Monday, April 29, 2019

May 12, 2019 - 4th Sunday of Easter

                                                                     Biblical Words                                         [604] 
Acts 9:36-43;  Psalm 23;  Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30. 
The Good Shepherd,  glorified in power, brings new life to God’s people who are in his care. 
The fourth Sunday of Easter season is the Pastor’s day.  (“Pastor” in Latin means “Shepherd.”)  Each year Psalm 23 and a portion of John 10 are read on this Sunday.  The Pastor is the one who leads, feeds, and protects the sheep from harm.  
In the New Testament readings it is the Risen Lord who does this shepherding of the believers, though in the first reading it is Peter who carries forward the shepherd’s work.  
Acts 9:36-43.  
In the Acts story, resurrection spreads among the people.  
In the larger passage, Acts 9:32-43, two miracles by Peter are presented, the healing of a paralyzed man named Aeneas and the resurrection of a woman named Tabitha (Aramaic) or Dorcas (Greek).  These two episodes have Peter working in the coastal plain of Judea, the country ruled by the Philistines in ancient times.  His works are done in the cities of Lydda (modern Lod, Israel’s International airport) and Joppa (modern Yafo, the closest seaport to Jerusalem).  The “saints,” who are Christian believers, are already living there, Judeans who accept Jesus as the heavenly Anointed One, and who now begin to receive benefits of the promised salvation.  
Peter is staying at Lydda when he is called to Joppa (10 miles away) to share the grief at the death of a prominent woman disciple of the church in Joppa.  (This is the only New Testament use of the feminine form of the noun “disciple.”)  
Peter’s action is presented as a repetition of great acts of resurrection in the past.  It repeats what Elijah did for the Sidonian widow who helped him during the famine (I Kings 17:17-24); it repeats what Elisha did for the woman of Shunem to revive the son miraculously born to her (II Kings 4:18-37); it repeats Jesus’ action in raising the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40-42, 49-56); and it repeats Jesus’ raising of the son of the widow of Nain near Nazareth in Galilee (Luke 7:11-17).  
Peter’s raising of Dorcas showed that great prophetic and Messianic power was continuing for God’s people.  All of these resurrection stories are set outside Judea proper, outside Jerusalem and its region.  They happen on the fringes of the Judean lands.  

As the power continues to expand, as if in concentric circles, the next movement of the Spirit will be beyond the Judean people (next week’s reading).  
Psalm 23.  
The Psalm reading is the quiet but powerful affirmation of personal trust in the Lord, presenting God in the image of the Shepherd.  Here are the familiar images as given in the Common English Bible translation (CEB, 2011): 
The LORD is my shepherd. 
      I lack nothing. 
He lets me rest in grassy meadows; 
      he leads me to restful waters; 
      he keeps me alive. 
He guides me in proper paths
      for the sake of his good name. 

Even when I walk 
      through the darkest valley, 
      I fear no danger
      because you are with me.  
Your rod and your staff – 
      they protect me.  

(Shifting the imagery now to that of a great ruler who hosts his faithful subordinates at a feast at the royal palace, where they will always find access and security …) 

You set a table for me
      right in front of my enemies.  
You bathe my head in oil; 
      my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love 
      will pursue me all the days of my life, 
      and I will live in the LORD’s house 
      as long as I live.  
Revelation 7:9-17.  
The Epistle reading continues the heavenly liturgy from the book of Revelation.  
The seventh chapter of this book presents two hosts of peoples before the heavenly throne while the impending doom for the old world is suspended for this heavenly presentation.  (The suspension of the doom is commanded in verses 1-3.)  
The first group of people (prior to our reading) are the faithful souls of the past from the twelve tribes of Israel.  Twelve thousand from each tribe are marked with God’s “seal” on their forehead, making one hundred forty-four thousand in this host before God (verses 3-8).  The faithful of Israel are gathered to their Lord in the heavens.  
Our reading begins by presenting the second group of peoples.  They are an unnumbered multitude from all the nations and peoples of the world. 
These folks wear white robes and have the palm branches of praise and the festival-shout in their hands.  When we see them, they are gathered in masses around the vast heavenly auditorium and a three-fold sequence of song and praise unfolds.  
First, this multitude itself sings out, “Salvation belongs to our God…” (verse 10).  Then, the great choir of angels responds with a seven-fold acclamation of God, enclosed between two Amens (verses 11-12).  The third phase of the song and praise is a solo, by one of the twenty-four elders who are close to the divine throne.  
Before the singing there is a recitative dialogue in which the elder asks the seer (John, the one who has received these visions) who are these folks massed in the white robes.  
The seer politely replies that the elder will know and say.  The elder then explains that these unnumbered masses are the people who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, which means that they have held fast in their confession of Jesus as the Christ to the point of death.  
This is the cue for the elder to sing his solo celebrating the glory and reward of these faithful witnesses.  It is at the climax of this solo that we hear of the work of the heavenly Shepherd, who (by a curious twist of imagery) is the Lamb.  
“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, 
and he will guide them to the springs of the water of life, 
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (verse 17).  
The caring and comforting Shepherd is the climax of the pilgrimage of the humble ones who followed Jesus, even to the death.  
John 10:22-30.  
The Gospel reading presents Jesus speaking to Judean people who demand to know whether he is the Anointed One or not.  His reply is the conclusion of this chapter, which has already presented Jesus as the Gate for the sheep (10:7) and as the Good Shepherd (10:11).  
Here the focus is on the sheep.  There is a special link between the shepherd and the sheep:  he knows them, each and every one (see Luke 15:3-7), and they know and respond to his voice.  Their response is to “believe” in the “works” that Jesus does in the name of the Father, and to follow him.  
The first emphasis in this passage is that these “sheep” are in contrast to the Judean questioners, who do not believe either Jesus’ works or words.  This passage, like so much else in the Gospel According to John, reflects serious differences and disputes between Judean disciples of Jesus and their non-believing Judean opponents. 
The last part of the selected reading emphasizes the final blessing of the sheep who know Jesus’ voice and follow him.  “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (verse 28).  This is the ultimate blessing in John’s Gospel.  The keeping and protection of these humble ones, the sheep, is God’s own special concern, given to the heavenly Jesus as an assignment.  
“What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand” (verse 29, NRSV). 

And the concluding affirmation separates Jesus most decisively from his Judean dissenters:  “The Father and I are one” (verse 30).  The Lamb and the one who sits on the heavenly throne (in the language of Revelation) are united in the saving work of the Shepherd.  

Saturday, April 20, 2019

May 5, 2019 - 3rd Sunday of Easter

                                                            Biblical Words                                               [603]
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20);  Psalm 30;  Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19. 
The Risen Lord calls and directs servants in the world – while a heavenly court praises the worthy Lamb.
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20).  
How the apostles witnessed to the work of the risen Jesus is the continuing theme of the readings from the Book of Acts.  Here we have the conversion of the fire-eating persecutor Saul into a transformed preacher of the gospel.  (His Greek name Paul is used only after he begins his work in non-Judean circles, at Acts 13:9.)  
The main reading (verses 1-6) presents Saul confronted by the risen Jesus.  
It is a heavenly explosion of light on the road near Damascus, traumatic to Saul but to his traveling companions only confusing.  As the narrator presents it, however, to Saul the message was clear.  The now long-dead false messiah had suddenly become overwhelmingly real.  Had now intervened in a devastating way and totally overturned Saul’s world.  This supposed false messiah has spoken from heaven and named Saul very specifically, challenging his futile campaign against the disciples.  Jesus’ last word here is, Get up and go into town; I have better stuff for you to do.  
Most of the rest of the book of Acts unfolds what that stuff is. (See Special Note below on Acts’ three versions of Paul’s call.) 
The optional part of the reading, verses 7-20, does not add to the basic event; it only gives interesting detail and local color.  
We meet the reluctant Ananias, who in a vision is assigned by Jesus to rehabilitate Saul.  This was like sending the humble servant into the den of the fiercest enemy, and he complains of this absurd instruction (verses 13-14).  Ananias’ resistance must be overcome by a heavenly Lord with a divine plan.  
It is to Ananias that Jesus indicates the great and trying future he has in store for Saul/Paul.  “He is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles [the nations] and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (verses 15-16, NRSV).  As soon as Saul had recovered physically and been baptized, he “began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues…” (verse 20).  
Psalm 30.  
The Psalm reading is one of the more memorable expressions of personal thanksgiving for delivery from – death, as the psalm puts it.  
A thanksgiving psalm expresses joy and gratitude in the present for release from severe trouble in the past – often recent past.  Reciting the overwhelming threats just now faced may be a major part of the now joyful release.  So here, “you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit” (verse 3).  
The speaker, whom we will view as a man, relates how he resorted to what, for a psalmist, is the ultimate appeal to God when things are at their worst:  “What profit is there in my death,…Will the dust praise you?  Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (verse 9).  The speaker insists that God’s reputation is involved in this faithful soul’s plight.  The speaker must make God urgently aware of the stakes!  
When this psalm is used as an Easter season reading, the speaker is understood to be Jesus, thanking God for deliverance from death.  In its earlier Israelite setting, the speaker was probably a person who was desperately sick, to the point of being given up for dead.  He had no resort except God, and uttered his hope in the most eloquent language available to him.  He recovered, and now brings his thanksgiving offerings to God – which offerings include a superb song in thankful praise of his savior God.  God has turned his mourning into dancing, has replaced his sackcloth with garments of joy! (verse 11).  
He who was dead is alive again – and in good health!  
Revelation 5:11-14.  
The reading from the Book of Revelation (which provides the Epistle readings for Easter season this year) is the climax of a heavenly drama.  The drama here hangs on the suspense as we wait for the opening of the scroll of the world’s destiny.  
The whole scene (4:1-5:14) is a greatly elaborated version of the divine judgment and appointment of the Son of Man in Daniel 7:9-14.  
After evil on the earth had reached an intolerable climax, the heavenly court finally sits to render judgment.  The heavenly court consists of the supreme judge sitting on the throne, the four bizarre heavenly creatures that provide the throne’s mobility (at least in Isaiah’s and Ezekiel’s visions that is their role), the sitting council of (here) twenty-four elders, and various brilliant accoutrements round about.  
The supreme judge on the throne holds a super-numinous scroll in his right hand (the Daniel passage says, “the books were opened”), and the total universe waits in suspension for someone with the authority, power, and honor worthy to take that scroll and begin to open it.  
The One capable of such action is the Lamb, who appears in the court and takes the scroll.  (This Lamb corresponds to the Son of Man in the Daniel scene.)  All the other members of the heavenly court burst into ecstatic praise of the worthiness of the Lamb to break the seals of the great scroll.  
Our specific reading within this court scene (5:11-14) presents the second rank of praise teams acclaiming the worthiness of the Lamb.  Joining the heavenly court are the massed singers of all the Tabernacle Choirs of all time (“myriads and myriads and thousands of thousands”).  They are, of course, angelic voices – presumably with never a missed tone or late entry!  
The whole chapter presents three hymns sung in the heavenly court.  The longest, sung by the inner cabinet around the throne, is two verses long; the second, sung by this massed choir of angels, is one verse long; and the last hymn, sung by everybody on earth as well as the heavenly folks, is only half a verse.  
The first hymn (verses 9-10) praises the Lamb as worthy to open the scroll; the second hymn (verse 12) praises the Lamb as worthy to receive power and glory (to overcome the powers of evil in the universe); and the third hymn (verse 13b) is a general blessing on God and the Lamb for all the above.  
All the universe is engaged in hymnic anticipation of the exercise of power by the risen Lord who will transform the world that humbly waits upon this heavenly drama.  
John 21:1-19.  
The Gospel reading comes from the appendix to John’s Gospel, which presents an alternative view of the appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples from the main narrative in chapter 20.  This appendix knows about the two appearances of Jesus to the disciples in Jerusalem (21:14), but adds an appearance in Galilee, beside the lake where earlier events occurred between Jesus and the disciples.  There are seven disciples, five named – enough to make us curious about the rest but leaving more questions than answers.  
The catch of fish after the unproductive night is a version of the story used in Luke for the call of Peter to be a disciple (Luke 5:1-11).  The two narratives have in common that Jesus is revealed in heavenly power on the lake shore (see Luke 5:8-9) and that Peter, and his particular assignment as a disciple or missionary, is the primary focus.  
What is the thrust of the dialogue between Jesus and Peter about loving Jesus and feeding the lambs? 
The suggestion is compelling that Jesus asks Peter three times, “do you love me?” to balance the three times that Peter denied Jesus at the passion.  Each of those “I am not (one of them)” statements must be cancelled by a “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”  And with each affirmation of loving Jesus there follows an instruction:  “Feed my sheep” (with slight variations).  
This appendix, which strongly resembles the Gospel According to Luke, gives to the Fourth Gospel a pastoral boost into the world of the churches (a word not used in John), into human communities that have been changed because of the reign of the risen Lord.   

Special Note on Paul’s Call in Acts
The book of Acts gives three versions of Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road, his “conversion” or “call” experience.  The first is our text above (9:1-6), narrating the event in the third person.  In 22:6-11, in a speech to hostile Judeans in the Jerusalem temple, Paul tells his experience in the first person as part of his defense for preaching the gospel to the nations.  Then again, in a less hostile setting, Paul tells his conversion experience to King Agrippa II during the time Paul was a prisoner in Caesarea, 26:12-18.  
All three of these texts are given here for comparison.  Many details vary in greater or lesser degree, but the “core” is verbatim the same in all three versions (underlined in the following texts).  (All translations are the New Revised Standard Version.)
9:1-9.  Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.  
22:4-11.  4I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, 5as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.  6While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. 7I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 8I answered, “Who are you, Lord?” Then he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazarethwhom you are persecuting.” 9Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10I asked, “What am I to do, Lord?” The Lord said to me, “Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.” 11Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.  
26:12-18.  12With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. 14When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It hurts you to kick against the goads.” 15I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. 17I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles [the nations]—to whom I am sending you 18to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”  
James D.G. Dunn sees the variations of the three accounts as typical of materials recited orally over time.  
In each of the three statements the brief exchange between Saul and the exalted Jesus is word for word:  ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’  ‘Who are you, sir?’  ‘I am Jesus (the Nazarene), whom you are persecuting, rise…’ (22:7-10; 26:14-16).  This gives a good illustration of how stories would be told, then as now.  The core of the story is preserved, maintained with almost rigorous consistency, while the supporting details can be treated with greater flexibility, as circumstances [around the narrator] may demand.  We can well, and quite fairly imagine that the exchange had been burned into Saul’s memory, and so from the first was fixed in the tradition by which the event of the great persecutor’s conversion was retold and celebrated among the churches (cf. Gal. 1:23).  (The Acts of the Apostles, Trinity Press International, 1996, p. 121.)  
Finally, we have Paul’s own summary of this event (Galatians 1:13-17), written thirty or so years earlier than the book of Acts.  
13You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles [the nations], I did not confer with any human being, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Without doubt, this was a turning point, not only in the narrative structure of the book of Acts, but in the earliest shaping of the Christian religion!  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

April 28, 2019 - 2nd Sunday of Easter

                                                            Biblical Words                                               [602]
Acts 5:27-32;  Psalm 150;  Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31. 

Easter creates Alleluias, a heavenly drama, and a new Presence empowering mission and forgiveness.  
Between Easter and Pentecost, the Lectionary takes the first reading each Sunday from the New Testament book of Acts rather than from the Hebrew scriptures – from the witness of the apostles instead of the witness of Moses and the prophets.  
Acts 5:27-32.  
As Acts tells it, the people with the Easter message encountered opposition!  
Peter and his associates are dragged into court for disturbing the peace!  The Easter message, and the healing power of Jesus’ name, get people all worked up.  The authorities who try to suppress the message are the same authorities who turned over Jesus to the Romans for crucifixion.  They are the protectors of the status quo in the Jerusalem of Pilate.  (All this is reported in Acts 3-4:22, before our reading,)  
In our reading, the apostles once again have done jail time and are being warned yet again not to use the name of Jesus in public in Jerusalem.  The Judean authorities are concerned that telling the story of Jesus keeps alive their responsibility for his death – “you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us” (verse 28, NRSV).  Peter tells them, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”  The apostles take their stand as witnesses of the resurrection, in the face of the establishment.  
In making his reply to the Jerusalem council, Peter repeats in short form the message that is causing the trouble.  Jesus, whom you killed, was raised by the God of the ancestors and now sits at the right hand of God, exercising power as Leader and Savior on behalf of Israel, to whom he offers repentance and forgiveness of sins.  
The business of the witnessing apostles is to show the presence of this heavenly power by bringing joy and healing to the people.  
Psalm 150.  
In the Psalms we hear a great overflowing of Alleluias!  
This is the last psalm of the book (in the Western Christian tradition; Eastern Christians have one more).  It is one unbroken sequence of Hallelujahs (translated “praise the Lord” or “praise him”).  This is simply the intensified conclusion of a series of Hallelujah psalms that begins with Psalm 146. 
The Greek translation of the Psalms, used by the early Christians, does not translate this praise shout, but gives it in its Hebrew form, “Alleluia.”  This stands at the beginning of each of psalms 146 to 150, in the Greek translation.  The Latin scriptures and liturgy took over this Greek form and gave us all the Alleluia choruses of Western church music.  
Some churches have a tradition of giving up “Alleluia!” for Lent.  They avoid using the praise shout during the 46 days from Ash Wednesday until Easter.  Then, it breaks forth with a riotous joy at the Easter news.  This psalm reading is an insistent reclaiming of the joyfulness of praise after that period of penitence and searching.  
Revelation 1:4-8.  
In this Year C of the Lectionary, the Epistle readings during Easter season are taken from the New Testament book of Revelation.  
This first reading for the season continues the spirit of the Psalm:  it is mainly doxology.  It is presented here, however, as the seer’s beginning of his letter to the seven churches.  As the Easter season unfolds, glimpses and scenes of the vast visions of God’s completing the new creation are shown from the book of Revelation, but the opening is a revelation to the churches themselves of the heavenly glory of the risen Christ.  
The benedictions proceed by triads.  The first prayer asks for peace from God, “who is and who was and who is to come” (verse 4, NRSV).  Note it is not “who is to be,” a more Greek ontological turn, but “who is to come,” the active perspective of salvation history.  
Peace is also asked from Jesus Christ, who is also characterized by a triad:  “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”  The faithful witness was performed in the earthly ministry of Jesus, the firstborn of the dead is the victory over death signaled by the resurrection, and the rule over the kings of the earth is the assurance of Jesus’ heavenly rule, later to become more dramatically evident in this book of visions.  
The drama continues with an exclamation.  Someone sees it:  
Look!  He is coming with the clouds; 
every eye will see him, 
even those who pierced him (verse 7).  
And over the scene of the one coming on the clouds the voice of God is heard:  
I am the Alpha and the Omega.  
For what lies ahead for God’s people, no vision is too vast or comprehensive.  
John 20:19-31.  
The Gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday in Easter is the same every year.  
A week after Easter, these things are emphasized:  (1) the joy of the disciples in the presence of the risen Jesus, (2) the physicality of Jesus in this temporary presence to his believers, (3) the gift of the Holy Spirit that brings forgiveness of sins, and, (4) in the Thomas episode, “the transition from sight to faith.”  
The Gospel narrates the appearance of Jesus to the disciples as they are gathered furtively in a locked room.  Jesus appears mysteriously among them, but his body is real.  (John’s Gospel here re-tells the appearance story given in Luke 24:36-43, with the doubting Thomas episode added to it.)  
There is strong emphasis on the solid, physical aspect of Jesus’ resurrected body.  It is a body not only seen but firm to the touch.  This emphasis on Jesus’ body seems to increase as the traditions of the resurrection appearances develop.  In the early empty-tomb tradition, Jesus is not present at all; then he is only seen; but in this upper room tradition in Luke and John his body is touched and he eats and drinks. 
In his appearance to the disciples, Jesus commissions them for their work ahead.  He “breathes” the Holy Spirit into them and solemnly pronounces, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (verse 22).  The climax of this action, however, really has to do with the forgiveness of sins. “If you [who have received the Holy Spirit] forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (verse 23). 
This is an awesome authorization!  It is an early stage in a long history of the Christian Church’s rituals of absolution. (The equivalent in the Gospel According to Matthew is in Matthew 16:18-19.) 
Our passage includes the episode of doubting Thomas.  Once the emphasis upon the physicality of the risen Jesus began, this Thomas episode was probably inevitable. 
What does it take to convince some people?  “Unless I see” with my own eyes, etc., I will not believe.  That the demand for physical seeing and touching has already missed the nature of religious faith has long been recognized. The seeing can always be further questioned, further explained.  That is not what having faith is about, not the kind of faith that creates a spirit-empowered life and the forgiveness of sins.  
William Temple comments on this Thomas episode:  
The Lord is calling His followers to enter on the transition ‘from sight to faith’ – from outward companionship to inward communion, from the discipleship which rests on a bodily Presence to one which is perfected in spiritual union.  (Readings in St. John’s Gospel, p. 376)  

