Saturday, March 14, 2009

Easter Day Year B

Easter Day Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts of the Apostles 10: 34-43; OR Isaiah 25: 6-9; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11 (see below); John 20: 1-18 (see Easter Day Year A,B,C) OR Mark 16: 1-8 (see Easter Vigil Year B)

In Peter's sermon, Luke provides a precis of the early church's core proclamation. This Jesus, Peter preaches, whose mesmerizing preaching and amazing healings as well as his gory then triumphant ending you have aleady heard about is "the Lord of all." And at some time yet to come, "he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead." How do we know these things? We were eye-witnesses, to all he did in "Judea and Jerusalem" as well among those "who ate and drank with him" after he rose from the dead! Now we are "witnesses" to the command to "preach to people and to testify...."

Usually the great Hebrew prophets address specific, current events. But in this astonishing image painted by Isaiah the prophet addresses an existential anxiety known to every living person, "the shroud cast over all peoples," "the sheet that is spread over all nations" -- Death. The Lord will summons all nations to an extravagant feast, Isaiah declares. Then God will "destroy" death, "wipe away the tears from all faces...!" "This is the Lord for whom we have waited...."

The psalmist initiates an antiphonal hymn which summons the living to praise the Lord. Because the Lord's valiant action means "I shall not die, but live/and recount the deeds of Yahweh" I you can continue to sing that hymn! Only One could do this, the One who did do it. "This is the day the Lord has wrought/Let us exult and rejoice in it."

In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul merges his personal story into the church's story of Jesus. The story of Jesus was handed down from eye-witnesses. And Paul has passed it on to those who read or hear his account, "In which you also stand, through which you are now being saved...." Paul acknowledges that "as one untimely born" , he was not among the first privileged to know the Risen Lord but he later did have his own singular encounter. The power of the story of Jesus is accentuated further because Paul was actually persecuting the early church at the time of his encounter. "I am what I am," Paul says, a living, walking talking testimony to "the grace of God that is with me." I am proof God chooses the least likely and can turn around the most hostile. So, whether you heard the good news from me or others, it is now your turn to"come to believe."

It is now your turn to believe.

Mark's version of the discovery of the empty tomb takes some unique twists and turns. Although the women who made the discovery, were given the news of Jesus' resurrection directly and then specifically told to go straight to Peter and the others and relay the news, they did not follow directions because they were full of fear. So, the most significant detail of God's good news almost never got delivered by those who had direct knowledge at first! Paul tells the Corinthians that it really does not matter that he was not among those who were closest to Jesus before or after his death/resurrection. Furthermore, it does not matter whether they heard about Jesus from them or Paul because the effect, the opportunity is the same-- it is now your turn to believe!

Believe in what?

In his own unique way, Ludwig Wittgenstein answers that question. In
Culture and Value (p. 33e) he writes:
What inclines me to believe in Christ's resurrection? It is as though I play with the thought-- If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man.
He is dead and decomposed. In that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So, we are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven. But if I am to be REALLY saved,-- what I need is certainty-- not wisdom, dreams or speculation-- and certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence. For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can say: only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: it is love that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes in the Resurrection; holds fast even to the Resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption. Holding fast to this must be holding fast to that belief. So that what it means is: first you must be redeemed and hold fast to your redemption (keep hold of your redemption)-- and then you will see that you are holding fast to this belief. So this can come about only if you no longer rest your weight on the earth but suspend yourself from heaven. Then everything will be different and it will be 'no wonder' if you can do things that you cannot do now.

Once the announcement has been made "He has been raised, he is not here" there are only two choices: Just another man died, a good man and excellent teacher, but still he is dead and so life goes on in its usual ways and there really is not any news about that, or everything is now different and only now I can "do things that I cannot do" before. I am not just earth-bound. I can imagine, participate and even perpetuate life in a larger sense, a fairer sense, a richer sense for myself and others. The greatest import of the resurrection is not what it implies for after I die, but before I die! "Love beleives the Resurrection."