Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Easter 5B Readings & Commentaries


1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40
The Philip in this story was one of the first seven deacons ordained by the apostles (6:1-6).  Today’s story shows that their ministry involved more than “waiting on tables,” as described in chapter 6.  It was also evangelism.  One of the significances about the story is that it involves not only someone who was a Gentile (albeit probably a “god-fearer”—someone interested in and friendly toward Judaism), but also a eunuch, cut off from the Law because of his deformity (Deuteronomy 23:1).  It is the first fulfillment in the Book of Acts of Jesus’ command that the Gospel be preached to “all nations.”  It also follows a prophecy of Isaiah (56:3).  The quote from Isaiah (53:7-8) is from the well-known Fourth Servant Song.

8:26 An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Psalm 22:24-30
As a whole, Psalm 22 is a prayer of one who has felt abandoned by God.  It is a psalm used much during Holy Week, and Jesus’ cry from the cross in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew come from its beginning, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Today we are reading the end of the psalm, in which the author experiences a reconciliation with God and a re-integration into the community of faith.

24 My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
            I will perform my vows in the presence of those who
                            worship him.
25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
     and those who seek the Lord shall praise him; *
            “May your heart live for ever!”
26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to
                            the Lord, *
            and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
27 For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
            he rules over the nations.
28 To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down
                            in worship; *
            all who go down to the dust fall before him.
29 My soul shall live for him;
     my descendants will serve him; *
            they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.
30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
            the saving deeds that he has done.

2nd Reading:  1 John 4:7-21
God’s love and the command that we emulate that love is central to John’s writings.  John goes so far as to say simply but profoundly, “God is love.”  This is primarily revealed in the sending of the Son.  God’s love enables all other love, so that if we do not love another we cannot love God. God’s love is so strong it trumps the fear of God (the fear of judgment). We can have confidence to stand before God at the end of our earthly days. God loved and still loves us first, but our response is required:  the love of our sisters and brothers.

4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Gospel Reading:  John 15:1-8
John’s Gospel contains several “I am” statements in which Jesus uses clear imagery to describe himself and his purpose.  They are John’s version of the parables found in the other Gospels.  These “I am” statements often use imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures. Israel as God’s chosen vine is a frequent image (see Isaiah 5:1-7 and Ezekiel 19:10-14).  “Abide” is an important word for John as well; it occurs eleven times in his Gospel.  It describes the mutuality of the love between Jesus and his followers.

15:1 Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services and study is given, provided this attribution remains.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Easter 4B Readings & Commentaries


This Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and each year of the three-year lectionary cycle we read a portion of John chapter 10, which uses that beloved image. 

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 4:5-12
This reading occurs following the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate by Peter and John (3:1-11) and Peter’s subsequent sermon (3:12-26).  They have been imprisoned overnight (4:1-4) and are now questioned by the religious authorities.  The question put to them about authority is not so much about the healing as it is about their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.  Peter, as he so often does in the early chapters of Acts, speaks and uses a well-known text:  Psalm 118:22.  To say that “there is salvation in no one else” is to say that the reality of Jesus’ resurrection has released fresh energy to restore human life and, indeed, the world.

4:5 The rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Psalm 23
This most beloved of psalms, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “invites us into a world of deep trust and lean desire.”  By “lean desire” he means that the trust we put in the Lord who is the shepherd is a trust that focuses and simplifies our needs.  This is a psalm not only of protection, but also of perspective.

1   The Lord is my shepherd; *
            I shall not be in want.
2   He makes me lie down in green pastures *
            and leads me beside still waters.
3   He revives my soul *
            and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4   Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
     I shall fear no evil; *
            for you are with me;
            your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5   You spread a table before me in the presence of those
                            who trouble me; *
            you have anointed my head with oil,
            and my cup is running over.
6   Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
                            of my life,
            and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

2nd Reading:  1 John 3:16-24
In this passage the writer picks up themes we know well from John’s Gospel:  life laid down, love for one another, knowing that we are from the truth, and Jesus’ abiding in us.  Perhaps a development of John’s Gospel is the notion of love abiding in us “not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  It is certainly consistent with John’s Gospel, however, that the truth is not primarily something you know, but something you do.

3:16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Gospel Reading:  John 10:11-18
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and each year of the three-year lectionary cycle we read a portion of John chapter 10, which uses that beloved image.  This middle portion of the chapter is the most well-known.  Jesus makes it clear: “I am the Good Shepherd.”  The judgment on “hired hands” echoes Ezekiel 34, a passage critical of “false shepherds” in Israel.  The true shepherd is the one who gives his life.  He is also the one with whom we have true intimacy.  We are known and so we know, a simple sentiment but profound in its implications.  Then there are the “other sheep.” Who are they? No one really knows, although there are many theories.  It certainly allows us to leave open the door that Peter in the reading from Acts seems to close.

10:11 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services or congregational studyis given, provided this attribution remains.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Easter 3B Readings & Commentaries


1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 3:12-19
Our first reading is a portion of the apostle Peter’s second sermon in the Book of Acts (3:12-26). It was given to the crowd that had witnessed the healing of a lame man (3:1-11). He implores his listeners to change their minds (repent) about Jesus of Nazareth, in whose name (and by the power of God working through him) this lame man has been healed. Because of Peter’s pointed criticism of his fellow Jews, this passage has in the past been a source of anti-Judaism. It is too simplistic, however, to say that “the Jews” killed Jesus and anti-Judaism has no place among Christians.

3:12 Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. 17 And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

Psalm 4
Today’s psalm is a personal plea for deliverance, spoken in confidence and trust in God’s goodness.  Self-discipline is required:  not allowing anger to take hold and offering the appointed sacrifices.  The word “tremble” in verse four literally means “be angry.”

1   Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; *
            you set me free when I am hard-pressed;
            have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2   “You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; *
            how long will you worship dumb idols
            and run after false gods?”
3   Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful; *
            when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.
4   Tremble, then, and do not sin; *
            speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.
5   Offer the appointed sacrifices *
            and put your trust in the Lord.
6   Many are saying,
     “Oh, that we might see better times!” *
            Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.
7   You have put gladness in my heart, *
            more than when grain and wine and oil increase.
8   I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
           for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

2nd Reading:  1 John 3:1-7
Our second reading begins with an assurance about the present (we are God’s children now) and the promise of the future (we will see him as he is). It continues with an idealized understanding of the believer’s relationship to sin. The author seems to be saying that you cannot sin and be a believer, although at the beginning of the letter he has said that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1:8).  We find this same dynamic in the Rite of Baptism.  We renounce all sinful desires (BCP, p. 302) but then promise that whenever we sin we will repent and return (p. 304).  It is constant attention to the truth about ourselves, the desire to change, and the act of changing, with God’s grace, that is important here.

3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 24:36b-48
As our Gospel reading begins, the disciples are together, having just heard two reports of encounters with the risen Jesus—one from Cleopas (the “road to Emmaus” story—24:13-35) and one from Peter (24:12 & 34). Now Jesus appears to them all. His greeting is significant to those who have betrayed and abandoned him, “Peace be with you.”  It is a message of forgiveness.  He then proves he is not a ghost. He still bears the wounds of his crucifixion and eats a piece of fish. Once he establishes his identity, he “opens their minds” and commissions them as witnesses and messengers of his message of forgiveness, to be proclaimed to all nations.  One of the important underlying messages of Luke’s resurrection stories is that the risen Jesus becomes the interpreter of Scripture for the new community that follows him.

24:36b Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter 2B Readings & Commentaries


Jesus returns to his disciples and, rather than chastise them for their betrayal and abandonment, offers them peace.  Thomas doubts, but Jesus is accepting of him as well, and in that acceptance, Thomas finds his Savior.

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35
By tradition we read from the Acts of the Apostles during Eastertide. Our first reading is a description of the common life of the first Christian community.  If it seems idyllic, perhaps it was.  At any rate, problems arose almost right away. By chapter six of Acts, some are feeling neglected and deacons are appointed to oversee the distribution of goods to those in need.  Whether we would subscribe to holding all things in common, surely the mutual concern for the well-being of all should remain as a central characteristic of our community of faith.  If nothing else, this passage pushes against our notions of privacy regarding our economic status and the old, non-biblical, adage that “charity begins at home.”

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Psalm 133
Our psalm is one of the “Songs of Ascent,” pilgrim songs sung on the journey to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the pilgrim festivals.  As a response to our first reading, it emphasizes the ideal of unity among us, using two images:  the anointing of a priest, and the “dew” of the great Mt. Hermon, which collects into streams that provide precious water for the land (it feeds the Sea of Galilee).

1  Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
2  It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,
3  Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4  It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5  For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: *
           life for evermore.

2nd Reading:  1 John 1:1—2:2
Throughout Eastertide this year we read from the First Letter of John.  The opening of the letter echoes the opening of John’s Gospel and many of its themes: the word becoming flesh (the incarnation), light versus darkness, the goal of “complete joy,” and the commitment to the truth.  The end of this passage is an exhortation to honesty about and confession of our sins.  Those who believe they are without sin (and it appears that there were some in the community to which John is writing that believed as much about themselves) deceive themselves.

