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Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, I Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12

The way some talk, one would think the only significance of Jesus’ resurrection is the hope it gives us of eternal life. I once had a parishioner who was fond of saying, “Some people are just so heavenly that they’re no earthly good.” She was interested in what the resurrection has to do with life here and now.

At the same time, for some heaven is not a much discussed topic. To not talk or think about heaven overlooks longings of the soul that have driven human beings for millennia. Many world religions provide or mandate ceremonies that provide linkages with those who have gone before. Many would like to be able to have another conversation with “dear old Dad.” Mitch Albom’s, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, speaks to this longing.

We also want to know that our lives have lasting significance. There is something deep within many of us that can’t imagine that this is all there is—even when things have been great for us. And if we’ve suffered or known injustice or seen it around us, we cry out for a time and place where those things are set right.

In addition to questions of heaven and earth related to resurrection, we sometimes struggle with the physical/scientific nature of resurrection. What was Jesus’ resurrected “body” like? What form will we have in a “resurrected” state? Will we recognize those who’ve gone before? Such largely unanswerable questions are almost without end.

I believe the lectionary passages for Easter Sunday this year provide a variety of perspectives on these matters.

In Isaiah 65 the efforts we put into this life will be rewarded. We will live in the houses we build, reap from vineyards and gardens we plant. (vss. 21 & 22) “My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands They shall not labor in vain.” (vss. 22 & 23) Yet it ends with the fantastic vision of “The Peaceable Kingdom,” where the animals who are usually enemies (even predator and prey) live together in harmony. (vs. 25)

Acts follows a similar pattern in seeing the resurrection as a sign of God’s inclusiveness. “God shows no partiality.” (Acts 10:34) The Gospel is for everyone. (vss. 35 & 42) It brings into being a heaven on earth in which God’s love, Jesus’ resurrection presence, brings us together across every line of exclusion we would try to draw.

For Easter Sunday, Psalm 118:17 takes on special significance: “I shall not die, but I shall live . . .” It is a Psalm that celebrates the endurance of God’s love in all times and places, “forever” (vss. 1-2), even in this very day: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Each day is perhaps an occasion for resurrection and the rejoicing that goes with it.

In some ways, the passage from I Corinthians 15 most clearly connects Jesus’ resurrection with the hope for eternal life. Paul says that this life is not enough. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (vs. 19) At the heart of the mission of “Christ” is the destruction of “death,” and all those who are instruments of death, including those who abuse power and authority.

In the Gospel lessons not everything is as cut and dried as some like to make it. I don’t see disciples here who are sitting around just waiting for Jesus to get up and walk out of the tomb, nor do I see a Jesus with a body that everyone immediately recognizes. I see a great deal of doubt and confusion. It’s enough to give every one of us pause if we try for absolute certainty about our understanding of these events.

Mary Magdalene cries out that someone has stolen Jesus’ body and wants to find where it is. (John 20:1-2) Verse 9 tells us that “they did not understand . . . that he must rise from the dead.” They gave up and went home (vs. 10), all that is except Mary. But when she turns and Jesus is standing there, she doesn’t recognize him. (vs. 14) For many, the moment Jesus speaks her name and she recognizes him has been heart-warming (vs. 16), but his instruction here is not unlike that in Luke. “The meaning of who I am is not to be found here in the cemetery. Don’t try to hang on to who I was. Get on back and stir up those discouraged disciples. My life, my spirit, is not here. It’s in the life and mission still ahead of you.” (A free interpretation of vss. 17-18)

Luke’s account is similar. They find the empty tomb (Luke 24:2-3) and they are “perplexed.” (vs. 4) They didn’t expect this. They didn’t come prepared for a resurrection. The angels ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Again, the place to find the risen Christ is not in the cemetery, but in the active living of one’s faith in the presence of his unseen Spirit.

In both stories, the first people on the scene, the ones who bear the message to the men, are women. In Luke’s account three are named along with “the other women with them.” (vs. 10) The men hear what the women have to say and deem it to be “an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (vs. 11) Some would say that things haven’t changed much in the way men respond to what women have to say.

Whatever the details of the story, Luke’s account moves beyond the discouragement and disbelief to amazement. (vs. 12) There are stories of discouragement and disbelief yet to come, in biblical times, in history, in our day, but something of great significance happened that energized a movement that has survived and thrived, often against great odds.

Questions about the meaning of resurrection will always be with us. Ask and ask and ask them again and again. What do we believe about resurrection? What difference has it made, does it make, in our living on this earth, in our hopes for eternity?

Our interpretations may vary. May they all be rooted in a connection with a power that overcomes death, so that we stop clinging to what is buried in the past and turn to a future filled with promise.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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