The Revised Common Lectionary for the Principal Service on Easter offers a choice of readings.
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: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; 38 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 an account of the Ascension of Jesus 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 in order to become Jesus Followers.
Today’s reading is part of the story of the Baptism of Cornelius. Cornelius was a centurion who led more than 100 soldiers. He was therefore a significant officer in the Roman Army. He was described in Acts 10:2 as “a devout man who feared God with all his household.” (in the First Century, a Gentile who was “devout” and sympathetic to Judaism was called a “God-fearer.”) Cornelius had a vision (10:3) and was directed by God to send some of his men from Caesarea to Joppa to find Peter.
Before Cornelius’ men arrived, Peter fell into a trace and saw a sheet being lowered that contained foods that were ritually “unclean” for Jews (10:9-14). Peter was told however, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (v.15). The centurion’s men then met with Peter and brought him to Caesarea.
Peter was initially reluctant to “associate with or visit a Gentile” (v.28), but he recalled his vision and Cornelius also recounted his vision to Peter. The Jewish Annotated New Testament says that refusal to associate with Gentiles was rarely reflected in Jewish writings but represented a common perspective among Gentiles in the First Century. It notes that the actual practice among Jews would not have supported this refusal to associate — as indicated by the existence of the “Court of the Gentiles” at the Temple.
On the basis of these visions, Peter gave the address that is today’s reading — a synopsis of the Gospel According to Luke. The JANT observes that verse 34 (‘God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him”) meant that to be God’s people was no longer constituted by the ethnic division between Jew and Gentile but by a religious distinction – those who do (and those who do not) fear God and do what is right.
In saying Jesus the Christ is “Lord of all” (v.36), Peter was proclaiming that Jesus is Lord of both Jews and Gentiles. Peter’s speech acknowledged that the resurrected Christ did not appear to all people, but only those who were chosen by God as witnesses (v.41). The statement that Jesus the Christ was “ordained by God as the judge of the living and the dead” (v.42) can be understood in the context of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible – judges were persons who set things right.
In the verses that follow today’s reading, the Holy Spirit “fell upon all who heard the word” (v.44). Peter and the “circumcised believers” were “astounded that the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (v.45), including Cornelius. Peter therefore baptized all of them (v.48), even though they were Gentiles. The baptism of Cornelius was presented in Acts as the decisive step in the expansion of the Jesus Follower Movement to Gentiles.
In the Council of Jerusalem story, the Baptism of Cornelius was referred to by Peter as a reason for permitting Gentiles to become Jesus Followers (15:7-8).
1 At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
2 Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest,
3 the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.
4 Again 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.
5 Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
6 For 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.”
After the righteous and reforming King Josiah was killed in battle at Megiddo (from which we get the Greek word Armageddon) in 609 BCE, the fortunes of Judea took a sharp downward turn. Babylon threatened Judea’s existence, and Judea had a series of hapless kings from 609 until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Babylonians deported many Judean leaders to Babylon in 597 and a larger number in 586 (the Babylonian Exile). Jeremiah’s prophesy (i.e. speaking for YHWH) began around 609 and continued until 586 BCE when he died in Egypt.
Most Bible scholars agree that the Book of Jeremiah underwent substantial revisions between the time of Jeremiah (627 to 586 BCE) and the First Century. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there were different versions of the Book of Jeremiah. The Ancient Greek Septuagint Translation (the LXX – dating from 300 to 200 BCE) has some chapters that are not in the Hebrew versions.
Sections in the book that are in “poetry style” are generally attributed to the prophet, and parts in “prose style” were added later by writers whose theological outlook was closely aligned with the Deuteronomists. (In fact, Chapter 52 in Jeremiah is virtually word-for-word with 2 Kings 24:18 to 25:30 written by the Deuteronomists after the Exile.)
Jeremiah is largely a prophet of doom and gloom, but today’s reading is in poetry style and is part of a two-chapter “Book of Consolation.” The thoughts in these chapters are similar to Second Isaiah (Isaiah of the Exile) in stating that Jerusalem would be restored.
In today’s reading, the prophet spoke for YHWH to say that all the families of Israel (the 12 Tribes) would be restored (v.1), just as the Israelites were restored in the Exodus. YHWH’s covenantal love has been “everlasting” (v.3) and Israel was portrayed as YHWH’s bride (“virgin Israel’ v.4).
The prophet said that the people of Israel will have a new Exodus and will again take their tambourines (v.4), just as Miriam (Moses’ sister) and the women used tambourines to celebrate passing through the Sea of Reeds (Ex. 15:20). There would also be a renewal of pilgrimages to Jerusalem (“let us go up to Zion” v.6).
1 If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Colossae was a town in what is now western Turkey. A Jesus Follower community was founded there by Paul’s associate, Epaphras (1:7). The letter is short (four chapters) and expressed concern about apocalyptic and mystical practices that were inconsistent with Paul’s disciples’ understanding of what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Scholars debate whether this letter was written by Paul or by his disciples in the decades after Paul’s death in 63 CE. It lacks many terms used in Paul’s authentic letters and its style is more liturgical than Paul’s other letters.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary describes today’s reading as a summation of the teachings of the preceding section and a foundation for the detailed ethical instructions that follow. In particular, the theme of 2:12-14 (“you were buried in Christ in baptism and you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God”) is echoed in today’s reading (vv.1-2). The NJBC notes that vv.3-4 emphasize that although the resurrection had taken place, not all the conditions of the end-times are present and that the end times would be a time when all believers will be revealed in glory.
