- Acts of the Apostles 19:34-43
In Peter’s sermon, Luke (Acts) provides a precis of the early church’s core proclamation. The Jesus, whom you knew or heard about because of his mesmerizing preaching and amazing healing as well as his gory execution and triumphant reversal is “the Lord of all.” And, at some point yet to come, “he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.” How do we know these things, Peter asks his hearers? ” We were eye-witnesses to all he did in Judea and Jerusalem,” as well as among those “who ate and drank with him” after he rose from the dead. Now, we are “witnesses” to the command to “preach to people and to testify….”
- Isaiah 25: 6-9
Usually the great Hebrew prophets address some current, specific crisis. But in this astonishing picture painted by Isaiah, the prophet addresses an existential anxiety known to every living person– “the shroud cast over all people,” “the sheet that is spread over all nations”– i.e. death. The Lord will summons all nations to an extravagant feast, Isaiah declares. Then God will “destroy” death,” “wipe away the tears from all faces….” “This is the Lord for whom we have waited….”
- Psalm 119: 1-2,14-24
The psalmist initiates an antiphonal hymn which summons the living to praise the Lord. Because the Lord’s valiant action means “I shall not die, but live/and recount the deeds of Yahweh.” You and I can continue to sing this hymn. The only One who could do this is the One who did! “This is the day the Lord has wrought/Let us exult and rejoice in it.”
- I Corinthians 15: 1-11
In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul weaves his personal story into the church’s story of Jesus. The story of Jesus was handed down from eye-witnesses. And Paul has passed onto those who hear and read his account., “In which you also stand….” Paul acknowledges that “as one untimely born,” he was not among the first privileged to know the Risen Lord, but later he did have his own singular encounter. The power of the story of Jesus is accentuated by the fact that Paul spent most of his earlier life persecuting the early church until his encounter. “I am what I am,” Paul writes, a living, talking, walking testimony to “the grace of God that is within me.” I am living proof that God chooses the least likely and can turn around the most hostile. So, whether you heard the good news from me or someone else, it is now your turn to “come to believe,” Paul declares.
- John 20: 1-8
John’s narrative names Mary Magdalene who went alone, to the tomb early “on the first day of the week, while it was still dark….” Seeing the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, she went to tell “Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.” She said “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the unnamed but prominently featured disciple (who was not mentioned in the sections of John’s narrative that dealt with the public ministry of Jesus, but is placed next to Jesus at the Last Supper, next to Peter in the sad scene in the priest’s courtyard when Peter denied Jesus and next to Jesus’ mother, Mary, at the foot of the cross), ran to the tomb, looked in, saw the discarded burial linens, They “believed,” although they did not yet know the scripture that Jesus must die and rise from the dead, the narrative details. Both men return to their homes, leaving Mary Magdalene, alone, weeping at the tomb. When she looks back at the tomb, she sees “two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.” They ask her why she is weeping. She explains “they” have taken the body of Jesus and she does not know where it is. When she turns around, she sees Jesus, whom she does not recognize, who also asks her why she is weeping and adds, “whom are you looking for?” Still consumed with her grief and dismay, she assumes Jesus is the gardener or caretaker. But when he calls her name, she immediately recognizes him and addresses him affectionately, “Rabbouni (which means Teacher).” Jesus tells her not to “hold on” to him, because he has not yet ascended to the Father. Instead, rush to tell “my brother” that he will “ascend to the Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene jumps into action and “announced” that she had “seen the Lord.” She also recounts all he had said to her. John’s narrative privileges Mary Magdalene as the one who discovered the empty tomb, tells the others the full story, including Jesus’ eventual ascension. Peter was the first to go into the empty tomb, but did not grasp its full meaning until later.
