Easter – April 5, 2015
|Reading 1:||Reading 2:||Reading 3:||Reading 4:|
|Isaiah 25:6-9||Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24||1 Corinthians 15:1-11||John 20:1-18|
On Easter Day, the lectionary gives the preacher a choice between Isaiah 25:6-9 and Acts 10:34-43. On subsequent Sundays of Easter, the lectionary replaces the reading from the Torah, Prophets, and Writings (TPW) with a reading from Acts. This move is tragic. The lectionary generally disadvantages the TPW. To cast out the Torah, Prophets, and Writings when the story of Jesus reaches its climax with the resurrection is to take a theological knife to holy taproot of Israel and the TPW ,and to separate them from the holy branches of Jesus, the church, the Gospels and the Letters.
In the light of the previous paragraph, Isaiah 25:6-9 is an excellent reading for Easter Day, especially if the congregations partakes of the loaf and the cup. Isaiah 24-27 is protoapocalyptic. Today’s text depicts Isaiah’s version of the eschatological banquet. In ancient near eastern culture, after a great victory, the monarch put on a banquet. Through eating and drinking together, the community celebrated and experienced the triumph.
From apocalyptic perspective, the resurrection demonstrates that God is now in the process of ending the present age and moving towards the final and complete manifestation of the Realm of God, a new world of love, mutual support, justice, shalom, and abundance for all.
The preacher needs to avoid both simple promise-fulfillment interpretation and supersessionism. While the resurrection may demonstrate God’s purposes, the actual quality of life is still far short of the Realm of God. Judaism and the church are at one in still looking forward to that time.
While process theology typically eschews apocalypticism, a process preacher can still regard Isaiah 25:6-9 as a lure towards the kind of world God seeks. Indeed, eating from the loaf and drinking from the chalice can be an experience of this world when it takes place in a community that intends to be loving, mutually supportive, working for justice, shalom, and abundance for all.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Psalm 118 is a song of thanksgiving that contains an intriguing possibility for preaching on Easter. The preacher could place the resurrection of Jesus in an ongoing series of demonstrations of God’s faithfulness suggested by the ones in the psalm.
The psalm seems to be rooted in something caused the community to be anxious about the future. The psalm gives thanks for God’s salvific actions, especially the exodus (e.g. Ps. 118: 14, 15-18, 23, 24, 28). For the psalmist, the exodus established a pattern of divine activity in behalf of the community in seasons of difficulty. The sermon could name the resurrection as another instance in the long line of God’s redemptive actions. We can see that the church thought this way through the frequent quotation of Psalm 118:22 in the Gospels and Letters (Matt. 21:42 and parallels; Acts 4:11; Eph 2:20; and 1 Pet 2:7).
Since God was faithful during Israel’s past, and proved faithful again in Jesus, the preacher might invite the congregation to take our place in the ongoing thanksgiving processional of Psalm 118 by identifying places in our world in which God is offering possibilities for regeneration.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Paul likely wrote 1 Corinthians in response to hyper-pneumatic ideas that had taken root in the congregation. With respect to the resurrection, the Corinthians had come to believe in a realized eschatology (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:12). For them, the resurrection was already present through the Spirit. The Corinthians thought they were free to live in the present pretty much as they wanted, without regard to future judgment. From Paul’s perspective the Corinthian believers did not live as the eschatological community God intended. They misused power, misbehaved sexually, ate food offered to idols, disrupted community at the sacred meal, made worship a chaos by misusing the spiritual gifts, and denied a future resurrection. In short, they were not a mutually supportive community whose relationships embodied the life of the new (resurrection) world.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul not only seeks to impress upon the Corinthians that they face the second coming, which includes both resurrection and judgment, and that they do so as bodies. For Paul (as for much Jewish thought), we do not have bodies. We are bodies in both this world and in the world to come.
Paul wants the Corinthians to recognize that what they do with their bodies in this present life points to whether they will have a resurrection body after the second coming. If they do not live faithfully as mutually supportive community, they will perish (1 Cor. 1:18).
When people believe in the resurrection, they should live in the present in ways that point towards the characteristics of life embodied in the resurrection body and in the larger Realm of God. From Paul’s point a view, a person would not want to miss it.
