For the Principal Service on Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary prescribes the Reading from Acts and either the Reading from Isaiah or 1 Corinthians. The order of the Readings my vary from congregation to congregation.
Lesson: Acts 10:34-43
34 Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how 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. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not 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. 42 He 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. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with the Ascension of the Christ and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws to become Jesus Followers.
Chapters 16 to 28 of Acts are an account of Paul’s Missionary Journeys, his arrest, and his transfer to Rome – and the stories are not always consistent with Paul’s letters.
Today’s reading is Peter’s speech that is part of the story of the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion. The speech is a synopsis of the major themes in the Gospel According to Luke. In the conversion story, an angel told Cornelius to ask Peter to see him (v.5). Prior to the arrival of the men sent by Cornelius, Peter had a vision in which he heard “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (v.15). The Spirit also told Peter to go to Cornelius with the men who were searching for him because they had been sent by the Spirit (v.20). When Peter met Cornelius, he told Peter about the appearance of the angel (v.31). Peter gave his speech, and the Holy Spirit “fell upon all who heard the word” (v. 44).
The conversion of the Gentile, Cornelius, by the power of the Holy Spirit was a key element in the decisions made at the so-called Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).
Epistle: Isaiah 25:6-9
6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the LORD GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were made from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE, and then assembled into a single book.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Israel and Judea to repent in the years before Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading is part of four chapters (24-27) that are called the “Isaiah Apocalypse” because of the eschatological (end times) themes in them. Although they are included in First Isaiah (Ch. 1-39), most scholars date these four chapters to the Persian Period (539-333 BCE) or the early Hellenistic Period (333-300 BCE). Chapter 24 describes great destruction, but the next three chapters speak of an “eschatological” (end of times as we know them) renewal and restoration.
Today’s verses depicted God’s victory over evil, sorrow and death. The image presented is an eschatological banquet reminiscent of the banquet on Mount Sinai alluded to in Exodus 24:11. This image was linked in Ancient Israel with an expected Messiah through whom YHWH would swallow up death forever.
Because YHWH will “swallow up death forever” (v.8), this reversed the image of death swallowing up everything. Accordingly, these verses are often read at funerals and for Easter.
Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
1 I would remind you, brothers, and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them — though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic. Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) and presented his views on many issues that were controversial in this Jesus Follower Community.
Today’s reading raises many interpretive issues. When Paul says Christ died “for” our sins (v. 3) does he mean “because of” or “as a result of” or “on account of” or “to atone for”?
In 1 Cor.15:44, Paul speaks of the resurrected body as a “spiritual body.” In today’s reading, are the appearances to Cephas (Peter), the 12, the 500, James (Jesus’ brother) and lastly to Paul, “physical” appearances, or “spiritual” appearances?
Nowhere in the Christian Scriptures is there a claim that any appearance of the resurrected Christ to Paul (including the three accounts of the Damascus Road Experience) was a “physical” appearance. Does this mean the other appearances (to Peter, the twelve, the 500, and James) were also appearances of a “spiritual body”? Paul seems to assert that the appearance to him of the resurrected Christ was of the same type and quality as the appearances to others.
It is also quite clear that Paul wants the Corinthians (and others) to know that he is an “apostle” and on an equal footing with the twelve, and that he has “worked harder” than any of them (v.10).
Reading: Mark 16:1-8
1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE. Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Today’s reading is the first description of the Resurrection in the Gospels. The Gospels all say that the sabbath was over and that the persons went to the tomb on the morning of the first day of the week.
Mary Magdalene is the only constant presence in all the Resurrection accounts. In Mark and Matthew, she is accompanied by Mary, the mother of James, but the accounts do not specify which James. There are two apostles named James, and there is a James identified as Jesus’ brother in Galatians 1:12, who was also the person who rendered the decision at the “Council of Jerusalem.” If “James” was the brother of Jesus, his mother Mary would also have been the mother of Jesus.
In Mark only, Salome accompanied the two Marys. In Matthew only, Joanna accompanied the two Marys. In Luke, the women who went to the tomb are not identified. In John, Mary Magdalene was accompanied by Peter and the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”
A white robe, according to the Daniel 11:35 is the symbol of a vindicated martyr and is also the color of Jesus’ robe in the story of the Transfiguration. The “young man” told the women that Jesus “has been raised” (v.6) – and act performed by God, and not by Jesus himself.
In Mark and Matthew, the women were told to go to Galilee. In Luke’s Gospel, however, the appearances of the Risen Christ are in Jerusalem, Emmaus, and Bethany. In John 20, there was an appearance at the tomb to Mary Magdalene (who thought he was the gardener) and in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to the disciples and then to Thomas. In John 21, there is an appearance at the sea by Tiberius in Galilee.
The verses concluding today’s reading are the likely the original end of Mark’s Gospel. A “Shorter Ending” and a “Longer Ending” to the Gospel of Mark were added in the 2nd Century.
The Shorter Ending is different in style from the rest of the Gospel. Other ancient authorities add more verses to the Shorter Ending.
The Longer Ending begins “Now after he rose” — which is different from verse 6 in which Jesus is raised. The Longer Ending also speaks about safely picking up snakes and drinking poison “while in the spirit” (16:18).