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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Easter Day - April 8, 2012



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Rev'd Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Acts

This book is the sequel to the gospel according to Luke. Beginning with Jesus' ascension, Luke tells the story of the beginnings of the church. By no means a comprehensive history, it does however describe the spread of the church from Jerusalem to all of Palestine, and as far as Greece. The episodes he reports show how Christianity arose out of Judaism. He shows us something of the struggles the church underwent in accepting Gentiles as members. The Holy Spirit guides and strengthens the church as it spreads through much of the Roman Empire.


Note: Acts 10:34-43 must be read.
Acts 10:34-43

The setting is the house of Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Regiment, part of the military occupation force in Palestine. Cornelius, already a believer in God, has had a vision (vv. 1-8). As a result, he has invited Peter to visit. It is against Jewish law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, but Peter comes anyway, with “some ... believers from Joppa” (v. 23).

The Greek here is rough, full of grammatical errors, unlike the rest of Acts, so we may well have Peter's unedited words. He tells the assembled company that God does not favour Jews over others: anyone, whatever his nationality, who reveres God and lives in unison with him “is acceptable to him” (v. 35). In vv. 36-38, Peter summarizes Jesus’ earthly ministry; he applies prophecies found in Isaiah 52:7 and 61:1 to Christ. (Psalm 107:20 says “... he sent out his word ...”.) Christ is Kyrios, “Lord of all” (v. 36). In baptism, the Father “anointed” (v. 38) Jesus “with the Holy Spirit” and with the “power” of God (but he was already integral with God’s very being.) The good news (“message”, v. 37) spread throughout Palestine (“Judea”); he “went about” (v. 38) “doing good” and combatting evil, doing deeds so powerful that it is clear that he was God’s agent: he is a model for all to follow.

He suffered death as one guilty of a capital offence, per Deuteronomy 21:23: he hung on a “tree” (v. 39) and was cursed. (By Jesus’ time, the “tree”, a pole, had acquired a cross-arm.) But, although cursed, the Father “raised him” (v. 40) and “allowed him to appear” to those chosen by God – to be “witnesses” (v. 41). In Luke 24:41-43, Jesus eats broiled fish with them, so he was clearly humanly alive again, i.e. physically brought back from death, resurrected. Jesus, the Kyrios, is the one appointed by God to set up the Kingdom and to judge both those who are alive and those who have died at Judgement Day (v. 42). Then v. 43: he fulfills many Old Testament prophecies: he is the one through whom sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is now available to “everyone who believes”, not just to Jews.


Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 25:6-9

In 24:21-23, we read that “on that day”, at the end of time, God will punish rebellious heavenly beings and the “kings of the earth”, after imprisoning them for a long time. “... the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and ... he will manifest his glory.” Isaiah speaks of the time when the age will end.

Our passage tells of the divine banquet on Mount Zion (“this mountain”, v. 6), at that time, hosted by God, “for all peoples”, to celebrate the victory over death. God “will destroy ... the shroud” (v. 7) of mourning and ignorance; death will no longer be termination; knowledge of God and his ways will be freely available. This celestial banquet is a symbol of eternal happiness, of the coming of the Kingdom of God. (Recall Jesus’ words at the Last Supper in Mark 14:25: “... I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”) God will destroy the power of death, “the disgrace of his people” (v. 8) for ever. Salvation for all, awaited for ages, will be available “on that day” (v. 9). “The Lord” (whom we identify with Christ) is the awaited saviour. This is an occasion for great rejoicing.


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 118:1-2,14-24

Vv. 1-2 are a call to thanksgiving: God’s mercy, his “steadfast love”, is everlasting. May “Israel” (v. 2) and “those who fear the Lord” (v. 4) proclaim this! Vv. 5-13 say that, when the psalmist (possibly the king) was in distress, he “called on the Lord”, who heard him. With God on his side, there is nothing to fear; trusting in God is better than trusting in humans. Surrounded by his enemies, “in the name of the LORD, I cut them off” (v. 10), with God’s help. V. 15 recalls Exodus 15:2a, Israel’s classic victory song sung by Moses and the Israelites after crossing the Reed Sea. The “glad songs” (v. 15) are heard in the Temple, the community of the faithful. The psalmist expects to live to old age (v. 17); he will proclaim God’s acts of power. He has suffered greatly at God’s hands, as a discipline, but God has preserved his life. He seeks entrance to the Temple (“gates of righteousness”, v. 19) to give thanks; only the godly may enter therein (v. 20). V. 22, possibly based on an ancient proverb, may speak of the king’s rise to power or his victory. On this day (v. 24) God has either saved his people or punished the ungodly – or both. This is a time for rejoicing. In v. 26, all proclaim he who was “rejected” (v. 22), but is now God’s chosen ruler. All the faithful share in the power and blessing of God, who “has given us light” (v. 27).


