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Easter Day, Cycle B (2015)

Easter surprises.

This Festival’s focus on the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection (Justification By Grace) should explore the surprising transformations it makes in Church, Christian life (Sanctification) and Social Ethics.


Psalm 118:1-2,14-24
This thanksgiving for deliverance in battle is one of the Egyptian Hallel Psalms (Psalms of Praise) used after Passover Meal. They are called “Hallel” Psalms because of their use of the Hebrew word halal which means “Praise the Lord.”

The song begins and continues with praise to God and His love/mercy [chesed] (vv.1-2). Yahweh is identified as the Psalmist’s strength [oz] and salvation/safety [yeshuah] (v.14). Verses 15-16, praising works of the right hand of Yahweh may be an ancient victory song. Reference is made to not dying [muth] but living [chayah], to being punished but not being given over to death (vv.17-18). This suggests the Cross-Resurrection sequence, as the concluding call to rejoicing (v.24) invites an Easter reading. Reference to the gates of righteousness [tsedeq] and the gate the righteous enter, though originally intended to refer to entering The Jerusalem Temple (vv.19-20), imply the outcome of Easter, the righteousness associated with Justification by Grace (Romans 3:21-26). Then the joy [gil] and awe that follow from this awareness of what Yahweh has done in becoming our salvation [yeshuah, safety, ease) are expressed (vv.21,23-24).

The Christological interpretation further reflects in verses 22-23 and its reference to the stone [eben] the builders rejected becoming the chief cornerstone [pinnah]. This is frequently attributed to Christ in the New Testament (Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11; I Peter 2:7). The legitimacy of applying these texts to Christ and Easter, as living voices of the present, has been suggested by eminent Old Testament scholar Brevard Childs (Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.523). He notes that the final editors of the collection do not seem to have been concerned to present them as bound to their place of origin, for they could be sung any time.

Application: The Psalm offers opportunities to proclaim that God gives life and salvation through death, that He takes what seems to be of no account or a sign of defeat, and gives life and power through these means (Justification By Grace and Atonement).


Isaiah 25:6-9
As is well known this Book is comprised of two or three distinct strands. Only the first 30 Chapters, from which this Lesson is drawn, may be assigned to the work of the historical Prophet to Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom from 742 BC to 701 BC, a period during which the Northern Kingdom had been annexed by the Assyrian Empire. The second and third sections of the Book originated immediately before the fall of Babylon (in 539 BC) or soon after the Babylonian Captivity ended.

After a psalm of thanksgiving, the Lesson is an eschatological discourse following those begun in the previous Chapter. This is the so-called Isaiah Apocalypse. It prefigures references to the end of the world in Revelation. The text notes that on the day promised, a festival is to be made for all people on Mount Zion (the older and higher part of Jerusalem, associated with the site of God’s rule [24:34]) (v.6). The king usually celebrated his enthronement with feasts (I Kings 1:24-25). The shroud and sheet to be destroyed by God (v.8) may refer to funeral garments or to the curtains in the Temple Tabernacle separating people from the sanctuary where God was thought to abide. Death [maveth] is to be swallowed up [bala] forever at this time (v.8). This reverses the Canaanite myth that death swallows up everything (5:14). The Lord is said to wipe away [machah] all tears [dimah], as well as the disgrace of His people/reproach (v.8). Reference is made to the salvation [yeshuah, also translated as “safety” or “ease”] of this people (v.9).

Application: The text affords opportunity to proclaim the joy of the Resurrection (Justification By Grace) and the vision of the End Times it affords (Realized Eschatology). The destruction of the shroud which limited the laity’s vision of God in the Jerusalem Temple suggests that the Resurrection gives the faithful direct access to God. Old ways of ordering religious life no longer maintain their authority in light of Easter (Church and Theological Method).


Acts 10:34-43
This Book is the second half of the two-part early history of the Church attributed to Paul’s Gentile associate, Luke (Colossians 4:14; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24).  It is particularly concerned to affirm the universal mission of the Church (1:8), a theme reflected in this story of Peter’s confession of the Gospel justifying his efforts to convert the Gentile Cornelius in Caesarea.  The background of the Lesson is that Cornelius is reported to have summoned Peter as a result of a vision, and then Peter had a similar vision (vv.3-17).  Peter visited Cornelius and then proceeds with the confession (eventually culminating in the pouring out of the Spirit on Peter and other Gentiles, as well as their baptisms [vv.44-46].)

In his confession Peter refers to God showing no partiality [literally, God accepts no one’s face, ouk prosopolaptos] and finding all with faith acceptable [dektos] (vv.34-35).  The Hebrews already knew God was not partial (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Sirach 35:15-16 ). What was new here was that God operates without regard to social or ethnic barriers. He proceeds to recount the Ministry of Jesus Who, anointed [chrio] by the Spirit [pneuma], preached peace [eirene] and did good, healing all who were oppressed by the devil. His calling Christ Lord of all would have amounted to proclaiming Christ’s deity over that of Zeus and Osiris, about whom such a claim was made (vv.36-38; cf. Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 355e).  Testimony is also given to Christ’s death and Resurrection, as well as His Appearances to those chosen [hand-picked] by God who ate and drank with Him (vv.39- 41).  Recognizing Jesus at meals or gaining special insights from Him on those occasions is typical of all the Gospels, including Luke (7:36ff.; 9:10ff.; 10:8; 11:37ff.; 14:7ff.; 24:30-31,42-43).  Peter claims to be commanded by these witnesses to preach that those who believe receive forgiveness of sin, for Jesus is their Judge (vv.42-43). This summary of Jesus’ life replays key themes of the Lucan narrative (1:8,22; Luke 3:22; 24:48).      