- Mark 16: 1-8
Mark’s gospel places three women– “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome” (identified earlier as among a group of women in Jesus’ inner circle back in Galilee and who watched the crucifixion at a distance while the men fled)– front and center in his resurrection narrative. Bringing “spices,” the three women go to the tomb, “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had not risen” to “anoint” the body of Jesus. On their way there, they speculate about whom they can recruit to roll away the stone that covered the tomb. When they arrive, they see “that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.” Upon entering the tomb, they see “a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side.” They are “alarmed.” He tells them not to be alarmed. He knows precisely whom they are looking for, “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” Then he delivers the news: “He has been raised; he is not here.” He tells them to look “at the place they laid him.” The young man then gives them specific instructions: return, tell Peter and the others to go back to Galilee where he will meet up with all of you, as he had promised, (14:27-28). The women flee, “seized” by “terror and amazement.” They tell no one, but go straight back to “those around Peter” and tell their summary of what the young man had told them. The narrative skips over who told what to whom by name, but concludes significantly: ” Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”
John’s resurrection narrative offers a wide variety of reactions to the discovery of the empty tomb. The central character, Mary Magdalene, discovers alone that the body is missing. Later, alone again, she encounters what she presumes is the caretaker, who, when he calls her by name, she recognizes as her “Rabbouni,” Teacher. She holds him, but she is told there is a task for her; go and tell “my brothers” that he will ascend to the Father. The enigmatic disciple,”whom Jesus loved,” appears with Peter; both men “believe” as soon as they see the empty tomb, even before the Risen Lord has appeared or spoken to them. The varied and mixed reactions continue in John’s narrative beyond this assigned excerpt for Easter Day, including the assembled disciples that evening, minus Thomas who requires his own encounter, and “many other signs,”( v.30) in the coming days of which John accounts only a few. What is clear from this jumble of mixed reactions and delayed understanding is that each person reached his or her own decision about this startling claim in his or her own way. Likewise, every person who has heard this startling claim has reached or will reach today his own decision in her or his own way.
The biblical accounts shift the weight from evidence to decision. We rely on others for their testimony, obviously, but each person makes a unique, decision, alone. Hans-Georg Gadamer wrote:
“The gospel does not exist in order to be understood as a merely historical document, but to be taken in such a way that it exercises a saving effect… in every concrete situation, in a new and different way.” “Understanding here is always application.” (Truth and Method, p.309).
Paul Ricoeur wrote: “we wager on a certain set of values and then try to be consistent with them; verification then is a matter of our whole life. No one can escape this.” (Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, George H. Taylor, ed.)
The Easter announcement requires a decision with consequences for each person’s entire lifetime and, therefore, for many others in her or his life, too.
Walter Brueggemann writes at the conclusion to Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe:
“At base, biblical faith is the assertion that God has overcome all that threatens to cheapen, enslave, or fragment our common life. Because the power of death is so resilient, this triumph of God is endlessly reiterated, reenacted, and replicated in new formats and venues. As a result of that always new victory, we are left to do our most imaginative proclamation and most courageous appropriation.” (pp 129-130)
Each person owns the Resurrection announcement in her or his own way.
Mark’s version of the discovery of the empty tomb takes many twists and turns. Although the women who made the discovery were given the news of Jesus’ being raised directly and then told to go straight to Peter and the others to relay the news, they did not follow through because they were afraid. So, the most important detail of God’s good news did not get directly relayed by those who had it first. Paul tells the Corinthians that it really does not matter that he was not among those closest to Jesus before or after his death/resurrection, because he is still a witness to the impact of the death and resurrection in one person’s life– his own!. Furthermore, it does not matter whether they heard about Jesus from them or Paul, because the opportunity is the same– it is now your turn to believe!
In is inimitable way, Ludwig Wittgenstein provides his response. In Culture and Value he writes:
“If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. He is dead and decomposed. In that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So, we are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven. But if I am to be REALLY saved– what I need is certainty–not wisdom, dreams or speculation– and certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence. For it is my soul with its passions, as it were its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can say: only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: it is love that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes the Resurrection; hold fast even to the Resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption. Holding fast to this must be be holding fast to that belief. So that when it means is: first you must be redeemed and hold fast to your redemption (keep hold of your redemption)– and then you will see that you are holding fast to this belief. So this can come about only if you no longer rest your weight on the earth but suspend yourself from heaven. Then everything will be different and it will be ‘no wonder’ if you can do things that you cannot do now.” (p. 33e)
Once the announcement has been made– “He has been raised, he is not here”– there are only two choices: He was a good man and an inspiring teacher who was unjustly executed, but he is still dead and so life goes on in its usual ways and there really is not anything new; or, everything is new, it is not as it first appeared, I can “do things that I cannot do” before. Either life is closed in and we are “orphaned,” or I can imagine, participate and even perpetuate life in a larger sense, a fairer sense, a richer sense for myself and others. The greatest import of the resurrection is not what it implies for me after I die, but before I die! “Love believes the Resurrection.”