Hymn: Jesus Christ is Risen Today (YouTube link)
Readings & Reflection for EASTER SUNDAY April 4, 2021
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!Let Israel say, "His steadfast love endures forever."The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: "The right hand of the LORD does valiantly; the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly."I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you--unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas(Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 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.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. Very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said 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. But 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." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
Jesus Christ is Risen! Hallelujah! ~ ...and the reverberations continue to pulse throughout creation, and down through the hallways of world history. Everything has changed ~ although we ourselves may be part of the process, and therefore not able to “see” clearly enough the “before” and “after” of those changes... at least not yet. We cannot help but be curious about the stories of Jesus’ appearances after his death on the cross. Nor can we avoid noticing the explosion of faith across the Mediterranean world, followed by continuing waves of faithful response to Jesus around the world, for these 2000 years. Yet, a further question pokes at us.... Jesus Is Risen ~ Yes! ~ But the world is not exactly perfect yet; how do we understand the link between Jesus’ resurrection and our ongoing life experience?
The story from Mark, who was closely associated with the apostle Peter, is the shortest of the 4 gospels. Mark seems almost breathless in the speed of his telling of the story of Jesus’ ministry. Many would also say that the way he ends the story (above) is much less satisfying ~ even frustrating ~ compared to the resurrection scene endings in Matthew and Luke and John. Scholars suggest that Mark was probably the first written gospel, because they can see references to it in both Matthew and Luke (while John is written from quite a different angle compared to them). Mark writes like a sports reporter, with immediacy and drama intended to grip your focus.Years ago I saw a man do a dramatic recitation of the whole of the gospel of Mark, from memory. He was in a grassy field, with perhaps several hundred people seated closely around him on the gently rising hillside as he paced back and forth, speaking forcefully, waving his arms, stopping for emphasis, and staring pointedly at different people in the crowd. The impact of his 2-hour presentation was powerful; but the shock was to hear the pace of Mark’s story in its entirety ~ literally racing from scene to scene, through parables, healings, confronting evil spirits, facing the religious leaders and the threats of Pilate. To read through Mark in one sitting feels like running fast up a hill until you suddenly find yourself unexpectedly thrown into thin air.
Mark portrays Jesus in both his vulnerability and his strange spiritual forcefulness. As you listen you can imagine the fascination with which people experienced Jesus in person, and why some of his followers literally dropped everything to follow this mysterious man.Knowing the story as we do, through the reverberations of history, we might miss the impact of the stark picture left at the end. The women were startled to find the stone rolled from the tomb, no body present, and a “young man dressed in white” telling them Jesus had been raised, that he was no longer there, but already heading back to Galilee! In response, the women were gripped with “terror and amazement”, running from the tomb, “saying nothing to anyone ~ for fear!” The most significant religious leader of their time ~ and of all time ~ who seemed to speak to God in close personal intimacy, had been cruelly put to death ~ but was now missing. Instead of finding his body, a strange “young man” sat in his place of burial, calmly saying that they should tell Peter and the other disciples to meet Jesus in northern Israel, where they had first met him.In reaction, the women ran, and didn’t say a word to anyone , out of profound fear!
The way Mark tells it, we are drawn into the action, experiencing the emotion felt by the characters involved. To imagine a powerful leader assassinated before your eyes, to try to pay respects at the place where his body was placed, then to feel the rug pulled out from under you by “a strange young man” telling fantastical tales ~ this feels like Mark’s story has suddenly gone out of control.
On the other hand, something communicates to us at a deep level, that this is exactly the way we would have experienced similar events. The story is “raw”, and hasn’t been smoothed out into a “finished product”. It communicates with each of us directly, affirming the ways in which we too experience fear, fascination, and the faltering faith which keeps us going forward.
The temptation might be to scoff at a story now 2000 years old, about a “risen Saviour”, when the world doesn’t exactly seem “saved”, “made whole”, or “redeemed”. But what if the impact of Jesus’ resurrection continues to play out in the lives of millions, even billions of people? What if the world is in fact changing, undergoing “transformation” as profound as a dead man rising from the grave? What if we are right now at the “live edge” of God’s work to rescue not just a few people, but all people? What if we who are drawn to Jesus are in fact part of his work of renewal? Jesus has risen from the dead, and we have not been whisked away to some other reality. Instead, we are “still here”, living at the intersection between “the way things used to be” and “the way God is recreating everything, through Jesus”.
With this perspective, we suddenly find ourselves carrying forward Mark’s lively telling of the story through the challenges in our lives, the difficult relationships as well as the ones which are life-giving. The story Mark offers us in his breathless sports-reporting style, now continues in your words and actions, in the big and little events in which each of us finds ourselves. Jesus is risen from the dead, and we cannot simply treat the ancient gospel stories as “time-worn”, “out of date mystical dreaming.” No, by contrast, instead of the Bible story coming to an abrupt end as Mark runs out of breath and words, the story is passed from person to person, with each one beginning to identify ways in which the events told in the gospels are now the springboard for God to create similar transformation everywhere in our world, even in our lives and through us.
The “real ending” of the Bible story is not yet fully told, but is being directed and played out in your life and mine, in the life of the world around us, in the seemingly insignificant issues faced by each of us each day, in the temptations and opportunities which fall into our pathway each moment.
Jesus Is Risen ~ and instead of being an ancient weird tale still told by “religious people” like us, we know because Jesus Is Risen that God is not finished with his work of creating and redeeming the world, and indeed of the whole cosmos. One breath at a time, one day at a time, let us lean into the still astonishing news which is the foundation of God’s vision for the world. The reverberations continue, expanding and growing across our broken and redeemed world, moving us forward towards God’s fulfilment, drawn by the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
Jesus Christ Is Risen Today ~ Yes ~ and with determination, commitment, and the thrill that we are participating in a transformation much larger than anything we could have imagined ourselves, we want to do all we can to participate and share in what God is doing today, and tomorrow.
Onward! Praise to You, Lord Jesus our Saviour, Redeemer of the World.
An Easter Prayer
Loving Lord, today we remember the veil of darkness transforming to the brightest light. The most dreadful end becoming the most beautiful beginning. We remember with trembling hearts the depths of despair fading to reveal hope everlasting. The curse of death defeated by eternal life. Today we remember with thankfulness your willingness to be pierced for our sins. We sing with abounding joy of your miraculous rise, from death’s tomb to resplendent life. Thank you for the promise of heaven and your generous invitation to eternal life for all.
Amen (prayer by Julie Palmer copyright © 2020 www.lords-prayer-words.com)
Christ is Risen ... Alleluia!
Christ is Risen ... Alleluia!
Christ is Risen ... Alleluia!