Lectionary Commentaries for April 21, 2019
Resurrection of Our Lord

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 24:1-12

Holly Hearon

The narrative of the empty tomb signifies overturned expectations, hope renewed, and an invitation to participate in God’s ongoing narrative through Jesus Christ who is risen.

Within the unfolding story world of the Gospel of Luke, however, the empty tomb is, as yet, an unrecognized sign. The women and other disciples know tombs. They are sites of memory (literally “a sign of remembrance”, mnema), a way of keeping those who have died physically present in time and space and place. They are also sites of remembering. They evoke stories, another powerful way of keeping those who have died present in our lives. 

The women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem had watched as the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross. They watched as Joseph of Arimathea took the body, wrapped it in linen, and placed it in a tomb hewed from rock where no other body had previously been laid. They went home to prepare spices that would be needed to complete the proper burial of the body. (A later document, the m. Sabb. 23:5, indicates that this is an activity that was allowed on the Sabbath, although it is unclear whether this applies to the first century.)

The tomb the women approached belonged to the familiar customs and practices that surrounded a death in their community. It was a recognized symbol, a sign of remembrance for the one who had died. It reminds us also of the customs and practices that we associate with death. Such customs and practices provide a visceral way for us to honor the dead and give expression to our grief. They also become a part of our memory and the stories we will recall in association with the one who has died.

As the women approach the tomb in Luke 24:1, they are focused on bringing to completion the burial of Jesus’ body and bringing closure to grief. But as they approach, they find the stone covering the entrance to the tomb has been rolled back. And when they enter the tomb, they do not find the body of Jesus. The reality the women expect is not the reality they encounter. The incongruity, says Luke, leaves them perplexed. Not dismayed, angry, or vexed. Perplexed: at a loss to make sense of the disconnection between their expectations and what they find.

Each of the Synoptic Gospels has the women encounter a heavenly being at the tomb. (Note that in Luke, it is the appearance of the heavenly beings that generates “fear” or perhaps “awe” in the women, not the empty tomb). In Matthew, it is an angel (accompanied by an earthquake); in Mark a young man clothed in white; and in Luke, it is two male figures in dazzling robes (the cosmic effect used also at Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:29). In comparing these three narratives, what is most striking is the differences in what is said by the heavenly being(s).

In Matthew and Mark, the heavenly being addresses the women with very nearly the same words: “do not be afraid; you seek Jesus who was crucified … he has risen.” This is followed by a command to the women to go to the disciples and to tell them to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7). In Luke, the two heavenly figures ask the women a question “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.” Then, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.”

The question, “why do you seek the living among the dead?” draws attention to the incongruity between the women’s expectations and their experience. They came to the tomb expecting to find the dead, because that is the function of tombs: to house the dead. What they discover is that the “tomb” is now an empty tomb. It is a familiar sign transformed by resurrection.

Nonetheless, the now empty tomb continues to function as a place that evokes memories. And this is precisely what the heavenly beings invite the women to do: to remember “how he told you.” Twice, while Jesus was in Galilee, he had told the disciples that the Son of Man would undergo suffering (Luke 9:22 and 9:44; see also 18:31-34). The words spoken by the heavenly being are not a direct quote of either verse and introduce new language: “handed over to sinners.” This new language brings to the fore a theme that runs throughout the Gospel (see 5:8; 7:37, 39; 13:2; 15:7,10; 18:13).

Another ‘theme’ in the Gospel of Luke is that characters don’t understand until they have things explained to them (see 18:34, where understanding is “hidden”). So the fact that the women do not at first remember what Jesus has told them does not show weakness of character; it reveals a pattern in which understanding comes through proclamation. Hearing the words of the heavenly beings, the women do remember (24:8). And, of their own initiative, they immediately seek out the disciples to, in turn, proclaim to them what they have seen and heard.

But the disciples don’t believe them, nor do they remember. Peter is curious enough to go to the tomb, where he sees the linen clothes but no body, and he returns home “amazed” (24:12); yet he does not vindicate the women. In this particular moment in time, this poses important questions for us: whom do we believe and why? Or why not? Within the community of faith, are we prepared to be perplexed (not angry or vexed) when our expectations are not matched by reality? Are we prepared to have traditional symbols transformed? What memories do we recall so that we learn to seek the living rather than the dead?

Alternate Gospel

Commentary on John 20:1-18

Joy J. Moore

Again, we find ourselves on the Holy Day that, for many, is the second most familiar (with due acknowledgments to the marketing world’s assistance in remembering Christmas).

Often, familiarity with the text allows us to miss the poignancy of the particular moments used to convey these events. The rehearsal of events we read today from what we know as John’s account of the good news represents a moment that had been recounted for two-thousand years. To present this event to both every Sunday participants and yearly Easter Sunday attenders as memorable and remarkable is a challenge.

