April 21, 2019
|Reading 1||Reading 2||Reading 3||Reading 4||Reading 1 Alt||Reading 2 Alt|
|Acts 10:34-43||Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24||I Corinthians 15:19-26||John 20:1-18||Isaiah 64:17-25||Luke 24:1-12|
by Bruce Epperly
Easter – The Celebration of the Resurrection
Easter joins the universal and the particular, the global and the idiosyncratic, and this moment and the eternal. Resurrection is an historical experience and a contemporary inspiration. Resurrection stretches our imagination and challenges us to practice the fruits of resurrection in daily life. No one is excluded from God’s creative transformation and whole-person revitalization. God is not partial toward any people or religion and the resurrection comes to us, calling our name, addressing our community, transforming our lives in unique ways.
The reading from Acts depicts Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and his household. Peter has just discovered that nothing – and no person – is “unclean,” beyond God’s circle of love. To the orthodox believer, Cornelius is not supposed to experience either the resurrection or the coming of the Holy Spirit. He is excluded, despite his affirmation of the Jewish vision of God, from direct contact with Jewish teachers, including those of the early Christian movement. Yet, God shows no partiality. The resurrection message is for every nation. No one is outside the amazing affirmation of God’s triumph over sin and death. This reality transforms both Peter and Cornelius. Resurrection undermines every ideological or ethnic wall we erect. Just as Jesus miraculously penetrated the walls of the upper room on Easter night, resurrection spirit miraculously overcomes any barrier to salvation erected based in faith tradition, ethnicity, nation of origin, sexuality, or previous life experience. Even persecutors, like Paul, and deniers, like Peter, can encounter the Risen Christ, be transformed, and receive a mission to go into all the world.
Easter invites the congregation to consider the question: What walls is resurrection breaking down in our world? How can our church practice unity rather than separation?
Isaiah proclaims that God is creating a “new thing,” an emerging world of Shalom, which has social as well as personal implications. In light of the realities of refugees, malnutrition, and civil unrest, Isaiah receives an amazing promise – young and old alike will flourish, peace and laughter will abound on city streets, and war will be a thing of the past. God’s Shalom will take root in everyday life and in the affairs of nations. Here, too, we are questioned: What new thing is God calling us toward in our lives and congregation?
Resurrection points us toward everlasting life, and contemporary joy in the Holy Here and Now. “This is the day that God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” as the Psalmist proclaims. “Now is the time of salvation.” God’s blessing of new life for all shapes the living of every day. As Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians, death has been defeated. Sin has been overcome. Every symbol of death has lost its power. All are alive in Christ. An incredible event ushers in an incredible salvation, which inspires us to live fully and boldly right now. This day, we can experience salvation as we consider: What adventures does today call us toward?
On Easter morning, I typically choose to read both Gospel accounts listed in the lectionary. Together, they give us a holistic vision of Jesus’ followers first experiences of resurrection life. John’s gospel begins with Mary of Magdala’s plea, “Where have they taken Jesus?” and ends with the life changing encounter of being called by your true name. Resurrection invites us to share in God’s glory by becoming fully alive and claiming our deepest identity. When Mary of Magdala hears Jesus call her name, she becomes a new creation. She hears her name spoken as if for the first time and receives a vision of who she truly is. In her ecstasy, she wants to embrace Jesus, but he cautions her, “Don’t hold onto me!” This has always been a puzzling passage. Is Jesus’ body too energetic to be safely touched? Is he still in process of receiving his own resurrection body? Or, is Jesus telling her something more profound? Is Jesus more than we can imagine? The Risen One will be everywhere, greeting us in every face, addressing us in every encounter.
As I read the resurrection stories this year, I am reminded of Tom Joad’s speech from the Grapes of Wrath. Truth and salvation are not localized but universal in their address to all creation.
“Well maybe it’s like Casy says. A fella ain’t got a soul of his own — just a little piece of a big soul. The one big soul that belongs to everybody. Then it don’ matter. I’ll be around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere — wherever you can look. Whenever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat. I’ll be there. Whenever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy. I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. And when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build. I’ll be there, too.”
Mary’s encounter with Jesus invites us to consider: What is our true name? What unexpected places reveal Christ to us?
Luke continues the amazing Easter message with its focus on the women. It is not the great or mighty, the rich and powerful, but humble and anxious women who receive the Good News of resurrection. Women with no authority in a patriarchal society become witnesses to resurrection. Resurrection shows no partiality nor should we as we train our senses for God’s new thing. God is rising on the borderlands, among refugees, in dispossessed persons, in those who question the values of society, in the marginalized and the forgotten. God forgets no one. All things are energized by resurrection living. In what ways can we share in ministry with those who have been marginalized in our church and community?
With farmer-poet Wendell Berry, each year we are challenged to “practice resurrection.” We are challenged in the now-ness of resurrection to turn our worlds upside down and to go beyond our habitual responses to be part of God’s “new thing.” This is challenging work but in the challenge, we discover the Risen Christ and the joy of our true names.
Rev. Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., serves as Senior Pastor at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, Massachusetts. Prior to moving to Cape Cod, he served on the faculties and of Georgetown University, Claremont School of Theology, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. He also served for nearly twenty years as Protestant University Chaplain at Georgetown University and for seven years as Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Bruce is currently a professor of spirituality, ministry, and theology in the doctoral program at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington D.C. He is the author of fifty books in the areas of process theology, spirituality, ministerial excellence and spiritual formation, scripture, and healing and wholeness, including The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World; Tending to the Holy: Practicing the Presence of God in Ministry; Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; and Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims.