|Reading 1:||Reading 2:||Reading 3:||Reading 4:|
|Psalm 118:1-2 & 14-24||1 Corinthians 15:19-26||John 20:1-18|
By Lydia Schon
Up until the book of Acts, most of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament was written for and about the Jewish people. The early Christian movement described in the book of Acts was when the good news of Jesus as savior began to become a universal message for all people. Here in this lectionary passage, Peter addresses Cornelius and the gentiles. Cornelius is an especially important figure in the book of Acts because he is revered as a “man of God” (Acts 10:2) who is used by God in a powerful way to spread the gospel message despite the fact that he is Roman and uncircumcised. The importance of Cornelius emphasizes just how far-reaching Christianity can be and who it can include.
The second part of this passage, beginning from line 39, changes the emphasis back to the Jews who were witnesses to Jesus’ teachings, death and resurrection. The story of Jesus is meant to be shared and his apostles have the responsibility and the privilege to proclaim and spread that message to everyone because while Jesus came to the Jews, “God shows no partiality…and he is Lord of all” (verses 34 & 36).
This interplay between Jesus’ particularity and universality is a common subject of discussion within theology and commonly known as “the scandal of particularity” – that the savior of the world for people of all times and places would embody Godself in the form of a man from a specific historical and cultural context. This is both awe-inspiring and absurd – a scandal indeed!
Psalm 118:1-2 & 14-24
A portion of Psalm 118 was the lectionary response for last Sunday, Palm Sunday, and the other portion was selected as the lectionary response for this Sunday, Easter. As I discussed last week, Psalm 118 is a song of thanksgiving that has been and is commonly read during Passover. It recalls God’s faithfulness, especially during the liberation and exodus from Egypt. This is why the song refers to God as the people’s victory and triumph. This is also why the author(s) thank God for not giving them over to death but giving them life once again.
In light of Easter, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it means for Christians to be a “resurrection people” when I may not necessarily believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. Adherents of Process Theology will most likely be sympathetic to my hesitation on the physical resurrection but I recently had an interaction with a fellow clergy person that helped me to think about resurrection and being “resurrection people” in a whole new way.
I am now in the process of revitalizing a particular ministry in my congregation that was vital at one point and then collapsed due to a lack of leadership. I could have left that ministry in the past but decided not to because it is essential for larger congregations like the one I am in. But if one has ever started and failed a diet before, one knows that it is much easier to begin a project for the first time than to start it a second, third or fourth time. Psychological and sociological trends show similar results in that there is more momentum and energy in beginning new projects or movements for the first time and it becomes much more difficult to continue them at the same level of intensity and success after they have gone by the wayside.
So I was in a place of discouragement when I shared my fears about the particular ministry with my fellow colleague and to my surprise, she responded, “remember that we are a resurrection people. We believe that things that are dead and seemingly hopeless can come back to life.” Her words immediately struck a chord with me and my gut knew she was right. Despite my realism towards life, I do believe that with God’s power, that which is seemingly lifeless can be infused with new energy: relationships that have gone awry, life trajectories that were thrown off course because of horrible mistakes and yes, dead ministries–these may all have the appearance of expiration but sometimes, God, in partnership with us, turns them around.
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Normally, I am skeptical of messages that communicate explicitly or inexplicitly the superiority and goodness of life versus the inferiority and evilness of death. Not only is this simplistic dichotomy taught through the media but unfortunately, also through Christian theology. This passage from 1 Corinthians is just one place among many in the New Testament, particularly the epistles, where Christian discomfort with death derives from whereas it is less pronounced in the Hebrew Bible. I find that such Christian theology has either created or perpetuates western society’s emphasis on youth and the devaluation of old things and aging. This is manifested obviously in how our American society treats our elderly as opposed to Asian cultures influenced by religious traditions that do not see death or aging as negative or evil.
At the same time, I must admit that tis the season in the Christian church where I as a Christian pastor am forced to reflect upon and even become inspired by life, rebirth and resurrection. As I walk through our church courtyard, I see flowers blooming, bees and insects out and about after a prolonged absence and children ecstatic by the idea of Easter egg hunts. And therefore, this makes me not want to completely do away with Paul’s words and dominant Christian theology but to deepen it and strengthen it by stating that our Easter story does not necessarily teach that death is bad or evil. Rather, it teaches us that death is not the end. Death and life go hand in hand. We cannot have one without the other. And while we do not know what happens after our physical bodies finish their course on this earth, I am confident that we will continue to live and be connected to the essence of life in rich and vibrant ways.
Each of the gospels have their own version of Jesus’ resurrection but I find the Johannine one to be the most interesting and complex. In this gospel, Jesus’ resurrection is not initially shown through an angel or Jesus’ physical presence but simply through an empty tomb. This empty tomb evokes an array of emotions: fear and trembling on the part of Mary, excitement on the part of Peter, and trepidation coupled with faith on the part of the unnamed disciple. It is one scene that people interpret and respond to in multiple ways.
This should not surprise us then, modern day Christians’ diverse responses to Easter and more specifically, Jesus’ resurrection. On one side of the spectrum, there are denominations that place the resurrection and the resurrection story at the center of Christianity while other denominations place a marginal emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection as they focus on Jesus’ life and teachings instead.
Wherever one may fall on this spectrum, this lectionary passage is perfect for all of us because it leaves room for diverse responses and narrative ambiguity. At the same time, it reveals that something unusual did in fact happen. Jesus’ linens remained so we know that his body wasn’t stolen. Whether or not he eventually resurrected and returned to God (which, it did state later on in the passage), the empty tomb revealed that death was not the final word for Jesus.
This is a powerful scene that has implications for the way that our world operates and one that many nihilists may adamantly disagree with: that humans can create evil, perpetuate evil and even try to kill all that is ethical, moral, good and loving but in the end, what is ethical, moral, good and loving will always prevail in its o