April 21, 2019 - Easter Sunday

                                                            Biblical Words                                               [601]

Isaiah 65:17-25;  Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24;  Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12.

          Ecstatic news of God’s new work leads to a vacant tomb – and retelling the gospel story.  
The voice of scripture for Easter Sunday is mostly ecstatic.  It is elevated speech, lifted beyond all usual limits in the jumping-up-and-down joy of a vastly astonishing message.  All, that is, except the Gospel, which is a simpler story of surprised women and perplexed, doubtful disciples.  
Isaiah 65:17-25. 
(The alternate reading is chosen here; the main reading is the Acts 10 passage, used for the Epistle reading below.)  
The Isaiah passage proclaims God’s making new the world for God’s chosen and suffering faithful remnant.  
It begins with God’s naming with delight the new creation:  
…For look, I am creating Jerusalem to be ‘Joy’ 
and my people to be ‘Gladness.’ 
I shall be joyful in Jerusalem 
and I shall rejoice in my people.  
      (verses 18-19, New Jerusalem Bible Version)  
Sharing in God’s joy, the fortunate faithful will find that the world has been restored to paradise.  Infant mortality will disappear and all will live to enjoy a blessed seniority, with life expectancy well over a hundred years (verse 20).  
It will not be a world without work and constructive activity, but what is built will remain and be useful, what is planted will grow and be fully productive.  No invaders will seize the goods and produce, no impersonal agencies will foreclose or repossess.  “…For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, / and my chosen ones will themselves use what they have made” (verse 22, NJBV)  
The comparison of human life with a tree is very favorable, for a tree can grow again from a stump.  So the sages understood it:  
There is always hope for a tree:  
      when felled, it can start its life again;
      its shoots continue to sprout….  
Its roots may have grown old in the earth,
      its stump rotting in the ground, 
but let it scent of water, and it buds, 
      and puts out branches like a plant newly set.  
                        (Job 14:7-9; NJBV)  
The Greek translators of Isaiah also saw hope in the comparison to the tree.  Where the Hebrew text reads, “…for the days of my people will be like the days of a tree,” the Jewish scholars in Alexandria wrote, “…will be like the days of the tree of life” – that is, like the tree of which the first couple could eat when they lived in God’s garden, exempt from the power of death (Genesis 2:9).  
The coming conditions of paradise will include blessings for future generations (verse 23), and even the animal world will become peaceful and no longer carnivorous – except for that wicked serpent who disrupted the first paradise; his diet will be dust (verse 25).  
Repeating words of an earlier prophecy of paradise, the vision here concludes in peace:  “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord” (65:25b, NRSV, quoting Isaiah 11:9).    
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24.  
The Psalm reading repeats the victorious outcome of the battle against surrounding foes, the battle and victory presented in the psalm read on Palm Sunday.  That psalm had reflected the drama of salvation as consisting of desperate and mortal struggle, waged in the Kidron Valley (the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus’ Gethsemane, verses 10-13).  It culminated with the triumphant entry and welcome for the victor at the sanctuary of the Lord, who was the doer of these glorious deeds (verse 24).  
In the ecstasy of the Easter proclamation, the triumphal entry is no longer simply a procession into the waiting but hostile Jerusalem (as it was on Palm Sunday); it is the elevation of the Suffering Servant to a greater center of power from which he will reign over all things (the rejected stone has become the chief corner, verse 22).  
The decisive Easter message from the psalm is spoken by the delivered royal servant, “I shall not die, but I shall live…” (verse 17).    
Acts 10:34-43.  (This is the alternate reading; the main one is I Corinthians 15:19-26.)  
Easter Sunday’s Epistle reading is the speech of Peter to the household of the Roman Centurion Cornelius.  
As the book of Acts presents it, this was the time that non-Judeans, peoples of the nations, were, by God's revelation, first baptized and included in the community of believers.  Addressed to such people, the speech is itself a succinct statement of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. 