1 Corinthians

Corinth was a major port which also commanded the land route from the Peloponnesus peninsula to central Greece. An industrial and ship-building centre, it was also a centre for the arts. Its inhabitants came from far and wide. In this epistle, Paul answers two letters he has received concerning lack of harmony and internal strife in the Corinthian church, a church he had founded. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus (now in Turkey), probably in 57 AD.


1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul has heard that some at Corinth deny the physical resurrection of the body, claiming that only the spirit matters. Now he argues against this view. He says: I draw your attention to the “good news” I proclaimed to you, which you received, and “in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved” (vv. 1-2) – assuming that you all hold to it. I ask you to note the form of the words I used – unless you (in not accepting the message fully) “have come to believe” to no purpose. The most important tenets I handed on to you are: “Christ died for our sins” (v. 3), “he was buried” (v. 4, he really died), “was raised ...” and appeared to various persons and groups. His death, burial and rising again were “in accordance with the scriptures”, part of God’s plan. (Only the appearances to Peter, “Cephas”, v. 5, and to the “twelve” are in the Bible.) I, Paul says, was the last to see him: I, a monster (in appearance or as persecutor of the Church), the “least of the apostles” (v. 9). I, through “the grace of God” (v. 10), have achieved more than any other apostle. We all (“I or they”, v. 11) proclaim the same good news; this is how “you have come to believe”.


Symbol of St John

John

John is the fourth gospel. Its author makes no attempt to give a chronological account of the life of Jesus (which the other gospels do, to a degree), but rather "...these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John includes what he calls signs, stories of miracles, to help in this process.


John 20:1-18

Early on Sunday morning, before dawn, Mary Magdalene (witness to Jesus’ death and burial) comes to the tomb and finds that the “stone” door has been rolled back, so she and those with her (“we”, v. 2) tell “Peter and the other disciple” (v. 3, traditionally John) that they suspect that someone has removed the body. The “other disciple”, apparently younger, outruns Peter (v. 5). But the orderliness of the “cloth” (v. 7) and “linen wrappings” show that the body has neither been stolen nor spiritualized.

John, when he sees, comes to trust that God is active; by implication, Peter does not understand yet. They do not yet understand the significance of what is occurring (v. 9), of how it fits into God’s plan, because they have not yet received the Holy Spirit.

Mary, still thinking that the body has been moved, has returned to the cemetery. In her grief, she sees “two angels in white” (v. 12), heavenly messengers. She recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. But something has changed: they are in a new relationship: “do not hold on to me” (v. 17). To John the evangelist, Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, exaltation and return to heavenly glory, his ascension, are parts of a single event.


Symbol of St Mark

Mark

As witnesses to the events of Jesus life and death became old and died, the need arose for a written synopsis. Tradition has it that Mark, while in Rome, wrote down what Peter remembered. This book stresses the crucifixion and resurrection as keys to understanding who Jesus was. When other synoptic gospels were written, i.e. Matthew and Luke, they used the Gospel according to Mark as a source. Mark is most probably the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12: his mother's house was a meeting place for believers.


Note: Either John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8 may be read.
Mark 16:1-8

On Saturday after sundown, “when the sabbath was over”, Mary Magdalene (witness to Jesus’ death and burial) and others buy spices to anoint Jesus’ body. (Because Jesus died only hours before the Sabbath, there was no time to anoint it before he was buried. Buying spices on the Sabbath was permitted, but not aromatic oils and salves used for burial preparation.)

Early on Sunday morning (“the first day of the week”, v. 2), they go to the tomb, wondering who will roll away the heavy disk-shaped “stone” (v. 3) forming its door. (A tomb was cut out of the rock, and the “stone” ran in a track.) But they find the tomb open (v. 4) and realize what the empty tomb means: “‘he has been raised’” (v. 6).

The “young man, dressed in a white robe” (v. 5) is a heavenly messenger; he probably sits on a shelf intended for a body. It is the faithful women who first hear the Easter message. In v. 7, the angel tells them to inform the disciples that he “is going ahead of” them, will appear to them in Galilee, just as he told them during his earthly ministry. The women flee, seized with “terror and amazement” (v. 8), overcome with awe.

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