as a source of prophecy for the Gospel. In particular this passage is rehearsed in Matthew’s birth narrative. Richard Hays writes, “Matthew’s richly allusive citation of Jeremiah 31 in the birth narrative material. If the reader is meant to recall the context of ‘Rachel weeping for her children’ in Jeremiah, the suggestion lies at the hand that Jesus, the Messiah who will bring the end of Israel’s exile, will also establish ‘a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’” (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 120)

In this way the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah is lifted out of the context of return from Babylon and is offered as a vision of the unique incarnation of the Word Jesus as the one to bring all of Israel into a new relationship with God. It is not a prophetic word about how the king of Judah returns people to an old law but to a new law. It is a higher law – as discussed previously on this blog.

God in the work of Jesus upon the cross and tomb roots a new covenant in the earth and upon the resurrection day is raised as a new sign of God’s grace. God draws not only the faithful and unfaithful religious Israelites into God’s bosom but instead through this rebirth draws all people to God’s self.