Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Easter Day (Year A,B,C)

Easter Day

Acts of the Apostles 10:34-43, OR  Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18 OR Matthew 28:1-10
(Revised Common Lectionary)

This excerpt from Acts is a confession of faith by personal witnesses who feel compelled to preach.

From Jeremiah's singular perspective, the especially unpredictable times in which he lived caused despair over human failures but also inspired faith in God's desire and goal to reunite and and restore all of Israel

Using call and response to begin, the psalmist presents himself as one whose presence in the temple was originally rejected but is now front and center at worship.

John's narrative names Mary Magdalene who went alone to the tomb of Jesus "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark..."  Seeing the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, she went to tell "Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved."  She said "they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him."  Peter and the unnamed but prominently defined disciple (who was not mentioned in the section of John's narrative that dealt with Jesus' public ministry, but is placed next to Jesus at the Last Supper, next to Peter in the sad scene in the priest's courtyard, and next to Jesus' mother, Mary, at the foot of the cross), ran to the tomb, looked in, saw the abandoned burial linens, but he did not enter until Peter, running behind, caught up and went in first.  Each man had a distinctive reaction.  The disciple "loved by Jesus," when he saw the linens, "believed," although they did not yet know the scripture that Jesus must rise form the dead.  Both men returned to their homes, leaving Mary Magdalene, alone, weeping at the tomb.  When  she looked into the tomb, 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."  They asked her why she was weeping.  She explained that "they" have taken the body of Jesus and she did not know where to find it.  When she turned around, she saw Jesus, whom she did not recognize, who also asked her why she was weeping and added, "whom are you looking for?"  Still consumed by her grief and her dismay, she assumed Jesus was the gardener or caretaker.  But when he called her by name, she immediately recognized him and addressed him affectionately, "Rabbouni (which means Teacher)."  Jesus told her not to "hold on" to him, because he had not yet ascended to the Father, but instead to rush to tell "my brothers" that he will "ascend to my Father, to my God and your God."  Mary Magdalene jumped  to the task and "announced" that she had "seen the Lord."  She also recounted all he had said to her.  John's narrative privileges Mary Magdalene singularly as the one who discovered the empty tomb, told the others, was the first (in Matthew's narrative) whom  the Risen Lord personally addressed, and was given the responsibility to announce the startling news to others.  Peter was the first to go into the empty tomb, but did not grasp its meaning until later.  The enigmatic disciple, the one "whom Jesus loved" "believed," even before the task of interpreting the scriptures had begun.

Such a mishmash of reactions. What all this mishmash makes perfectly clear, however, is that each person reached her or his own conclusion about this startling claim and in her or his own time and own way. Likewise, every person who has heard this startling claim has reached or will reach today her or his own conclusion in her or his own time and way. And, it is not a trivial decision.

The biblical accounts shift the weight from evidence to decision. We rely on others for their testimony/announcement/witness and encouragement, but each person makes a unique decision, alone, that instigates a chain of public actions that taken together comprise one's lifetime.

Hans-Gorg Gadamer wrote: "...The gospel does not exist in order to be understood as a merely historical document, but to be taken in such a way that it exercises a saving effect..." "...in every concrete situation, in a new and different way. Understanding here is always application." (Truth and Method, second edition, p. 309) Paul Ricoeur wrote: "We wager on a certain set of values and then try to be consistent with them; verification then is a matter of our whole life. No one can escape this." (From Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, George H. Taylor, ed.,)

The Easter announcement requires a decision with consequences for each person's entire lifetime and, therefore, for many others too.

Walter Brueggemann writes as the conclusion to Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993, pp129-130) : "At base, biblical faith is the assertion that God has overcome all that threatens to cheapen, enslave, or fragment our common life.  Because the power of death is so resilient, this triumph of God is endlessly reiterated, reenacted, and replicated in new formats and venues.  As a result of that always new victory, we are left to do our most imaginative proclamation and most courageous appropriation."

(For commentary on Matthew 28:1-10, see The Great Vigil of Easter.)