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.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Good Friday Readings & Commentaries


We glory in your cross, O Lord , , , for by virtue of your cross, joy has come into the whole world.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 52:13—53:12
This long passage is the fourth of the Servant Songs of Second Isaiah (the others are 42:1-4, 49:1-6, and 50:4-9). This final song, by far the longest of the four, is often called “The Song of the Man of Sorrows.” In each of the songs the servant is not identified.  Typical of Jewish interpretations are to see in the figure of the servant the nation itself.  Christians have taken these songs to be prophecies of the Messiah, thus the servant is Jesus. This fourth of the songs is a proclamation of the servant’s victory, but it is a victory through suffering, not only his own suffering but his suffering with others and on their behalf.  It is a primary text for understanding the salvation of sinful human kind as having been achieved by the substitution of an innocent as the sacrifice required for sin.  It should be emphasized that this is not the only way of understanding how the atonement works in the scriptures.

52:13 See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14 Just as there were many who were astonished at him—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals—15 so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. 53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. 4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Psalm 22
Psalm 22 is one of the psalms of lament.  It is a personal cry from one who feels abandoned, which is made very clear in vv. 1-2.  The writer then reminds God of his history of faithfulness (vv. 3-5).  But the writer’s plight is great.  He or she has become a mockery (vv. 6-8).  The psalm continues with this back and forth of complaint and the desire for trust.  At the end a certain level of hope has been reached.  This psalm has long been associated with Holy Week, and Good Friday in particular because of its first verse being the cry of Jesus from the cross in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.

1     My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
                  and are so far from my cry
                  and from the words of my distress?
2     O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
                  by night as well, but I find no rest.
3     Yet you are the Holy One, *
                  enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4     Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
                  they trusted, and you delivered them.
5     They cried out to you and were delivered; *
                  they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
6     But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
                  scorned by all and despised by the people.
7     All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
                  they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
8     “He trusted in the Lord; let him deliver him; *
                  let him rescue him, if he delights in him.”
9     Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, *
                  and kept me safe upon my mother’s breast.
10   I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
                  you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb.
11   Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
                  and there is none to help.
12   Many young bulls encircle me; *
                  strong bulls of Bashan surround me.
13   They open wide their jaws at me, *
                  like a ravening and a roaring lion.
14   I am poured out like water;
       all my bones are out of joint; *
                  my heart within my breast is melting wax.
15   My mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd;
       my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; *
                  and you have laid me in the dust of the grave.
16   Packs of dogs close me in,
       and gangs of evildoers circle around me; *
                  they pierce my hands and my feet;
                  I can count all my bones.
17   They stare and gloat over me; *
                  they divide my garments among them;
                  they cast lots for my clothing.
18   Be not far away, O Lord; *
                  you are my strength; hasten to help me.
19   Save me from the sword, *
                  my life from the power of the dog.
20   Save me from the lion’s mouth, *
                  my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.
21   I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
                  in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.
22   Praise the Lord, you that fear him; *
                  stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
                  all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
23   For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
       neither does he hide his face from them; *
                  but when they cry to him he hears them.
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 shall 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:  Hebrews 10:16-25
The Letter to the Hebrews (by an unknown writer) uses the image as the new and eternal high priest, who has entered the sanctuary (the holy of holies) and bids us, as those who now “share in his eternal priesthood” (words from our Rite of Baptism) to follow him there, with “a full heart in full assurance of faith.”  Yet this experience of forgiveness and purity is not an end in itself.  We are to “provoke” (i.e., “call forth”) love and seek encouragement through our gatherings in Jesus’ name. 

10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,” says the Lord:  “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” 17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Passion Gospel:  John 18:1—19:37
John’s story of the Passion and Death of Jesus differs in many ways from Mark, Matthew, and Luke.  In John, Jesus is the confident one through all this crisis.  It is as if he were in charge, rather than those who are bringing charges against him.  Even on the cross, Jesus’ final words are “It is finished,” in stark contrast to Matthew’s & Mark’s, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Troubling in this Gospel, has always bee those passages which tend toward the later obsession of the church that the Jews were guilty of Jesus death. John 19:15 is an example.  Whenever the translation is “the Jews,” the reference can actually be to a segment of the Jewish population, such as the religious authorities.  One cannot and should not use this, or any other New Testament writing to cast an eternal guilt on the Jewish people for the death of Jesus.  Overall John portrays triumphant Jesus, ultimately even triumphant over death.  If John has an atonement theory it is the victory of Jesus over the powers of darkness and death.

18:1 Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to   happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” 5 They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” 12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. 15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. 19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. 28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” 32 (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) 33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” 8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” 13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.

18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” 25 And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

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 copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to reprint and/or modify for congregational use.