It begins, however, with a strong statement of the inclusiveness of the gospel message – a  new emphasis at this point in the development of Acts. "God shows no partiality," but accepts anyone in whatever nation who reverences God and acts accordingly (verse 35, NRSV).  It is true that God's message of peace in Jesus Christ was sent first to the people of Israel (verse 36, referring to Isaiah 52:7) and it is Israel's prophets who testify to the forgiveness of sins available through the Christ (verse 43), but the gospel message is now to be preached to all people.  
That gospel message includes specific historical data:  the baptism preached by John the Baptist, the man Jesus of Nazareth with the power of the Holy Spirit, his healing works for those oppressed by the devil, his confrontations with authorities in Judea, and his death "on a tree" in Jerusalem.  His disciples have been chosen by God to bear witness to these things. But most of all, of course, they are to testify to his resurrection:  "God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear" (verse 40). 
The risen Jesus was not seen indiscriminately by everyone.   He was seen only by those chosen by God as witnesses, those who also ate and drank with the risen Lord (verse 41). The gospel message concludes with, or from another viewpoint begins with, the preaching of Jesus as the final judge of all peoples (verse 42).  
Luke 24:1-12.  
The Gospel reading gives us a more earthy presentation of the Easter message.  (Only by comparison with the preceding texts, of course.  This is still a pretty exotic piece of scripture!)  
The women have remained faithful to Jesus, even when male disciples have betrayed, denied, and generally disappeared.  It is a mournful business they are left with, seeing to the proper embalming of the body.  Their distress is protracted even further because the crucifixion happened just before a Sabbath, and they have to delay their ministries for an extra twenty-four hours – presumably an agonizing wait for them.  
Arrived at the tomb, things are not in order.  The tomb is open, and the body is missing!  More woe for these grieving servants.  
But now the text gets exotic.  Two wonderfully dressed gentlemen, clearly not of this world, present themselves to the women who drop to the ground in terror.  
These men bring the message of the new age – only it is approached in a round-about way.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (verse 5, NRSV).  And if this mystifies the women, the men remind them of what they should have remembered, that Jesus told them well ahead of time that “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (verse 7).  Being reminded of this (which obviously was not taken seriously until the hard fact of the empty tomb certified it), they hastened off to tell any disciples they could find.  
Only now does the Gospel writer feel that we need to know who these women were.  (Unlike Mark, he does not name them back at the crucifixion or at the beginning of the tomb story.)  
Two of the women have been mentioned before in this Gospel, at 8:2-3.  Mary the Magdalene (that is, Mary from Magdala, a fishing village in Galilee) had had seven demons exorcised from her by Jesus, and Joanna was the wife of an official in the court of Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee.  The earlier reference indicates that these, with other women of some means, supported Jesus and the disciples in the Galilee period.  If they were present at the tomb it was because they had come to the Passover with Jesus and persisted in their support to the end.  
Also mentioned by name is another Mary, the mother of one of the disciples named James, almost certainly not James bar Zebedee, but a younger or “lesser” James.  Several mothers of Jesus’ gang members may have come to Jerusalem with them, but only the names of these (and Salome in Mark’s tomb story) have come down to us.  
The report of the women to the disciples was not a big success.  “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (verse 11).  The journey from empty tomb to belief by the disciples is a prolonged one in Luke.  Some text witnesses mention that Peter ran across town (since he would have been staying in Bethany, probably) and checked out the tomb story.  The tomb was indeed empty and the linen cloths were in place, but he went home only confused about it all (verse 12).  
In time the women’s report will be vindicated by other people’s experiences, but we do not hear about any apologies to the women later!  
In time they will all shout, Hallelujah!  The Lord is risen indeed!