Here’s something surprising. We are all staying at home — you know, “social distancing” — and I haven’t heard anyone say they have extra time. That strike you as odd? It’s like folks who are retired telling you they are so busy now that they are retired they don’t know how they had time to work!
Well, I’m throwing all that to the wind. I am sending you something to fill your time. You say you don’t have time to read it? Okay. You don’t have to. But if you want some form of devotional material in this time of social distancing, this may help.
What is it? I’ll tell you. Well, I won’t. I’ll the experts inform us.
The Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle of weekly lections used to varying degrees by the vast majority of mainline Protestant churches in Canada and the United States. The RCL is built around the seasons of the Church Year, and includes four lections for each Sunday, as well as additional readings for major feast days. During most of the year, the lections are: a reading from the Hebrew Bible, a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles, and a Gospel reading. During the season of Easter, the Hebrew Bible lection is usually replaced with one from the Acts of the Apostles. The lections from the Hebrew Bible are sometimes chosen from the Apocrypha.
I thought folks might want to read one of the assigned readings each day. I know, there aren’t enough to cover all the days in a week, but it’s better than nothing. I also know that some of you are already reading the lectionary readings for each given Sunday. So, I threw in something extra. In red lettering I have included my reflections on each of the readings. Don’t worry. I don’t get all scholarly on you. I’m not sure I could if I wanted to! These are just my first impressions and I offer them to stimulate your own thinking.
So, here’s the bottom line. Use this as you see fit. To the extent that it serves to deepen your spiritual life, well and good, and it might be fun to see if the sermon has anything to do with what either you or I were thinking.
Be safe and stay well,
April 12, 2020
Below are all the assigned lectionary readings for Easter Day. I encourage you to read them as a devotional exercise and if you like, read my notes which contain my thoughts about the various readings. The text that is in “red” are my reflections. I hope you are all well and that in this time of social disconnection we might yet stay connected by the Spirit we share one with another.
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Is Peter a universalist? In the first two verses one could argue that Peter sees anyone who fears God (and it is unclear whether Peter means Yahweh or any ultimate concern by another name) and does what is “right and acceptable to him” is part of the movement of God, a citizen of the kingdom not yet seen. Verses 34-35 could be seen this way so when folks say one does not have to be Christian to be acceptable to God, this seems to be what Peter is saying. The key, however, may be the “fear” of God. Can a professed atheist who does what is right and acceptable lay claim to the salvation Peter is presenting? What is clear from this passage is that a new day has dawned and one of the walls of separation between the saved and the unsaved is brought low — no longer does nationality have a bearing on who is or is not saved. Thus, one need not be a Jew prior to being Christian.
Peter then goes on to make specific claims about Jesus and to announce that it is through belief in this Jesus who Peter professes that one comes to salvation. Peter has made belief in Christ the linchpin to salvation and if this is the case, then those who by their nationality presume to be God’s elect are not rejected because of their nationality, but they, too, must come to belief in Jesus if they are to follow in the way of God’s truth.
If one were to develop a sermon for Easter Sunday, the theme of universal acceptance in God’s eyes should be lifted up. The resurrection of Jesus seals this new day; for the rising of Christ was meant for all.
31At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. 2Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, 3the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. 4Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. 5Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. 6For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”
This is an amazing passage of hope because it emanates from Jeremiah who preached doom and destruction because of the waywardness of God’s people and their having embraced other gods. Note that the theme of universal acceptance is found in this passage but is addressed specifically to Israel and its people. This only makes sense since he is not addressing the world but a nation that has been under attack by a foreign power. This is a promise of restoration in a time of destruction. How important for us to hear these words of hope in a time of global uncertainty and economic turmoil. It is a great affirmation of the power of God and thus parallels the hope we profess on Easter day.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
14The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
15There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
16the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
17I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.
