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.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Colossians (3:1-4)
Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
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
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” asked Nathaniel sarcastically when Philip told him that he had found God’s Promised One; and yet, of course, something or rather someone very good had come out of Nazareth. “Surely the Messiah doesn’t come from Galilee, does he?” some people in Jerusalem responded to the growing enthusiasm about Jesus; and yet, the Messiah had come out of Galilee. Over and over again throughout Israel’s history, it had found itself surprised and sometimes even shocked by the unexpected things that God had done. And now Israel’s descendants were faced with an idea that, despite the Servant Songs of Isaiah, still seemed to them to be a contradiction in terms: a Suffering Messiah, one who ended his life hanging on a cross. That wasn’t the kind of Messiah for which anybody had been looking.
But God wasn’t finished yet. The greatest surprise, the greatest shock, was yet to come. Most Jews in the first century seem to have believed that one day, on a day of God’s choosing, God would raise up all people and would make all creation new. That was easy enough to accept. It’s a nice, comforting thought; and it would take place at some indefinite time, way off in the future, long after everyone who is alive today has died. It’s easy to accept just about anything hopeful, just as long as it doesn’t affect us.
But suddenly Mary Magdalene and the other followers of Jesus were confronted with something that they never saw coming, something that would change their lives. They were confronted with Jesus, raised from the dead. They were confronted with the realization that that great, final day of God’s new creation had now begun, and that they were there to see it. Yet even that, as mind-blowing as it was,was only part of the story.
Most of us have heard the story of Jesus’ resurrection all our lives, and so it doesn’t have the same shock value that it did for those first believers. And yet there is at least one part of today’s gospel story that can still stop us in our tracks and force us to reevaluate ourselves and our lives and our world.
Most of us tend to view the Easter story as respectful spectators. We come here on Easter and listen to the great drama once again, maybe envisioning it in our imaginations. But what we don’t see, or maybe don’t want to see, is that we are not just spectators. We are participants in Jesus’ resurrection. We are right in the middle of the story, because the story is ours as well as Jesus’. It is as though we were sitting somewhere in the back corner of a theater balcony, and someone comes up to us and ushers us right onto center-stage; or as if we were seated in the second last row of the upper deck, watching a sporting event, when we are suddenly escorted to take our place on the pitching mound, or at mid-court, or at the line of scrimmage.
That’s what happens to Jesus’ followers at the end of this morning’s gospel story. All through his public ministry, Jesus had spoken repeatedly about the one whom he called “my Father” and “my God.” It was that special relationship that he had with his God and Father that put him front-and-center in the work of transforming the world despite the cost. And Jesus’ followers were probably content with keeping things that way. They were probably perfectly happy being spectators: letting Jesus do the work of God while they watched, keeping a careful distance.
That might have been what was going on in today’s gospel when Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” That is, “Do not hold on to me and to the way of relating to each other that we’ve had in the past, because it is now time for a new relationship.” And to spell out that new relationship, that new role to which God was calling all Jesus’ disciples, Jesus sends Mary to tell them: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Because of what Jesus has done, they – we – are no longer spectators but active participants in the Easter story. As we will hear Jesus tell his followers next Sunday, “As the Father has sent me, so now I send you.”
People love the Easter story, just like they love the Christmas story. And what’s not to love? They flock to churches to hear it, year after year. They see it as an affirmation that, in the risen Jesus, they, too, will someday be raised to a new and eternal life. That message is part of the Easter story; but, taken by itself, that interpretation totally misses the heart of the story. It totally misses its deepest meaning.
N.T. Wright has written extensively on the resurrection of Jesus and on its implications. And, in addressing its core meaning, he has observed that the meaning of Easter is not “Christ has been raised, therefore we shall be raised,” but rather “Christ has been raised, therefore the kingdom of God has begun, and therefore we’ve got work to do.” In Jesus’ resurrection, the kingdom of God has broken into the world, and God now sends us out to make it happen.
In Jesus’ lifetime, he went out and gave of himself to transform the world in the name of his God and Father. He fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He lifted up and embraced those who had been rejected by society. He used parables and other images to show the emptiness and the sinfulness of the approaches to power and money that those with power and money espoused, allegedly in the name of God.
And now, we, who through baptism have died and been raised up in him, are sent out to give of ourselves to transform the world in the name of his Father and our Father: to feed and heal and lift up and challenge the world in the name of his God and our God.
But the message of Easter not only gives us a mission, one that will last a lifetime. It also provides us with the power and the inspiration that can enable us to carry out that mission and that can support us in that mission. It is the assurance that nothing in the world has the last word, not even death itself. The last word, the final word, the life-giving word is God’s alone.
The message of Jesus’ resurrection turned Jesus’ first followers into bold proclaimers of the gospel and bold co-workers with Jesus. Convinced that he had been raised, they now dared to go out and continue his work, willing to face, if necessary, suffering and even death. And that same message has enabled Christians throughout the ages to do the same: from those early believers and martyrs to people in our own day, like Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero, like Dorothy Stang and Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
The resurrection of Jesus is not just a doctrine to be believed or an event to be celebrated. It is a life to be lived. And in the Spirit of the risen Jesus, living within us, we declare that the reign of God has, indeed, broken into the world: a reign characterized by justice, hope and love. And it is in the power of that Spirit that God now sends us out to make it happen.