Immediately following today’s reading is an expression one of Paul’s most important theological insights – that the Christ (the Messiah) is the ultimate unifying principle for all reality. “The Christ is all and is in all” (v.11) so that there is no longer a dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “profane” — just as there is no essential difference between a Gentile (a “Greek”) and Jew, slave and free and the like (v.11).
1 Early 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. 2 So 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and 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. 13 They 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus 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.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written by an anonymous author around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and the Pharisees/Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
There are many differences between the accounts of the Resurrection in John and in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Fourth Gospel, imagery of light and dark is significant, and it is “still dark” when Mary Magdalene (alone in this Gospel) came to the tomb. In the Synoptic Gospels, it is “toward dawn” (Matt), “the sun had risen” (Mark), and “early dawn” (Luke). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes that although Mary is alone, she said “we do not know” (v.2) which reflects the engrafting of another tradition into the account.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Mary Magdalene was accompanied by “the other Mary” (Matt), “Mary the mother of James and Salome” (Mark) and “Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women” (Luke).
In all the accounts, the stone had been rolled away (in Matthew, by an earthquake). In the Synoptic Gospels, Mary and the others saw a man/angel (two in Luke).
In the Synoptic Gospels, Mary and the others told the disciples what they had seen but they were not believed. In John, Mary told Peter and the Beloved Disciple that the body had been taken out of the tomb, and they both ran to the tomb to see for themselves. In John, Peter and the Beloved Disciple saw linen wrappings but no angels (vv.6-7). Later, Mary saw two angels in the tomb (v.12).
As the accounts continued, the disciples were told that Jesus would see them in Galilee (Matt and Mark), but in Luke and John, the initial appearances of the Risen Christ were in in Jerusalem.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that the “they” to whom Mary referred (v.3) may have been grave robbers, but linens were valuable and grave robbers would not have left them behind.
The NJBC offers these insights regarding the theology of the Fourth Gospel: The concluding portions of this reading say that Jesus’ return was not to the disciples. Rather, his return was to his place with the Father. It observes that John sees Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, exultation, and return to heavenly glory as part of a single event. Jesus’ resurrection was not as if Jesus had returned to life and then later ascended into heaven. Rather, Jesus has passed into an entirely different reality.
In The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, Bishop Spong analyzed the Resurrection story in depth. He noted that the earliest writings about the Resurrection portrayed it as something done to Jesus by God. “He was raised” (rather than “he rose”) is the language used by Paul in all his epistles.
Spong observed that in the Fourth Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, there are four separable stories that have been combined: (1) the Mary Magdalene story (vv.1 and 11-18; (2) the Peter and the Beloved Disciple story (vv. 2-10) which was a standalone story inserted into the account; (3) the Upper Room story in which the disciples were completely unaware of the Magdalene Story and the Peter/Beloved Disciple Story; and (4) the Doubting Thomas story dealing with the meaning of faith.
Spong describes Resurrection eloquently. He says: “Resurrection is not about physical resuscitation. It is about entering and participating in the ‘new being.’ It is about the transformative power that is found in Jesus; that which issues in new dimensions of what it means to be human.”
Later, he says: “Resurrection is not something that occurred just in the life of Jesus; it occurs or it can occur in each of us. The Christian life is not about believing creeds or being obedient to divine rules; is about living, loving, and being. Resurrection comes when we are freed to give our lives away, freed to live beyond the boundaries of our fears, freed not only to be ourselves, but to empower all others to be themselves in the full, rich variety of our multifaceted humanity. Here prejudice dies. Here wholeness is tasted. Here resurrection becomes real.”
1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then 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.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ origins and identity. Written around 85 CE by an anonymous author, the Gospel began Jesus’s genealogy with Abraham and depicted Jesus as a teacher of the Law like Moses. More than any other Gospel, Matthew quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (using the Greek Septuagint Translation) to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.
Having been written after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Gospel reflected the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of Judaism going forward. Accordingly, the Gospel contains many harsh sayings about the Pharisees. The Gospel is aimed primarily at the late First Century Jewish Jesus Follower community.
The Gospel relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark and included all but 60 verses from Mark. Like Luke, Matthew also used a “Sayings Source” (called “Q” by scholars) which are found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark and John. There are also a substantial number of stories that are unique to Matthew: the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception was revealed to Joseph in a dream (rather than by an angel to Mary as in Luke); the Visit of the Magi; the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Flight to Egypt; the Laborers in the Vineyard; and the earthquake on Easter Morning, among others.
Although Matthew generally follows Mark’s account of the Resurrection, he does not include Salome (to be consistent with 27:61) or the intent of the women to anoint the body with spices (Mark 16:1) — which The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says the guards would not have permitted. The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that women as well as men were allowed to visit and attend to tombs for both male and female deceased persons.
This account included an earthquake as the result of an angel’s rolling back the stone (v.2). As in Mark, the angel told the women to tell the disciples that the Resurrected Christ would see them in Galilee. Matthew added a meeting between the women and Jesus (vv. 9-10) in which the women took hold of Jesus’ feet and worshiped him. Jesus told the women to tell “his brothers” to go to Galilee.