Application: This alternative First Lesson provides good opportunities to proclaim the universal character of the Resurrection, how it unites all people (Justification By Grace and Social Ethics). Sermons could also focus on Christ’s Presence in the Communion Meals.


1 Corinthians 15:1-11
In a Letter to a troubled church in Corinth which he had established (Acts 18:1-11), seeking to address various doctrinal and ethical problems, Paul responds to critics of the idea of whether there is a resurrection of the body, as these critics were Greeks who believed in the eternality of the soul (v.12). This teaching is part of the Gospel he has received, Paul claims, and so to deny the resurrection [anastasis] would be to deny the faith that has saved the Corinthians (vv.1-2). (This particular pericope never gets us to the verses in which Paul actually argues for a resurrection of the faithful based on the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection [vv.12ff.].) Paul recounts this Gospel. Its focus is on Christ’s death for our sins in accord with Scriptures (the Hebrew Bible; see Psalm 16:10; Hosea 6:2) and the Resurrection [egeiro] on the third day, also in accord with Scriptures (vv.3-4). He then proceeds to list those to whom Jesus has appeared, highlighting Cephas/Peter, and then adds his own name to the list as the least of the Apostles (due to his earlier anti-Christian activities) (vv.5-9). Paul then proceeds to defend his ministry, claiming by the grace of God he is what he is and that that grace [charis] has not been in vain. He claims to have worked harder than any of the Apostles. But then he adds it was not he, but the grace of God within him, that did the work (v.10).

Application: The text affords occasion to reflect on how the Good News of Easter (Justification By Grace) can compel us to work for the Lord (Sanctification).


John 20:1–18
Hints of that possibility that this Gospel was not composed by John the Apostle, though perhaps by one of his disciples, are offered by the first post-Biblical Church Historian Eusebius of Caesarea. He claimed that the Book was written on the basis of external facts made plain, and then inspired by the Spirit developed into a “spiritual Gospel” (presumably one not based on eye-witness accounts of the author) (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol.1, p.261). But a late first-early second century Bishop Papias, seems to have implied that the Gospel was likely the result of eyewitness origins (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and he Eyewitnesses, pp.423ff.; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, pp.154-155). In any case, the Gospel is especially preoccupied with making clear that Jesus is the Messiah for a Jewish Christian community in conflict with the synagogue and Jewish society.  Certainly these verses’ account of the Resurrection reflect this concern with Jesus’ Messianic character.

The Johannine version of the story combines two traditions of Easter accounts found in the Gospels — the Resurrection Appearance Tradition and the Empty Tomb Tradition (stories that say nothing about seeing the Risen Lord) (Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, pp.287-288).  This Johannine account does not introduce the Appearance Tradition until later in the narrative.  Bultmann also notes that for John “the Resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost, and the parousia of Jesus are one and the same [eschatological] event.” (Jesus Christ and Mythology, p.33)    

In accord with the Synoptic Gospels (except Luke 24), Mary Magdalene is given credit for first recognizing the Resurrection (or the Empty Tomb) (v.1).  (Magdalene probably means that she came for the town Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.) John’s version is the only Gospel to claim that this happened to her alone.  She is reported as running to tell Simon Peter and “the one whom Jesus loved” (John or the Christian community for which the Gospel was written).  She claims that the Body must have been removed (v.2).  The two Disciples hurriedly proceed to The Tomb, with the one whom Jesus loved getting there faster than Peter (vv.3-4). 

At first only seeking the linens [othonion] that had wrapped the Body of Christ, the Disciples enter The Empty Tomb, and not understanding the Scripture [Old Testament] promises regarding the Resurrection they return home (vv.5-10).  Mary is reported to have remained outside the Tomb [mnemion] weeping and angels [aggelos] sitting where the Body of Jesus laid comfort her.  She professes her agony over where the Body has gone (vv.11-13).  With these words, Jesus appears.  At first she does not recognize Him and His efforts to comfort her (vv.14-15).  He then calls her name, and she recognizes Him (calling Him “rabbouni,” a variation of “rabbi”).  Jesus asks Mary not to hold Him, because He has not yet ascended [anabaino] to God their Father (vv.16-17).  She goes and reports these things to the Disciples, claiming she had seen the Lord [kurios] (v.18).  John does not make clear if the Disciples actually believed her testimony, since a personal appearance later in the day is reported (vv.19-23).    

Application: The joy and enthusiasm of the witnesses to the Resurrection can afford occasion for sermons on the joy, enthusiasm, and surprise that the Easter Word can afford Christians (Justification By Grace and Sanctification).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen