Today in the Spirit: Easter Day A

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“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” At no time is the thrill of shouting out this cheer at a higher pitch than on Easter Day. “Enter then, all of you, into the joy of your Master. First and last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor, dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not, rejoice today” (from a sermon attributed to John Chrysostom). Whichever one of the two Collects the celebrant chooses, the worshiper will pray that the joy of the day spills over in our hearts to produce newness of life in the power of the resurrected Christ. Only in Year A is the Resurrection narrative in John 20:1-10(11-18) offered as an alternative to Matthew’s (Matthew 28:1-10), in order that we might have exposure to all four Gospel narratives in Easter Sunday services over time. The assigned OT reading in Exodus 14:10-14,21-31 recalls the deliverance of the Israelites through the Red Sea by the power of God as a parallel to Christ’s rising. In reading Psalm 118:14-17,22-24 the worshiper will recall some verses from Palm Sunday, but now instead of a king demanding entrance through the gates of righteousness, we hear his shouts of joy for the mighty things the LORD’s right hand has done. Colossians 3:1-4 is the first choice for an Epistle reading every year on Easter Sunday for its message that we have been raised with Christ in order that we may live differently now. As an alternative reading to either the OT or NT reading every year, Acts 10:34-43 provides the first recorded instance in Scripture of Gentiles hearing that God raised [Jesus of Nazareth] on the third day and made him to appear.      

The Collects

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may, by your life-giving Spirit, be delivered from sin and raised from death; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sponsored

O God, who for our redemption gave your only begotten Son to die upon the Cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the devil and the power of death: Grant us grace to die daily to sin, that we may live with him in the joy of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Through the Sea (Exodus 14:10-14,21-31)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left (26-29).

One thing that makes the story of God’s deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea such a wonderful parallel with the Easter story is the connection between the water and the grave. For all the peoples of the Ancient Near East the sea represented mystery and danger, death and burial. This passage in Exodus is written in such a way that the main story line is one people going in and out of a grave and another being buried there: …into the sea, not one [Egyptian] remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea. Easter is the celebration of the Son of God going into and out of the grave. Following the way of Christ, we too go in and out of the tomb–not just at the time of our physical death but now, from baptism–in and out of the water, onward. Devotionally, we need to guard our hearts against always avoiding the times God may want to lead us, for his glory, into the dangerous and impossible and out again. We can no more make that dodge successful than the Israelites could that day with the Egyptian army on one side and the sea on the other; but we will set ourselves up to try. Today, maybe you are aware of a hard thing God wants you to do–and maybe you’re avoiding it. In the power of the Spirit, let God speak with authority into your life to lead you in and out of the sea in front of you.

This Is the Day (Psalm 118:14-17,22-24)

The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the 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 (22-24).

Parts of Psalm 118 are assigned for both Palm Sunday and the principal service of Easter Day. The section above is the only portion that we say or sing on both Sundays. So what do we do with the phrase the day that the LORD has made? In the original context of the psalm, the day appears to refer to the coming of Israel’s king in Jerusalem after a great victory. For us on Palm Sunday we are rejoicing with a multitude of those celebrating the Triumphal Entry of the Messiah into Zion. On Easter we are celebrating the day the tomb of Jesus was found empty by just a few of his followers. What then is the day that the LORD has made? It is both of those things and much more. It is the day of divine deliverance taking into account the whole of the saving event of Jesus Christ–his birth, his ministry, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his session (seating on the throne of God), his continuing work of mission to all the nations through the church, and his coming again. All of this is the day that the Lord has made–let us, indeed, today and every day rejoice and be glad in it through the Spirit rejoicing in us.

Not on Things that Are on the Earth (Colossians 3:1-4)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (1-4).

Notice Paul’s emphatic not on things that are on the earth. The implication is clearly that, unless they are careful to guard their hearts, Christians can easily fall into a debilitating worldliness. The Scriptures will often coax us toward a holy obliviousness to surface things in following our Lord. By this I certainly do not mean inattention to people or apathy toward circumstances around us (“heavenliness” that is no earthly good)–quite the opposite. What Paul is after here is the grace to let go of lesser sympathies that exhibit caring for others but with no godly compulsion, and even worse, of ingratiation that seeks selfish gain. “Maybe showing some sentimentality here can meet my own need to be needed (subtle co-dependence) or to make a connection to help with my own pet projects (bald manipulation). In the Holy Week and Easter Week cycle, we see the preeminent model of holy obliviousness in the behavior of Jesus of Nazareth. See him in the Passion narrative from Good Friday (not ignoring) but looking through his pain on the cross to declare, It is finished (John 19:30). See him also in today’s Gospel reading calling Mary (Magdalene) by name but then saying, Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Here is what it looks like to set your mind on things that are above, not on the things of the earth.  Today, Holy Spirit, through whom the resurrected life of Christ dwells in me, root out of me lesser sympathies and desires that I may seek the greater good of the Father God, remaining set on his purposes and his alone.  

Everyone Who Believes in Him (Acts 10:34-43)

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (34-43).

A couple of months ago, on Epiphany 1 Sunday, you may remember the church assigned the first half of this reading with emphasis on the revelation of the Son of God at Jesus’ baptism (34-38). At the principal service on Easter Sunday, we hear both parts of Peter’s sermon at the house of Cornelius, now with his added testimony of Jesus’ death, rising and appearing with words of commission for the disciples (39-43). Thinking about those present that evening in Caesarea, we can imagine how Cornelius’ friends and family might have been in awe listening to Peter’s recounting the early stages of Jesus’ ministry, shocked and confused by the part about the execution and resurrection of this good man, and then overjoyed to learn that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins. On Easter Day two millennia later we are reminded that Jesus’ ministry comes with the commission that we tell everyone without prejudice the Good News. Today, in the Spirit, having received freely, now we freely give.    

There Was a Great Earthquake (Matthew 28:1-10)

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay (1-6).

Another earthquake here (remember the one in Matthew’s Passion account last week). There is some question as to whether the Greek is indicating the earthquake and the rolling away of the stone happened in the presence of the Marys or before they arrived. We might ask what is all this seismic activity in Matthew all about? Many commentators point out it is good Hebrew storytelling. Yes, the OT reports many instances of earthquakes, or the prophecy of earthquakes, to mark the display of God’s presence and power in the world (Exodus 19:18, 1 Kings 19:11, Isaiah 29:6, Zechariah 14:5). Along with fire, cloud cover, storms and angels, the shaking of the earth can point particularly to the judgment of God. Matthew’s great earthquake (Greek: seismos megas; violent earthquake NIV) is perhaps a figure for Jesus’ language about his last days recorded in John:  Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:31). Matthew sees judgment and joy in the death and the resurrection of his Savior. Today, in the Spirit, with joy and trembling we too celebrate our Lord’s resurrection.

She Stooped to Look into the Tomb (John 20:1-10(11-18))

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb (11).

Why look into the tomb, Mary? What are you looking for? You heard what Peter and John todl you. Don’t you think it is as you yourself told them before, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb. So what are you looking for in that tomb now? To the men we note that you called him Lord. You’ve called him that longer than just about anybody, isn’t that right? Is there something in that word, something in him, that makes you now question what your eyes see and your mind says? Are you remembering something he said to you all? Peter and John don’t understand. Do you understand something they do not? Is that why you have stayed at the tomb after they went back to their homes? Is that why you are looking into the tomb? Is it that you want to be sure Peter and John didn’t miss something (again)? Is it because you want to believe that Jesus meant it when he said he would rise, really rise? Or, is it something more? More than just seeing someone risen, is that you want to see him again, to see his eyes, to hear his voice? Why look into the tomb, Mary? Is it to see Jesus?

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

April 3, 2023

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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