19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
This psalm has several verses that ring with familiarity. This being Easter, I would focus on verse 22 and also consider including verses 22-24. Christians throughout time have seen the Psalm’s reference to the “corner stone that was rejected” as a reference to Jesus. While I don’t think the psalmist intended this as a reference to someone who would live hundreds of years after the psalmist’s death, it can be used as an insight into how God uses unexpected even unacceptable means to accomplish God’s purpose and will. Perhaps its greatest message is found in the psalmist having found God to be an unpredictable bearer of salvation. This is not a God who is subject to our preconceptions or our control. It reminds me of the couplet by Robert Frost: “We dance around in a ring and suppose/While the secret sits in the middle and knows.”
Colossians 3:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43
3So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.
8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
This passage serves as a reminder that being in Christ carries with it ethical and social obligations. We are citizens not merely of this world but of the kingdom of God. Our allegiance, therefore, must be given over to the greatest of the two. We are to follow in the way of a higher ethic because if you profess to be in Christ, Christ must be in you and if so, Christ would never do what verses 5-7 prohibit. So, faith is more than a set of beliefs. It is also a code of behavior. We are not only to live as a justified people but as a sanctified people, too.
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary’s first thought is what she reported to Peter and to the other disciple — namely that the body of Jesus had been stolen. This makes rational sense. I remember when Osama bin Laden was killed. The United States took his remains, placed the body aboard a ship of war and buried him at sea. This was done in accordance with Islamic teachings but the burial at sea was deliberate. We did not what a shrine built where his followers could congregate and perpetuate his ideology. So, the theft of Jesus’ body might be done for the same reason. My theory also helps explain the behavior of the first disciple to get to the tomb. He simply looked in but he did not examine the evidence. There was no reason to postulate a different theory. What he saw did not contradict Mary’s reporting. It was when Pete entered the tomb and examined the physical evidence that things did not add up. Notice the description of what they found.
He saw the linen wrappings lying there,7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;
If I am a grave robber, would I have taken the time to wrap up the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head? I don’t think so. I really wouldn’t care about the neatness of the scene, I would just want to steal the body and if things fall to the floor, so be it. So, when Peter sees the evidence and when the other disciple sees it, too, the text says they believed.
But then there is this very curious verse:
10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
What a strange reaction to the greatest event in human history. They went home? Who would do that? Didn’t they want to tell the other disciples? Didn’t they owe them that much? The text is silent regarding their reasoning, so we are free to speculate. Here are some possible reasons:
- They feared reprisal. Remember, the tomb was being watched by Roman guards. The guards might think what Mary thought — namely, that someone had stolen Jesus’ body and if thy had seen Peter and the other disciple in the vicinity, they would become suspects. Maybe they went home to actually protect the other disciples from being discovered.
- Maybe they went home because they were in shock. They needed time to process this new reality. Their world had changed. They went to the tomb expecting a tragic, yet rational event. They went expecting Mary’s suspicion to be correct only to find themselves now having to think anew. What does it mean for Jesus to be resurrected? They went home to sort out this new reality.
We, of course, don’t know why they went home, but at the end of our worship service, we, too, must go home. And perhaps it is in our homes that the resurrection can and should have its greatest effect. If we are not changed when we look into the face of those we love, can we truly claim to be changed at all?
Now the next scene takes place. Mary is weeping outside the tomb. Apparently, Peter and the other disciple did not share with her what they now believed. She still is thinking that someone took the body, and this is after seeing the angles and their having addressed her. In fairness, her conversation with the angles is apparently interrupted by her encounter with what she suspects is the gardener. But the fact remains that even the appearance of angles does not shake her rational conviction that someone has taken the body. There is a lesson for us. If angles are messengers from God, their appearance to Mary was not enough to shake her out of her rational mind set. The body of Jesus is not there. The rational explanation is the one Mary came to — namely, someone has taken the body. She doesn’t even seem to question the appearance of the angels. How often has God sent me angles and it was not enough to shake my rational mind, not enough to open me to mystery and awe?
