Reading Ramblings – Easter Sunday – April 5, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Context: Easter is the highlight of the liturgical year. While Christmas gets the most publicity (thanks to a long-standing association of gift-giving that makes it an economic powerhouse), Easter has from the earliest days of the Christian been the highest moment of Christian worship and faith. Every Sunday worship is a mini-Easter, a celebration of our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and Satan. So it’s only appropriate for our Easter celebration to be near-giddy with joy. Easter is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world – a basis in a historical event, testified to by documents of incredible historic and literary integrity. It is the standard of God’s victory planted in humanity, history, and geography. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Isaiah 25:6-9 – After the bleak picture of Isaiah 24, Isaiah 25 comes in like a breath of fresh air! God will indeed judge, and the judgment will fall on those who reject him. So the strains of the opening of Isaiah 25 are appropriate – evil must and will be judged, its strongholds leveled, and the glory of God revealed in his righteousness. On that day, after judgment has been given, begins the wonder and joy of God’s reign among his people. Then the feast will begin, consisting of the finest fare. But as wonderful as this image is, greater still is the promise of God’s victory not just over evil, but over the effects of evil in creation. Death will be swallowed up, destroyed, forever. Once this happens then tears can be wiped away. His people will give him praise, as their trust in him is vindicated at last. What a beautiful passage for Easter Sunday, a beautiful description of the victory Jesus has won in his resurrection, the full of experience of which we look forward to in the day of his return!

Psalm 16 – At first glance this seems like an easy psalm of thanksgiving. But it vascillates between giving thanks for blessings received and asking for help. It begins with a request – for God to preserve the speaker. God must be the source of preservation because God is where the speaker is taking refuge. While others may opt to try and worship or sway other deities, the speaker is resolute in dedication only to God, so much so that the speaker looks up to those others who are of a similar faith.

But there are those who are not so faithful, who seek other gods to preserve them, gods that require sacrifices of blood. The speaker rejects these other gods and other worship practices. The speaker than affirms that the Lord has already blessed her. Despite the fact that she is in need of preservation, she can affirm that the Lord has already blessed her greatly. As such, the speaker inquires after the Lord’s wisdom both day and night, and trusts in God’s wisdom to preserve them.

As such, the speaker can rejoice, confident that he is secure already in the Lord. Even should the speaker die, God will not abandon him to death. The blessings of the God are in living this life according to God’s will, and anticipating the eternal pleasures promised still. This is a beautiful description of the now-and-not-yet nature of our blessings in Christ. We still face struggles and difficulties in this life, culminating in death itself. Yet our hope is that the struggles of this life and not even death itself are the end of us.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – This is a beautiful summation of the Gospel message, and one of the rare passages that even the most liberal and dismissive scholars are willing to agree is by St. Paul. As such, it is particularly important as a glimpse into the earliest proclamation of the Church. Having lectured the Corinthians on appropriate worship practices, Paul reminds them of the centrality of the Gospel. Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised on the third day as Scriptures prophesy, and that He then appeared to the disciples as well as hundreds of other followers. At the time Paul is writing many of these followers are still alive, though some have died. Essentially Paul is telling the Corinthians that they are welcome to verify his message. Paul is not creating some myth about Jesus and his death and resurrection. Paul is simply preaching what everyone already knows, and what many people can attest to by eye-witness accounts. Last of all Paul himself encounters the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, changing his life radically and completely. This is the power of the resurrected Christ. This is the source of our hope still today.

Mark 16:1-8 – Mark’s final verses are some of the most challenging of the Gospels – not because of what they say, but because of what they do not say. His account of the empty tomb is fairly straightforward and consistent with the other Gospels. But then Mark ends there. The other Gospels go on to describe Jesus’ resurrection appearances – Mark does not. Verses 9-20 of Mark are highly suspect and likely not original to Mark’s hand (and therefore Peter’s testimony). Mark ends his gospel with the women’s fear.

I think that Mark has structured his gospel more like a play than a biography. Mark’s gospel is a gospel in action, short on dialogue and big on action. Jesus is always moving, doing, speaking sometimes but mostly healing, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, discrediting and disarming his opponents. Mark seems to want the hearer/reader to make up their minds about Jesus and his identity and purpose based on what Jesus did, rather than on a lot of exposition or dialogue. As such, I don’t think it’s terribly surprising that Mark ends where he does. He ends with the women in the same position as the reader/hearer encountering Jesus for the first time. What are we to make of all of this? That is the crucial question, the question that is literally a matter of our life and death.

Mark has already indicated the proper answer. He states it in his first chapter and verse. Peter confesses it in chapter 8. The centurion confesses it in chapter 15. The logical conclusion to derive from all that Jesus did (and said), is that He is indeed the Son of God. The empty tomb is the final and most conclusive proof of this. These implications may terrify us, because they point to a very real God and a very real Son of God who has died on our behalf. Will we accept what He has done? Will we put aside our rationalizations and rely on the historical and literary testimony before us?

To reconcile ourselves to Mark’s conclusion it is reasonable to wish to have further testimony. We can go to Matthew or Luke or John or St. Paul for just such testimony. At the end of the day the question remains before us – who do we say that Jesus is? Is he mad? Is he evil? Or is he who he claims to be, the very Son of God? We must reach a conclusion for ourselves. If we conclude that He is not who the historical and literary accounts make him out to be, we must have a reason for this. Do we doubt Socrates or Plato? Do we think that Julius Caesar was really a humble shoemaker rather than a great military and political leader? Why do we accept historical and literary testimony about these people at face value and not the testimony about Jesus – which from a historical standpoint is stronger and more reliable?

This is the question Easter poses each year. What is your answer?

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