Reading Ramblings – Easter ~ April 12, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Easter Sunday – COVID-19 – April 12, 2020

Texts: Exodus 14:10-31; Exodus 15:1-18 (instead of a psalm); 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mathew 28:1-10

Context: Easter. The pinnacle of the Christian year, and the basis for the entire Christian faith. Without the empty tomb, without the validation and vindication of the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Son of God who came to offer himself in exchange for us, Christianity has no base. None of the other miracles and teachings of Jesus have any lasting value if the tomb is not empty. The early Christians realized this (1 Corinthians 15:14). What Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection is on the grandest of all scales, but was foreshadowed through an impressive though much smaller rescue of God’s people roughly 1500 years earlier, when the Israelites were delivered from slavery and genocide soley by the hand of God.

Exodus 14:10-31 – The people of God have already left Egypt. Driven out by a Pharaoh broken by the accumulated suffering inflicted by God as a demonstration of his sole and complete authority over all things, even in the land of Egypt with a robust collection of deities. Rather than lead his people out of Egypt along the Mediterranean coast, the Lord leads his people directly (more or less) westward, until they come up to the shore of the Red Sea. It is here that Pharaoh and his chariots catch up to the Israelites with the intent to inflict a great deal of death and likely take the survivors back as slaves again. All seems lost. The Israelites are not warriors. They are not equipped for battle even if they were. But God has one more demonstration of his power in this saga with the Egyptians. Once more He displays both his great love and care for his people as well as his power over all things. Truly, as Jesus says, nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). These are strong reminders to us today, as we shelter in place and worry about catching COVID-19, that our God is supreme over all things and situations large or microscopic. His promises to us are trustworthy, even if his means are beyond our ability to scrutinize and understand. We are to wait on his saving power in faith, knowing we have already received that power in the death and resurrection of his Son on our behalf!

Exodus 15:1-18 – This was a reading option instead of a psalm, and it seemed like a good idea to go this route, since this Easter is strange in so many respects! Moses leads God’s people in a heartfelt song of praise, detailing the Lord’s saving power on behalf of his people. The first ten verses recount the essentials of the flight from Egypt and deliverance through the Red Sea. Verses 11-12 are a pause to reiterate the glory of God and marvel in his power. Verses 13-18 look ahead, beyond the recent rescue to the continued power of God exercised on behalf of his people. What can’t and won’t God accomplish, the God who can defeat the vast power of the Pharaoh? Likewise as we extoll the past work of God in our lives, we also look forward in confidence to his continued love and care for us, a love and care primarily defined for us (Biblically) as resurrection from death and eternal life in joy. All of this because the Lord is a man of war, as v.3 asserts. While this is not necessarily the imagery we are used to associating with God, it is very Biblical and very appropriate. Against the power of evil within and without us that desires to see us swallowed up in eternal death and separation from our Creator, God comes out in force. He does not sit idly by and watch Satan torment us. He is always at work, and we are assured of Satan’s defeat precisey because our Redeemer lives and the grave does not hold him!

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – This passage is crucial because despite much controversy among modern scholars, it is almost universally recognized as authentic and authored by St. Paul. And here we hear loud and clearly that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the centerpiece of the earliest Christian community, rather than an afterthought centuries later. In fact most scholars believe that what Paul says in vs. 3-8 is not his own words but a quotation or paraphrasing of an early Christian hymn or creedal statement. In any event, we have here, within a matter of just a few years of Jesus’ death and resurrection proof that the early Christians held his resurrection to be of the utmost importance, and verifiable through multiple witnesses, many of whom are alive and can be contacted to verify what Paul and the apostles are claiming. It is in fact Paul’s repeated insistence, as in his defense before King Agrippa in Acts 26, that the claims about Jesus are widely known and widely verifiable, including his resurrection. Our faith is not based on fairy tales but on the firm and certain testimony of reliable witnesses!

Matthew 28:1-10 – Matthew’s account gives us several details the other Gospels don’t – the earthquake and the angel rolling away the stone, most notably, as well as what happened to the Roman guards. These things likely occurred just prior to the women arriving at the tomb, so they did not see the angel roll away the tomb but the angel did speak to them when they arrived, directing them to report to the disciples. Some people point out that the four gospels each differ in slight respects from one another, whether in terms of who they report going to the tomb or how many angels are witnessed (one or two). It should be remembered that these differences are one of the hallmarks of authentic eyewitness testimony, as opposed to a single account being copied identically by four different people. Mark records Peter’s testimony, and Luke’s testimony lines up closely with Mark’s and Matthew’s but includes additional information (the Emmaus account) indicating Luke talked with others beyond Peter and Matthew. John also reports additional details (he and Peter racing to the tomb). The differences are not mutually exclusive – they weave together very well into a logical whole without contradiction (Luke reports two angels while Matthew only mentions one – but stating there were two implies there was definitely at least one, and only mentioning one does not preclude the possibility there was another). But the central point remains consistent and the same across all four – Jesus was expected to be dead and buried in the tomb, but was not. He was witnessed alive again by multiple people in separate moments throughout Easter Sunday and for weeks that followed. This is to be our focus. Our Lord lives! And because He lives, we have hope! We have the confidence that through faith in him we too shall live, and death truly has lost its sting.

We may have to celebrate Easter separately this year. But we do so only physically separate. Our hearts and spirits are united with all the faithful in Christ through all the centuries and from all over the world. And our worship and praise and prayers are still united with theirs as they are at all times. We look forward to the day – hopefully very soon – when we can gather together again to sing praises together, knowing that our Redeemer lives!

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