1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Gospel Reading:  John 20:19-31
Our Gospel reading this morning is read every year on this Second Sunday of Easter (the only instance of a Gospel reading repeating year after year in the entire cycle of readings).  The reading is composed of two scenes.  The first is John’s account of the first appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples. For John it is also the formation of the Church (including the gift of the Holy Spirit). Jesus’ forgiveness of the disciples is extraordinary given their betrayal and abandonment of him. Moreover, he also gives them the power of forgiveness! The second scene is the familiar story of Thomas, the disciple missing from the first appearance. Thomas needs physical proof, for which we can hardly blame him. The story is partially a set up for the important statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Note that by “the Jews” in the first verse is meant the religious authorities, not all Jews.

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Easter Day B Readings & Commentaries


This joyful Eastertide, away with sin and sorrow! My love, the crucified, has sprung to life this morrow! Would Christ that once was slain, ne'er burst his three day prison, our hope had been in vain, but now has Christ arisen!

1st Reading:  Isaiah 25:6-9
Most people in the ancient Near East would have eaten sparingly and with little dietary variation. A great and lavish feast was an obvious symbol of God’s restoration of shalom on earth, a symbol that carries into the New Testament.  This vision is also important because of its inclusion of “all nations.” Israel and its rival neighbors will live in peace.  It is such a joyous and monumental vision, that even death is overcome.

25:6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

OR THIS

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 10:34-43
This short passage is part of a long story (Acts 10:1—11:18) about how the Gentiles came to be understood as having the same relationship with Jesus as his fellow Jews. The apostle Peter and the gentile Cornelius have both had visions causing them to seek each other out. When Peter meets Cornelius in the latter’s own house (a line observant Jews were not to cross), he experiences the Pentecostal Spirit at work among them just as he and his fellow disciples had experienced it. This leads to the following declaration. It is a testimony to the power of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.

10:34 Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:  38 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. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Psalm 118 is a song of thanksgiving rooted in Israel’s worship of a faithful God. It has long been associated with Holy Week and Easter because the first part of the psalm acknowledges distress, and the second half pivots to gratitude for deliverance. The stone which the builder’s rejected has become the chief cornerstone is used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke (in Acts) to describe what God has done in Jesus Christ.

1  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
           his mercy endures for ever.
2  Let Israel now proclaim, *
           “His mercy endures for ever.”
14  The Lord is my strength and my song, *
           and he has become my salvation.
15  There is a sound of exultation and victory *
           in the tents of the righteous:
16  “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
           the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
           the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”
17  I shall not die, but live, *
           and declare the works of the Lord.
18  The Lord has punished me sorely, *
           but he did not hand me over to death.
19  Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
           I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20  “This is the gate of the Lord; *
           he who is righteous may enter.”
21  I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
           and have become my salvation.
22  The same stone which the builders rejected *
           has become the chief cornerstone.
23  This is the Lord’s doing, *
           and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24  On this day the Lord has acted; *
           we will rejoice and be glad in it.

2nd Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 10:34-43
See above

OR THIS

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 15:1-11
In these verses, Paul rehearses the tradition of the resurrection that has been handed down to him. It includes, in verses 3b-5, the beginnings of a Christian creed. Paul also cites historical evidence of which he is aware: the appearance to Peter (Cephas), to the twelve, to a large number of believers (a story that has been lost), and then to Paul himself on the road to Damascus. He doesn’t know the tradition of women being the first witnesses or chooses to ignore it.

15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 16:1-8
Mark’s account of the resurrection is, like his Gospel, short. It does, however, pack in many details. The women who come to the tomb are the same as those mentioned in the previous chapter as having witnessed Jesus’ death. The young man in the tomb neatly summarizes what the Gospel is as Mark understands it.  Jesus is the forever crucified and risen One.  The women are sent forth (as apostles?).  They are ecstatic (a better translation than “amazement” and filled with “awe” (a reasonable alternative translation to “afraid.”).  Most scholars believe Mark originally ended his Gospel here.

16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

OR THIS

Gospel Reading:  John 20:1-18
The Gospel-writer John’s witness to the empty tomb and the initial experiences of the risen Jesus centers on Mary Magdalene, who, on account of this story in particular, is sometimes known as “the Apostle of the Resurrection.” Mary is the first to tell the other disciples, who themselves come to the tomb, but do not remain. Mary, in her grief, does not leave and so has the first encounter with the risen Jesus. Why she does not recognize him is a matter of much speculation, as well as Jesus’ admonition to her not to hold on to him. Whatever the meaning, Mary again becomes the first witness, “I have seen the Lord.”

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to copy for congregational use, including the copyright statement.