One does not have to accept the whole of Paul’s apocalyptic world view in order to embrace Paul’s deep point: what we do as bodies matters. We can participate with God in building mutually supportive community, and hence, can benefit from living in such community. Or we can use our bodies (ourselves) for our own self-serving ends, and perish.
Of course, some people in today’s congregation will raise the question, “Well, that’s all well and good, but what happens after we die? Does Paul offer a technical diagram of what happens after death?” My own view is that Paul uses the mythological language of first-century apocalypticism to interpret the world beyond the second coming. I do not believe that we will have bodies in Paul’s sense, but I do believe what we do as bodies contributes (or frustrates) the ongoing life of the world and is gathered into the eternal flow of God. I would like to believe, with Marjorie Suchocki, that consciousness continues in God through eternity. Whether or not Suchocki’s muse turns out to be true, I believe the deep point of the text, with respect to life beyond, is that we can trust God for what lies ahead.
The reading from John today and on subsequent Sundays depends on the two-story Johannine world view. Whereas apocalyptic theology is built on the contrast of time between the new age and the old, John’s world view (reminiscent of more Hellenistic ways of thought) is built more on a contrast of spaces—heaven above and the world below. Heaven is the sphere of God, life, love, light, sight, truth, freedom, community, and abundance. The world is the sphere of the devil, death, darkness, blindness, lying, slavery, fractiousness, and scarcity. John’s community experienced the world in just these terms—as a place of conflict, hostility, and threat.
God sent Jesus into the world to reveal the possibilities of heaven (life, love, light, etc.) to those in the world. From John’s perspective, people can live in the world as if they are in a colony of heaven when they believe in Jesus. John’s eschatology is thus partially realized and partially future. We can experience much of heaven in the present, but can experience it fully only when we die and follow Jesus’ way into the upper sphere of heaven. John wants the congregation to believe that in the midst of their social turmoil, God makes it possible for them to live in a sphere of heaven in their life as community.
The world revealed its colors unmistakably by putting Jesus to death. Indeed, death is the worst the world can do.
John 20:1-18 confirms the hope that John offers. Before we get to the resurrection, though, John calls attention to the fact believers in Jesus sometimes assume the perspective of the world. The disciple whom Jesus loved speaks from the perspective of the world by assuming that someone has taken the body and put it elsewhere (John 20:2). Peter and another disciple look in the empty tomb and see the grave clothes but they do not understand that Jesus is alive. Instead, they return to their homes. (John 20:3-10).
Mary, too, epitomizes the perspective of the world when she weeps at the tomb. Moreover, despite having seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, she is so wrapped in the mindset of the world that when Jesus speaks to her, she thinks he is the gardener. She wants to know where the gardener has moved the body (John 20:11-15). The preacher might explore how people in the church today similarly think from the perspective of the world.
The resurrected Jesus is then revealed to Mary (John 20:16). When Mary says, “I have seen [Jesus] [alive],” the narrator means that the possibilities of heaven revealed through Jesus—life, love, light, etc.—are still present in the world. Jesus is about to ascend to God in heaven from where Jesus will continue to stream the qualities of heaven into the world (John 20:17-18).
Moreover, before Jesus ascends, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the disciples with an admonition. “As [God] has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21-22). The community is now able to do everything Jesus did, which was to reveal the sphere (possibilities) of God in the world. The resurrection of Jesus, then, is not simply about what happened to Jesus. Nor does it simply confirm the hope of a future life beyond this world for those who believe in Jesus. The resurrection means that eternal life (a life with the qualities of heaven) already begins for the disciples and, indeed, that the disciples are now vested with the sphere of force that was at work in Jesus.
From a theological and hermeneutical point of view, I do not believe that the universe is actually divided into two stories, nor that my world is as somber as John’s world. Nor do I believe that people experience fullness of life only through believing in Jesus. However, I do believe that the figure of Jesus as narrated by John is one way that God offers the possibility of qualities of life associated with heaven (life, love, light, etc.). Furthermore, I do not believe we can do everything that John pictures Jesus doing. I do not, for instance, expect to walk on water. But I do believe that we can help shape existence in a way that bends towards heaven when we participate with Jesus and with one another in accepting the gifts and pursuing the qualities of life that are associated with heaven.