A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (10:34-43)
Peter began to speak to them: “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. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 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; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 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; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 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. 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. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.
15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:
16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”
17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (15:1-11)
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, 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. 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, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (20:1-18)
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. 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 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.’” 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last night, as the church throughout the world began its celebration of Easter, the first reading was the first of the two great creation stories from the book of Genesis. That account begins on the first day of the week — the very first “first day” — with God creating all things through God’s eternal Word. God starts by making the light and separating it from the darkness. And the culmination of that great work is the creation of the human race, men and women, in the image and likeness of God.
When St. John begins his version of the gospel, he picks up these same four themes: the first day of the week, the creation of all things through God’s Word, the creation of the light which conquers the darkness, and the creation of a race of people made in God’s own image. In doing so, John is preparing us for his story of a new creation. His prologue consciously echoes the opening of Genesis: “In the beginning”; we are back once again at the first day of creation, at the first day of the week. Once again, we are reminded of the central role of God’s Word in all that God does: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Once again, light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. And once again, the culmination of that creation is the human race, as God enables all people to become “children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” This is the magnificent opening of the gospel according to John, one that we hear each year during the Christmas season.
Here on Easter morning, we are back once again with those same, four, ancient themes of creation. We listen once again to a passage from the gospel according to John; only instead of its beginning, its prologue, we are now at its end: the grand finale of that great narrative. It is an account in which the evangelist brings back once again those key elements of creation with which he began.
Once again, we find ourselves on the first day of the week. Only this time, as we will discover, we are on the first day of God’s new creation.
Once again we see God creating through God’s eternal Word: the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling place among us.
Once again, the light conquers the darkness. The symbolic darkness, the night in which we have found ourselves from the moment when Judas had left the Last Supper to betray Jesus, and which reached its depth in Jesus’ death on the cross, is still with us: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” But that darkness will not last. The true Light who had come into the world was about to shine at his brightest in order to enlighten all creation. The darkness had not, and could never, overcome it.
And, once again, the culmination of the story will be the transformation of the human race. All those who, at the first creation, had been made in the image and likeness of God will now realize the promise of being re-made as children of God. Jesus had spoken all through his ministry of “my Father” and “my God.” But now he proclaims that the Creator of all is both “my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” The story summarized in, and begun with, John’s prologue is now complete. The promise made in John’s prologue is now fulfilled. The new creation has begun.
But what is so new about this new creation, and what does it mean for us? Simply put, the new creation is the reign of God. It is the realization of all that the prophets had announced and all that Jesus had proclaimed, both by his words and by his life and death. It is a new way of living, a radically different set of priorities from those accepted, usually without question, by the world around us.
The reign of God is not a different world, another world. Instead it is this world transformed by the power of God and by people who have consciously committed themselves to living in that transformed world, to living in God’s reign. It is a world in which people do not focus on what they can have and what they can protect and what they can keep for themselves, but on how they can use whatever God has entrusted to them and to others in order to serve the needs of all. It is a world in which people do not seek to isolate themselves from the problems and concerns of those in need, but one In which people realize at last that we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers, that we are all part of one family, and that we have a solemn obligation to do whatever we can to help those who are not as fortunate as we are. It is a world in which people do not worry about keeping “their” time and “their” energy for themselves and for their personal interests and enjoyment, but rather one in which people recognize and acknowledge that these are, in reality, God’s time and God’s energy which God has entrusted to us to use in the service of God and of all God’s creation.
This is the reign of God. This is the new creation that has begun, that has broken into the world through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Often, when people look at Easter, they take a very narrow view. They see it as a celebration of their belief that Jesus has been raised from the dead and, therefore, we too will be raised. But that is only a small part of the story. In reality, Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not all about us and about our future. Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is about God’s future and the world’s future.
In reflecting on the gospel stories about the resurrection, New Testament scholar and Bishop N.T. Wright points out what the gospel writers say and what they do not say. The meaning of these stories is not “Jesus is risen again, therefore, we can go to heaven when we die and be with him,” but instead “Jesus is risen from the dead. Therefore, God’s new creation has begun, and you are commissioned to go off and make it happen.”
Like Peter, speaking to the people in Caesarea Maritima in our first reading, like Paul, writing to the church at Corinth in our second reading, and like Mary Magdalene proclaiming the good news of the resurrection to the disciples in our gospel reading, we have been sent by God to announce to the world, by our words and especially by our actions, that the reign of God has broken into the world, that the new creation has begun. And it is in the Spirit of the risen Christ that we have been sent by God to transform the world. It is in the Spirit of the risen Christ that we have been sent by God to go off and make that new creation happen.