9 April Easter Sunday

Faithful Conversations #8
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 28:1-10

Prelude: The Three Days (Triduum)
Last week, I sent you the readings for Holy Week and challenged you to walk through them in preparation for Easter.  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are referred to as “The Three Days” in our tradition, and their roots hearken back to the Jewish celebration of the Passover. Part of that tradition among our spiritual ancestors involved slaughtering a lamb and sharing a meal — a reminder of the Israelite’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. Recall that God visited a number of plagues (think water turning to blood, frogs, lice, etc.) on Pharoah Ramesses II to convince him to free the Israelites, including sending the “angel of death” to slaughter the Egyptian’s firstborn sons. The Jewish slaves marked their doorposts with the blood of a lamb so the “angel of death” would pass over them, sparing their sons.

Drawing from this tradition, early Christians observed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sacrificial “Lamb of God,” to commemorate the “Pascha,” — Christ’s passage from death to new life. Further, this new life was marked by the liberating gift of baptism. If you go to pages 30-31 in the ELW (which we have been using since 2006), you will see in the inclusion of the Three Days as part of the “Sundays and Principal Festivals” of the Church Year. (Apparently, that is the first time it has been included in the hymnals of our denomination). Again, if you have not taken on those readings yet, I would encourage you to do so this week! We do observe Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with worship experiences at ELC.

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

(And additional verses from John 20:1-4) 

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.” 3 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.

TODAY’S REFLECTION (Based on Matthew 28:1-10 . . . See also John 20:3)

** Note: I am constantly reminded while doing this Blog that the more I learn, the more I am confronted with the limitations of my knowledge of scripture! It is so vast. The version of events at the tomb of Jesus vary in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, a good example of how stories translate across time. You may want to read the different accounts. I included the portion from John here, in part, to illustrate that point. 

Mary Magdalene by Koorosh Orooj, Iranian Artist, 2018. Accessed via Wikicommons.

It has been said that history must first be imagined in order to be understood. Let’s imagine the dramatic events outside Jesus’ tomb recounted in the Easter Gospel! First, some background on the two Mary’s mentioned in the text. Mary Magdalene  is a fascinating individual. She is mentioned in all four Gospels as a follower of Jesus and witness to his crucifixion and resurrection. There are twelve references to her in the Gospels, more than any other woman, besides Mary, the mother of Jesus. Honored as a Saint within the Catholic Church, there is much we do not know about Mary of Magdala (another name for her). We commemorate her in the ELCA as “Mary the Apostle” on July 22nd (see “Lesser Festivals and Commemorations” on page 15 of the ELW). It is likely the “other Mary,” at the tomb was Jesus’ mother, but there is some dispute about that among Biblical scholars. We know the two were friends.

Peter and John running to the sepulchre on the morning of the Resurrection by Eugene Burnand (1898).
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Back to the story. As the two Marys approach the tomb, the ground shakes and an angel appears who rolls the stone away, showing an empty tomb. (Note that the guards, strong military men, were stunned and shaken to the point of appearing to be dead!). The angel informs the women that Jesus has risen, as he said he would! Viewing the empty tomb, they breathlessly run to tell the disciples what they have seen. It is at that point they are confronted by the risen Jesus who greets them! What must they have been thinking at that moment? In John’s account, Peter and “the other disciple” (thought to be John) race to the tomb to see for themselves — one of my favorite moments in this story (note the image I have included here). The Gospel writer indicates that the “other disciple” wins that race to the tomb — an interesting detail! Their excitement is palpable and echoes across the centuries.

What are we to make of all this? The deep, rich, and powerful mysteries we encounter during Holy Week remind me that as Christians, we are fundamentally an Easter people, racing toward that tomb, trying to grasp what happened there. Our faith journey is predicated on the acceptance of miracles — water turned to wine, blind people regaining their site, liberation from demonic possession — things we cannot explain. To many in our midst, this acceptance of the unexplainable is simply folly — to them, we are chasing a fairy tale. But, as children of the light, we race on. The central miracle involves our Creator God sending his Son to share in our humanity, to walk the earth for roughly 33 years, to face betrayal, suffering, and a torturous death at the hands of Roman authorities. This Jesus took the dysfunction of the world, including the sins of humankind, upon himself, ultimately liberating us from sin and death, our greatest fear. The moment of his resurrection from the dead shines like a beacon in this unfolding drama we annually replay at this time of year.

And, because he liberates us from sin and death, we are free to love and forgive others. Such forgiveness, at times, is a miracle in itself and runs contrary to the instincts of our broken and revenge oriented culture. I was thinking this week about the greatest example of miraculous forgiveness that I have ever seen. On 17 June of 2015, a 21 year old man named Dylan Roof entered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina and was welcomed by parishioners to a Bible study. Shortly thereafter, he proceeded to massacre nine people in the midst of prayer and study. At his bond hearing two days later, relatives of the slain victims spoke directly to Roof. In what can only be described as miraculous and amazing grace, one by one, these grieving people offered Dylan Roof forgiveness, not anger.  “I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Miraculous forgiveness and victory over death — as Christians, our great gifts. Yes, we are an Easter people. We have a God who is faithful. Let us walk in the sunlight of his glorious resurrection!

PRAYER (inspired by Jeremiah 31: 1-6 and Acts  10:34-43)
Creator God, You assure us of your everlasting love and faithfulness over and over again. And, we know that this love is for all humanity. Grant us the courage to be your witnesses within our community and our world as we grow in faith. Help us to be an Easter people. Amen.  

POSTSCRIPT (prompted by a conversation with Rollie Lee at the Lunda Center. Rollie is a wealth of information regarding church history, among other things!)

This seems fitting for this week. A reminder why Protestant Churches, like the ELCA, primarily display the empty cross, while Roman Catholic Churches primarily display the Crucifix. Here is an explanation of that from “The Compass,” a publication of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.

“Displaying the corpus of Jesus on the cross is a stark visual aid that helps us to more easily focus on the very real sacrifice Jesus offered for us for our salvation . . . Our brothers and sisters of mainline Protestant and non-denominational traditions typically display an empty cross in recognition that Jesus died once and for all for us, and is now risen from the dead. The cross, like the tomb, is empty. We should see these not as opposing viewpoints, but as complimentary emphasis.”

I appreciate that explanation and certainly both are powerful symbols for Christians! Both reflect the dynamic story of Holy Week and beyond and we utilize both in our home.

Have a joyous Easter!


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