Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these 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.

On Easter evening when Jesus first appeared to his disciples, the storyteller says that they were in a house with the doors locked – “for fear of the Jews.” The following week Jesus came to them again, but this time we are told that the doors were only “shut,” not locked. Is it possible that we are witnessing something of a gathering force in this troubled circle, a dawning realization that they are not alone, that a greater power is available to them and even now present within them? They may not be quite ready to go out on their apostolic missing in the world, but this small clue seems to suggest that the disciples of Jesus were getting past their fears.

On both occasions, the first words of Jesus are “Peace be with you.” What is this peace of which Jesus speaks? More than just the absence of trouble or the extinguishment of anxiety, this peace is nothing less than the fulfillment that comes with the vision, the taste, and the joy of wholeness.

For the past several readings we have been exploring the key elements in the formation and health of community – and community (Jesus called it the “kingdom of God”) is the Bible’s most perfect picture of wholeness. Trust among partners, supported by the individual faith in the gracious ground of the divine; fidelity to the ideals and covenantal aims of their life together in relationship; a compassion that flows out of a deeper identity and inspires their mutual care and help; along with the forgiveness that allows them to rise above guilt and blame and recapture the hope of their shared future.

At last, the long ascent of our human spiritual evolution had reached a place where all the necessary ingredients for real peace were present and accounted for. Now it’s up to us.

ACTS 4:32-35

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Earliest Christianity, according to the view provided in the New Testament book of Acts (“Acts of the Apostles”), was a true form of communism, where the later axiom of Karl Marx – “from each according to ability, to each according to need” – was collectively honored and faithfully practiced. There was little ambition for personal property or worldly success, as their focus and allegiance were fastened on something transcendent and future-oriented. This reality, being both the providential support as well as the driving power beneath and within the emerging community of the Church, was the reign of God as proclaimed and personified by Jesus.

In fact, what is called the Easter Event can be understood as the experience of being grasped by the very power that Jesus embodied, along with the vision that had inspired his devotion and personal sacrifice. The moment after the cross when the fearful company of disciples was seized with the realization of this spirit of Jesus as miraculously enduring and presently available, was the resurrection of Christ into the community of the gospel. Such living and functioning together as one is what the apostle Paul would refer to as “the body of Christ, his Church.”

MARK 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

There’s another thing about Mark’s version of the story. What later writers (Matthew, Luke, and John) would expand and elaborate into dramatic and even first-hand accounts is a simple discovery on the part of the women who came to finish the job of burial that early Sunday morning. No earthquake and descending angel, as in Matthew. No glorified body capable of eating a piece of broiled fish, as in Luke. No resurrected flesh still with the wounds of crucifixion that could be fingered and touched, as in John. In Mark’s Gospel, all we are left with is … absence. “He is not here.”

Once more we must ask, Why the brevity? Why such thin support from the supernatural beyond?  Why leave us with nothing to hold onto but a vacant tomb and the hysterical report of a few terrified women? If Mark is writing for the purpose of promoting the early Christian movement, then his choice of an ending amounted to bad advertising. Who wants to get behind that?

We get the sense that Mark is trying to draw our focus away from such surface sensations as angels, appearances, and palpable proofs of what can only be grasped, felt, and understood by way of an inner realization. Faith has never been about evidence, or the lack of it. The true disciple walks by faith, not by sight.

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these 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.

One advantage the Gospel writers had over the apostle Paul was access to early collections of Jesus’ teachings. The earthly life and ministry of Jesus weren’t as important to Paul as were his death, resurrection and intercession on behalf of believers. Largely through the influence of Paul’s focus on the atonement of the cross, some of the first storied accounts of Jesus’ life to emerge were passion narratives, featuring his redemptive suffering for our salvation.

The author of Mark’s Gospel may have been the first to expand this narrative treatment into a fuller “life of Jesus.” By composing an action plot and sprinkling in available teaching material where he saw fit, Mark produced what could be the earliest hero myth of Christianity. Incorporating the oral tradition of anecdotes and remembrances concerning Jesus, as well as borrowing from the wider stage of world mythology, Mark built out the contextual scenes that interpreted this teaching and further developed the messianic identity of Jesus himself.

As time went on and more “biographies” of Jesus emerged (Matthew, Luke and John, but many others that didn’t get included in the scriptural canon of the early Church) this teaching material was expanded, embellished, supplemented and refined. In the end it becomes very difficult to distinguish the First Voice of Jesus from that of the authors who tell his story. And when you add in the layer upon layer of translations, word studies, commentaries, creeds, and Sunday sermons, really hearing what Jesus had to say requires some serious pick-and-shovel work.

The Gospel of John is the last-written of our canonical four, which also means that its presentation of the life and teaching of Jesus has had the most time to develop – both into obscurity and clarification. His Jesus is a long leap from the earthy messianic conspirator of Mark’s story. Now (but only 25 or so years after Mark) Jesus has become the incarnate Word and divine Son of God whose mission is to reveal his Father’s great love for the world.

