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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Easter Day - March 31, 2013



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 Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. 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 of the 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 65:17-25

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (64:1): thus the people of Israel pray that God will reveal himself to them as in days of old. God answers, speaking through the prophet, “I was ready to be sought out” (65:1) but no one has sought my help. Instead, Israel was disobedient and self-centred; they will be punished, but God will preserve a faithful line, chosen by him. Fortunes will be reversed: “my servants shall eat” (v. 13) and be joyful but the majority will go hungry and be shamed. God will give “a different name” “to his servants” (v. 15), the faithful. God will completely transform the cosmos (“new heavens and a new earth”, v. 17); he will forget waywardness. The inhabitants of the new Jerusalem will be joyful (v. 18); sorrow will cease (v. 19). Long life was considered a blessing; now lifetimes will be even longer (v. 20). Life will be stable and harvests plentiful; God will bless his people (vv. 21-23). In v. 22, the “tree” is probably the tree of life in the Garden of Eden: there will be a return to the sin-free life God originally intended. Now God will initiate dialogue with humankind: he will no longer wait for his people to seek him (v. 24). All will be at peace in “my holy mountain” (v. 25), the new Jerusalem. Conflict between animal species will cease, and humans will live in harmony.


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 15:19-26

Some at Corinth had difficulty accepting Jesus’ resurrection, in which humanity becomes immortal, for many considered only the soul to be immortal. Paul has written that if we deny the resurrection, we reject the very basis of the faith. If our faith in Christ is limited to this life, we have been had. But Jesus was raised! The “first fruits” (v. 20) are the first yield of the harvest, foreshadowing more to come, so Christ’s resurrection is the forerunner of our resurrection. “Adam” (v. 22) was the prototype (model) for the old, earthly life (in which, Paul says, “all die”); Christ is the prototype for the new: he brings all (who believe) to life – through his resurrection. The sequence is this:

  • the raising of Christ (v. 23);
  • when Christ comes again (“coming”), of those who believe;
  • Christ’s destruction of all hostile, ungodly, powers (“every ruler ...”, v. 24, “enemies”, v. 25); and
  • the handing over of rule (“kingdom”, v. 24) to “the Father”.
  • This destruction will fulfil Psalm 8:6 (v. 27). The last enemy to be destroyed is (will be) death (v. 26). In v. 27, Paul clarifies: “all” does not include “the one” (God) who subjected all things to “him” (Christ).


    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” (v. 4) and “the other disciple” (v. 4, traditionally thought to be 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” shows that the body has neither been stolen nor spiritualized. John, when he sees, comes to trust (“believed”, v. 8) 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 Luke

    Luke

    Three gospels in the New Testament offer similar portraits of the life of Jesus; Luke is the third of them. Its author, traditionally Luke the physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, draws on three sources: Mark (via Matthew), a collection of sayings (known as Q for Quelle, German for source) and his own source. It is a gospel that emphasizes God's love for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers. Women play a more prominent part than in the other gospels. Luke never uses Semitic words; this is one argument for thinking that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.


    Note: Either John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12 may be read.
    Luke 24:1-12

    Joseph of Arimathea has wrapped Jesus’ body in a linen cloth and has laid it in a tomb newly carved into the rock face (23:53). “The women who had come with ... [Jesus] followed, and saw the tomb and how his body was laid” (23:55). They prepared the “spices and ointments” (23:56) for embalming his body, but there was insufficient time to embalm it before the start of the Sabbath. Now, on Sunday (“the first day of the week”, v. 1), they come to embalm the body. (Tombs were closed with a disk-shaped “stone” (v. 2) door, which ran in a track.) To their surprise, the door is open and the body gone (v. 3). The “men in dazzling clothes” (v. 4) are divine messengers; they ask: why are you seeking, in a graveyard, one who is alive? Jesus has predicted that he will be raised, in words similar to those in v. 7 (see 9:22). The word translated “remember” (vv. 6, 10) means: bring to bear in the present, with power and deep insight, the meaning of past actions and words in God’s plan of salvation. Jesus used this word of the Last Supper. It is the women who first proclaim the Easter gospel (vv. 9-10), but to the apostles it is unbelievable, as though spoken by a delirious person (“idle tale”, v. 11). Peter goes to see for himself, but he still lacks the sight of faith.

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