Her encounter with the gardener is one filled with spiritual insight. Note that she does not recognize Jesus. The figure before her is the risen Lord. How often have my preconceptions of what can and cannot be precluded me from seeing the mystery and wonder that is placed before me? How often has reason proven to be an impenetrable wall. If it does not fit my preconceptions of reality, I reject it. And then this. Jesus speaks her name, “Mary” and it is in the speaking of her name that her eyes are opened and she Jesus. Jesus does not argue theology with her. He does not chide her for not knowing what He had made plain and clear — that on the third day, He was to rise. No, Jesus simply calls her name and it is in hearing Him that she sees Him. So it has proven for all of us. I can make the case for the theory of salvation, but in the end, it is our knowing Jesus that brings us to faith. It is the fact that we have entered into a relationship with the risen Lord that leads to Jesus calling us by name and in the calling of our name, we know the truth of what we believe. We, like Mary, see.
Now she does what I thought Peter and the other disciple should have done. She goes and tells the disciples that she has seen the Lord and what He had said to her.
If you read on in John 20 you notice what I think is a rather curious omission. The text does not tell us how the disciples reacted to Mary’s reporting. Instead, we jump to Monday, the first day of the week, and Jesus appears before the disciples who were meeting in a locked room. I don’t know what to make of the author’s omission of the disciples’ reaction. I am not sure I would have believed Mary or anyone else for that matter. It’s not until they, too, see Jesus that belief arises. So, if that would have been true for me long ago, if I would have needed to see Jesus to believe in His resurrection, how can I profess to believe today?
It is because I have seen Jesus. Oh, not the physical body of our Lord. Jesus has never appeared before me as He did to the disciples. No, that I cannot claim. But I am not blind either. I have seen the effect of Jesus’ rising from the dead in the lives of those I serve. I have seen a man who emotionally abused his wife become one of the finest husbands I have known. Why? He found Jesus and his life was transformed. I have met those caught in the web of addiction, who struggle with it everyday, yet remain sober because they have surrendered their will to Jesus. I have witnessed acts of courage as the followers of Christ stand with the oppressed of this world. I have seen so many acts of compassion and care for those within the church and for those around the world — those we will never meet — all done in the service of Jesus. Oh, I have seen risen Lord.
28After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
What a silly thing to say, “Do not be afraid.” It is said both by the angel and by Jesus. It may be hard for us to put ourselves in the position of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. We may read the story and gloss over the fear. Of what might they be afraid?
- The power of God or the power of whoever did this. I can imagine myself wondering if this is a “good” thing or a “bad” thing. I don’t know that the angel looked like. I don’t know what the dvil might look life. I would have known that I am in the presence of something that can do to me whatever it desires. I would have been afraid.
- Maybe when they saw Jesus their fear was abated. The text says that they left the tomb in fear and great joy. Well, when they left the tomb, they surmised that what the angel had told them was true, that Jesus was going before them, that Jesus had been risen. But believing something and having proof that one’s belief is true are two different things. In seeing Jesus, the words of the angel are confirmed. But note that even Jesus says to them, “Do not be afraid…”
The message I take from this narrative is very apt for today. You see, I am convinced that this Corona virus event is far from over. Oh, we will come out of the pandemic. There are brilliant minds at work on a vaccine and we learn more and more about how to treat those who have contracted COVID-19. But the sequala of this event will be felt for years to come. So many have lost their jobs and their income, when we emerge from this illness, will we be able to restart a stagnant economy? No, we are far from being rid of this crisis. And what I just wrote causes me to fear. When I find myself filed with fear, I remember these words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid…” Long ago, the world as they knew was changed. The presumption that force was more powerful than nonviolence, the idea that being rich was the true measure of a person’s virtue, the conviction that death was our final destination, all of that was overturned by an angel sitting upon a stone. This is the God we proclaim and to live in fear is a denial of God’s ultimate power. We are the ones who say, “All will be well,” because, my friends, it will be; for the risen Lord holds us all in His arms.