In this passage we have what amounts to John’s reworking of the Pentecost scene in Acts 2, but focused down from a large festival gathering to the private company of Jesus’ disciples. The Pentecostal descent of the Holy Spirit as wind and fire becomes Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon his followers, and whereas the Spirit in Luke’s story inspires recipients to share the gospel in other languages (an evangelistic theme), the gift of the Spirit in John empowers the disciples with the authority to forgive sins (an emancipation theme).

This authority, by the way, had been the exclusive prerogative of God up to this point, so John is suggesting something remarkable here – and wildly controversial. “God’s power is yours now,” Jesus is saying. “Go out and set people free!”

 

LUKE 24:13-49

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

“On that same day …”  Which day was it again? As Luke sets his story, it is the day of resurrection. Or more accurately, it’s later in the day, on the early morning of which a few women reported an encounter with angels who told them that Jesus, whose body they had come to embalm, was not dead but alive. Up to this point, according to Luke, no one has seen the risen Jesus.

It is interesting to consider Luke’s story in the historical and evolutionary sequence of New Testament Gospels. The most authentic version of Mark, written earliest, leaves the reader at an empty tomb, with the disciples of Jesus bewildered and afraid. Matthew, coming next in the sequence, gives us an earthquake and a descending angel who rolls the stone away from Jesus’ grave. In their hurry to give report to the other disciples, the women encounter Jesus himself. Then we have Luke, likely composed shortly after Matthew. Following this, the Gospel of John will feature the personal meeting of the risen Jesus and Mary Magdalene, right there as she weeps near the garden tomb.

Luke’s story, in other words, stands between Matthew’s dramatic special effects and John’s intimate encounter with Mary, who by this time has taken on significance as the very embodiment of human liberation by the power of Jesus and his gospel. (According to reports, Jesus had thrown no fewer than seven demons out of Mary, which must mean at the very least that prior to knowing Jesus her life had not been her own. Jesus, as it were, gave Mary back to herself.)

Even if the writer of John was unfamiliar with Luke’s account (which seems to have been the case), the progression across the sequence of Gospels is suggestive of an evolving realization through the ensuing decades following Jesus’ death. From an empty tomb (Mark) to the very moment of resurrection (Matthew), and from there to a walking conversation leading to a dawning awareness as the “stranger” breaks bread (Luke), and finally to a deeply personal encounter between a disciple who had been set free by the love and truth of Jesus (John).

If you put these different frames side-by-side and then play the video, you have a progression from shock to insight, from something that seems to have happened to Jesus, to The Something that was grasped as having happened through him for our sake.

This gradual (as Luke sees it) or sudden (according to John) in-breaking realization, that neither death nor the fear of death, neither orthodoxy nor empire, can hold back the revolutionary power of love, is the real meaning of Easter.

 

Believe

Posted: March 24, 2014 in ContraVerse
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Believe

JOHN 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

We should find it a bit peculiar how an empty tomb and folded grave clothes might validate a belief that Jesus was alive. Strictly speaking, the absence of a dead body doesn’t logically imply a resurrected one. The story tells us that Peter and “the beloved disciple” (a self reference to the author of the Fourth Gospel, traditionally identified with John) went home not quite understanding what had happened.

Interestingly, the Gospel according to Mark, which was written perhaps thirty years before this account, has everyone confused and afraid, once the disciples discover the empty tomb. There is no encounter with the risen Jesus and no resurrection appearances to confirm the miracle. The reader is left wondering what’s going on.

With the intervening narratives of Matthew and Luke, more confirmation details are added to the story: visitations of angels, an earthquake at the very moment of Jesus’ resurrection, his appearance to a couple of downcast disciples on their way to Emmaus, and his reunion with the whole group on a mountain.

It seems that early Christians were working hard to rebut the skeptics who may have been calling into question the whole platform of their movement. Jesus is alive? Prove it. 

                                                                                            

At first, the best the Christians could do was get the reader closer and closer to the resurrection event – visitors in white, quaking ground, and the real-time descent of an angel who rolls aside the stone (Matthew). But then again, the empty cave is really nothing more than a statement that “he is not here.” Then where is he?

Scholars conjecture that this is when the appearance narratives became necessary. Here he is! He appeared to this one, these two, a few women early in the morning, and to those eleven on the mountain. John will add his own appearance episodes: on Easter evening to most of the disciples, and again a week later when Thomas is there.

As John tells the story, the first witness of the risen Jesus was not one from the inner group of male disciples, but Mary of Magdala. The earlier Gospels of Mark (longer ending) and Luke introduce us to Mary as one out of whom Jesus had cast no fewer than seven demons. As the details around the resurrection are changing across the four canonical Gospels, the presence of Mary Magdalene is a noteworthy constant.

This narrative figure – devoted follower of Jesus and walking personification of New Life – had become the very embodiment of what the resurrection is all about. Not a vacant tomb, folded grave clothes, angelic visitors, nor even the reported appearances of Jesus himself could match the convincing testimony of one whose life had been transformed by him.

Still today, there is no more solid evidence that Jesus lives than the courageous freedom and joyful presence of those who carry his spirit within them. The resurrection cannot be proved or disproved as an historical event.

It either happens now, or it doesn’t really matter.