Reading Ramblings – Easter Sunday

Date: Easter Sunday – April 4, 2021

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

Context: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Allelluia! Victory over those who opposed God’s perfect love and will – first spiritually with Lucifer and his followers, and then eventually humanity and creation through the Fall. Any who thought they could better God’s plan are shown to be what they always had to be – grossly in error. God alone holds all wisdom and knowledge as well as power and love. In the unlikely and unexpected death of the Incarnate Son of God, God does not destroy his wayward creation but throws open the doors to grace and forgiveness and hope. Reconciliation is made possible on the only terms that could ever exist – God’s terms. Through trust and hope in God’s promises to us on the cross and in the empty tomb all are invited out of rebellion, to lay down arms and sing the praises of God who alone could make such reconciliation possible. What God promised to do in the beginning (Genesis 3:15) and continued to promise to his people for thousands of years is fulfilled. We await the final consummation, the return of our crucified and resurrected Lord. The victory is already won – now we’re waiting for the victory celebration to begin!

Isaiah 25:6-9 – The promises of God are not narrow and skimpy. They do not hedge and trim and cut corners. They are broad and endlessly generous! God intends not just the preservation and salvation of his chosen people of Israel, but that the blessings conveyed to them would in turn pour out into all of creation. All peoples (v.6) are to be included in the invitation to these blessings, blessings carefully spelled out in detail so we can almost smell the bounty from here! The universal covering over all people – death – will be swallowed up and no more. Tears will be dried, never to pour out again in suffering and grief in the face of death. And the reproach, the stigma, the disgust the world marks God’s people with will be removed once and for all. In that day there will be no discussion of relative or comparative merit. This feast is not on our behalf. We are the invited guests of our Lord and Savior at the celebratory feast of and for God the Father, who will himself be vindicated from any and all claims that He is not truly good, wise, and powerful. Those who trust in him will be shown to have been right all along. He is risen!

Psalm 16 – A love song where the speaker describes his feelings for God. It begins with a standard call for help – but the rest of the psalm never mentions this again. There is no elaboration. It is as though the speaker were interrupted at the end of verse 1 by God himself, asking the speaker to clarify to God how he feels about God. In verse 2, the speaker begins articulating the nature of his relationship to God. God is the source of every good thing in the speaker’s life. The speaker is not alone in this relationship – there are others in the larger community who share this relationship with God and therefore they are more delightful to be with for the speaker than anyone else. Not that there aren’t other options out there, idols and false gods to sacrifice to and call on – but the speaker will have none of that. Why? Because the Lord has blessed him richly (vs.5-6), and even were there such a thing as other gods, they could not provide for the speaker any better than God himself has. Some of these things might be evident to any observer of the speaker, but his relationship to God goes deeper – God instructs him so diligently and thoroughly that even during the night as he sleeps, he is being instructed by God, and his heart responds in love and joy. God is present for the speaker here and now (v.8), and as such the speaker has no fear. He knows the Lord preserves him and will continue to do so. The blessings of God are not simply for this lifetime but for all eternity (v.11).

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Modern scholarship is dismissive of much of what the Church professes to be written by St. Paul, but these verses here are almost universally acknowledged to be Paul’s words. As such they are instructive for the wealth of information they tell us about the early Church and what it proclaimed – namely the prophesies fulfilled in the death of the anointed one, the Messiah/Christ, who did not remain dead and buried but showed himself alive again to hundreds of witnesses. Paul’s intent is clear – don’t simply take his word for it, ask around! There are plenty of witnesses (this letter being written less than 30 years after the events) who can testify that Paul speaks the truth. It is this resurrection of of the Son of God that provides hope to sinners, delivering to them grace rather than judgment. This grace is transformative here and now, as Paul can well attest to personally! And that grace can, by the power of God, work mightily in even the lowliest of believers, the darkest of repentant sinners. This was the essence of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, and it should still form their core identities. It should still be their assurance even though Paul has had to correct them on numerous issues in this letter. And therefore it should still be your hope and mine!

Mark 16:1-8 – Mark’s account of the resurrection is quick and to the point, just like the rest of his Gospel. Though we assume the latter half of Chapter 16 is not original with Mark, the first eight verses are well attested to in antiquity. The second Mary mentioned in v.2 is understood to be Jesus’ mother, who is mother also of James (and Joses, as per 15:47, which would make these men mentioned also in 6:3 Jesus’ brothers). The women obtained spices or scented oils (the language makes it clear it is a liquid) after the Sabbath ended Saturday evening, and made their way to the tomb early the morning after Sabbath, Sunday. Jesus was in the tomb from before the Sabbath/start of the day on Friday, then all Sabbath day, and then into the first hours of the day after Sabbath – late Saturday-to early morning Sunday. Jesus did likely not rise at dawn or just after sunset but probably in the pre-light hours of Sunday morning.

But why the abrupt ending, an ending that seems open-ended – some translators as They were afraid, you know. I like the interpretation that says Mark does this intentionally, writing to Christians several decades later who are already experiencing persecutions. Christians who are suffering simply for believing all of this is true. Christians who might be inclined (like us?) to think that if only we had been there and seen these events ourselves, it would be easier, there would be no need for fear. We could confidently and joyfully endure anything.

No, Mark says. Those who were there that first Easter morning? They were afraid too, you know. Fear is not limited to those who did not see and hear Jesus personally, even those who knew him best – even his own mother – were afraid. Our fear does not make us lesser believers. Our fear binds our sinful human hearts with all the sinful human hearts before and after us. Sinful human hearts who nonetheless, trembling and fearfully at times, put their faith and trust in the account of Jesus’ resurrection, and trusted that what He promised them was true – He would come for them to take them to be with him (John 14:1-12). Fear does not make us unfaithful, but we must cling to our faith in spite of the fear, in defiance of it.

Even Peter who denied Jesus vehemently three times a few days earlier was not to be excluded from the promises of the resurrected Christ! Jesus specifically names and specifies Peter. How much more so should you and I trust that this good news is for us! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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