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Thursday, April 05, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43 OR Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, I Corinthians 15:1-11 OR Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 OR Mark 16:1-8

NOTE: There are many lectionary passages for this “Holy Week” leading up to Easter Sunday, and there are more for Easter Sunday evening.  I’ve chosen to list only those selected for “Easter Day.”

Followers of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (among whom I count myself) often speak of “Keeping the Dream Alive.”  It is not sufficient to look backward, remembering and trying to reconstruct events and achievements of the past.  We should never forget, but the “life” of those inspiring past events values little if the fire does not continue to burn in the present.

So it is with the resurrection of Jesus.  Too often when we spend time wondering “what really happened,” we forget to look for and acknowledge his living presence, purpose, and meaning in the present.  We fail to pay attention to how he continues to shape our lives and the future.

To some extent I look at the telling of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection as a family reunion activity.  At reunions, we tell stories about “the good old days,” and discover that our memories diverge.  Whatever our memories, we all agree that we lived together through a time that has forever impacted our lives and our living.  After while, we also agree that looking backward is not enough.  Life didn’t end with those events; it hasn’t ended yet.  We are still living and still have living to do.  From all those memories, where are we going to draw sustenance and hope for the future?

This week’s lectionary readings are about story telling and keeping the story alive.  The two Gospel lessons end with Jesus’ instruction to go and tell the story.  It is to a woman that Jesus appears.  “ . . . go to my brothers and say to them,” Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)   The next verse records that “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.”  (vs. 18)   In Mark, it is “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome” who get the message, although Jesus doesn’t actually appear to them.  “ . . . a young man, dressed in a white robe,” speaks 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.”  (Mark 16:5-6)   Their job is to “ . . . 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.”  (vs. 7)

The events are remembered and the story told in slightly different ways in each of the Gospels and in Paul’s writings.  I picture those early followers getting together in various groups over time, some who had been to the tomb and some who had not, some who had known Jesus’ in his physical existence and some who had not.  I picture them around tables, walking along roads, gathered in homes, maybe in synagogues, asking one another, what just happened.  Were you there?  What did you see and experience?  And the stories vary, just like the stories at our reunions.  In John, Mary Magdalene first goes and gets some of the other disciples who come and confirm that Jesus is not there.  (John 20:2 and following)   Still, they do not understand, and it is only to Mary that he appears.  (vss. 9-10 & 14 and following)   I’ve always liked the emphasis in Mark that Jesus has gone on ahead.  (Mark 16:7)  We’re not going to find his life-giving presence by hanging around a graveyard, but by going where his Spirit is at work.

The readings from Acts and I Corinthians tell about some of the early efforts to keep the story alive.  In Acts Peter offers a summary which seemed to have become the “core” of the Gospel among the early evangelists—sometimes called the “kerygma,” from the Greek word for proclaiming or preaching.  The story he tells is of a man who preached and healed and did good, who was put to death on a cross and raised on the third day.  (Acts 10:34-38)   We are witnesses of that, Peter says.  We saw him, and he “commanded us to preach . . . and testify,” to keep to story alive.  (vss. 40-42)  What Jesus offers, he says, is “forgiveness of sins.”  (vs. 43)   Each teller of the story brings his or her unique angle.  I find it interesting and encouraging that Peter chooses to include the fact that “God shows no partiality” and that Jesus “went about doing good’ and offers forgiveness.  (vss. 34, 38, & 43)   It’s not just a burst of light blasting like a rocket into the sky.  It’s not just a sudden leap to a disembodied resurrection.  The Good News is about a life-giving presence in the experiences of everyday life, in the relationships of our daily living.

Paul, in I Corinthians, offers his version of the “kerygma,” covering pretty much the same ground.  What I find most significant in his telling is his inclusion of himself as a witness.  He never met Jesus during his earthly ministry, yet he claims to be a witness.  He reviews the appearances, “to Cephas, then to the twelve . . . to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time . . . to James, then to all the apostles.”  (I Corinthians 15:5-7)   Paul is not just telling the story of those people or the stories some of them have told him.  “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.”  (vss. 8-11)

We generally assume that Paul is referring to the encounter with a flashing light from heaven on the road to Damascus when he was on his way to continue his persecution of the early followers of Jesus.  There is more here, though.  For Paul, Jesus was an everyday reality, an inner presence—that grace of God at work in him.  Jesus didn’t appear just once, many years ago.  All who open themselves to his grace and forgiveness are witnesses, keepers and tellers and interpreters of the story—including us.  There is no resurrection story without the stories we tell of how we experience the living presence of God’s Love at work in human life.

Most of the reading from Psalm 118 was included with last week’s readings as well.  It is most appropriately, I believe, a Palm Sunday reading.  I will simply note its call, in verse 2: “Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.”  It can be seen as another call to keep the story alive—and isn’t the heart of the resurrection story to affirm and continue to experience that his steadfast love endures forever?

Finally, lest you think I forgot the reading from Isaiah, I will suggest that it too is a story of resurrection.  Easter is not just about Jesus’ resurrection; it’s a time to celebrate the resurrections that happen in the life of individuals and groups and nations daily.  God is in the business of resurrection.  In Isaiah there is the promise of a people who have felt swallowed up by death being restored.  God’s seemingly disgraced people will have their tears wiped away.  (Isaiah 25:7-8)   There will be a big feast because it is an occasion to “be glad and rejoice.”  (vss. 6 & 9)

I like the imagery of feasting.  When people get together for reunions, to remember and tell stories, they often do so around a table filled with good food and drink.  It is another reminder that we are a story-telling people and that we have a story to tell to the nations—not simply about how God has worked in the past, but about how God is working in and through us and moving us into a future filled with hope.  May part of our Easter celebration include the stories of our own resurrections ending with the shout, “Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

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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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