Our reading from Acts captures the moment when Peter realizes the expanse of God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ. After receiving visions from heaven that point to God’s inclusion of the Gentiles in the new covenant, and after hearing that Cornelius, a Gentile God fearer, also received related visions, Peter concludes, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
This is a watershed moment in the history of Christianity. Before Peter is able to finish his speech the Holy Spirit interrupts him and pours itself out onto the Gentile believers. Peter just preached that this same Spirit “anointed Jesus of Nazareth…with power” and now it anoints the Gentile Cornelius and his family as well.
This is the story of two conversions. The conversion of Cornelius and his family, and the conversion of Peter and his travel companions. The narrative’s focus is on the latter. As we consider the meaning of the resurrection for our body of believers we pray not only for the conversion of the world, but for our own needed conversions as we continue to unravel the work of God in our time and place.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
This is the only time I recall in the lectionary when the Psalm lection stays the same for two weeks in a row. In all three years of the lectionary rotation, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday always use Psalm 118 as the Psalm of response. Last week we mentioned all the ways that the Psalm fit the occasion of Palm Sunday. We can do the same thing here for Easter. Consider the following…
“The Lord…has become my salvation.” (vs. 14)
“I shall not die, I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” (vs. 17)
“He did not give me over to death.” (vs. 18)
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (vs. 24)
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
In our Epistle lection Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel message Paul first proclaimed to them. The heart of this message is worth quoting here in its entirety, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”
Paul goes on to tell of all the people who were witnesses to the resurrection, mentioning himself last. Paul’s humility is evident here “as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.” The presence of Jesus in Paul’s life is not due to Paul’s own work and merit. Instead Paul denies the myth of the self made man and confesses “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” This is the needed confession of all God’s prophets.
John’s gospel tells the story of Mary Magdalene’s first encounter with the risen Christ. Mary comes to the tomb and finds it empty. Assuming that someone has come and stolen the dead body of Christ she runs and tells Peter and ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ about the missing corpse. They immediately run to the tomb and discover it empty as Mary had reported. After the discovery they return to their homes (apparently dejected since John tells us that they did not yet understand the scriptures that say that Jesus must rise from the dead). Mary however stays behind and weeps outside the tomb. While weeping she decides to take another look at the empty tomb and there discovers two angels standing where Jesus’ dead body had laid. The angels ask her why she is weeping. She tells them that they have taken away the Lord. Suddenly she turns around and is in the presence of yet another person (this person is the risen Christ, but Mary in her confused state assumes it is the gardener). Jesus asks Mary again “Why are you weeping?” Mary says to Jesus, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” At this request Jesus speaks Mary’s name. Immediately Mary recognizes Jesus. Jesus instructs her to go and tell the others that he is to ascend to the Father. Mary goes out and fulfills her commission. Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ teaches us that the power of the risen Christ can at first remain hidden from us (we can stare grace in the face and still wallow in our despair), and that as God reveals it to us it is not ours to hoard but ours to share.
Celebration of Worship
Easter is hope! Easter is Joy! Easter is mission! The message of the resurrected Lord is always “go tell others.” Go tell others that sin and death are defeated. Go tell others that God has done something “new.” Go tell others that Jerusalem can be rebuilt again. Go tell others that the stone that was rejected has now become the chief corner stone. As Paul reminds us if Christians do not have the message of Easter then Christians have nothing to say at all. As you prepare your hearts, minds, prayers, and hymns for Sunday consider the Christ who is the “first fruits” of the coming resurrection. Consider the absurdity of the “idle tale” that you tell! In spite of the absurdity consider the hope it inspires. Consider the need of some to get up and investigate this claim for themselves. Consider the great feeling of walking to the parking lot after services “amazed at what had happened.”