Easter is the moment when the beginning meets the end. Neither the Gospel nor the Creeds end with Jesus crucified and buried. For Christians, the resurrection is what the fuss is all about. Women talked, couples argued, and the followers of Christ didn’t know how to respond to the publicity. Rumors of the resurrection captivated the talk, imaginations, and instant messages of everyone around Jerusalem that First-century weekend. Their words matter. And this narrative of events ties together the entire testimony recorded “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 20:31)

It is worth noting, by the time this account was first written, the Matthean, Markan, and Lukan accounts had been broadly circulated. And these accounts of the good news were written after the letters to the churches were widely distributed. Yet, this account is added as memorable and became remarkable. Attending to the selected moments offers new perspective on how the writer makes remarkable previously-noted events leading to this climax.

In the opening of her account of the events surrounding the Alabama police assault on peaceful demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, director Ava DuVernay captures a moment we almost all are familiar with. History has rehearsed these events to stir within us a response to the horrors of those days. She directs the camera to testify to the next generation of the past. Cinematographically arriving at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, viewers follow a half dozen boys and girls on the church stairs. Taken in by the innocence and promise of the youth, we are caught off-guard when the stairwell explodes, and our picturesque moment collides with reality.

In that moment, we experience the rehearsal with the same incredulous amazement as the original event. The most talked about event in recent history with its graphic morbid visuals were etched into human memory forever. The preacher has the same task as the director: using words to recount a well-known event in such a way as to incite awe.

We are familiar with this being the third day, but that the writer describes it as early, on the first day (verse1) marking again the opening poetry that turns the knowing reader’s attention to the creation narrative. While it is still dark echoes the reality of the chaos of creation (Genesis 1:2) identifiable in the circumstance of today’s seekers of good news as hopelessness, horror, and hurt. How can it be Easter when it is still dark?

Darkness is not merely a time of day; it can also be the absence of light. And the absence of light would mean those times in our life when we feel that God is not present. A rehearsal of our darkness is interrupted by the explosive recognition of the resurrection. The God who spoke light into existence has raised to life the one described as the light of the world. The God who donated dignity to dirt has conquered death. Shall we read this as what Paul proclaimed to the Corinthian Church as the New Creation? (2 Corinthians 5:17)

That the record of the one who is first to the tomb is a woman, provides a powerful reminder that we confirm the testimony started by a woman: We have seen the Lord. With reactions from outrage to silence the writers of the book we call Christian Scripture preserve the revelation of God made known in Jesus with keen attention to the perspective of women. Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen acknowledges “The Johannine Jesus is not presented as seeking to modify the feminine role prevalent within Judaism; rather, Jesus seems to ignore it altogether as he calls women to public ministry and affirms them in the face of male opposition.”1 In this account, Jesus’ first sign is performed in response to a social disruption noticed by his mother (John 2:3) and an entire community is introduced to the idea of Jesus as Messiah on the testimony of a woman (John 4:42).

That Mary ran, as did the disciples in response to her announcement, establishes the sense of awe and significance that God’s intrusion into human history demands. The gospel writer does not tell us why she came to the tomb, instead highlighting her response to finding the tomb empty. In a #MeToo culture, it is worth noting that here a woman’s announcement shook the world — not to establish her victimhood but — to celebrate God’s victory to restore humanity’s capacity to bear the image of holiness on earth. What does that restoration look like today?

The writer lingers over the ordinary, just as the director’s camera held our attention long enough to magnify the wonder of the moment. Grave clothes. A tomb. Skepticism. The capacity of death to stifle hope and destroy the future. But hope is only stifled. What, here, are still only rumors of the resurrection rekindles the flickering flame of hope. At first, the woman’s testimony sends the men away, pondering the significance of the empty tomb. In fact, we have been pondering ever since. Mary remains, in the garden, alone. Gardens are the place when heaven and earth collide. Jesus approaches her with the humility of the divine taking on human flesh — he possessed no splendid form for us to see, no desirable appearance (Isaiah 53:3, Common English Bible).

In that ordinary moment, her expectations collide with reality. The one she mistakes (rightly?) as a mere servant, called her by name. Just as the Creator, the one Jesus called Father, named humanity as Divine Facsimiles, the one mistaken for a gardener calls the confused, the mourner, the woman, by name. How do we speak to and about one another, in light of the rumors of the resurrection?

Death destroyed. Hope restored. The resurrection confirms the good news that, when met by God in human form and called by name, the task of those who bear the image of God into world is to bring this testimony to everyone. It is a familiar story. And the next generation deserves to hear it.


  1. http://www.directionjournal.org/19/2/jesus-and-women-in-gospel-of-john.html

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 10:34-43

Jennifer T. Kaalund

From early in life we are encouraged to make choices and develop preferences; we begin to identify our favorite toy, color, food, book, or movie.

In and of themselves, preferences are just that, preferences. Yet all too often these choices are recast as a hierarchy; that is, my favorite is also the best. When a value is assigned to our choices it becomes clear that choosing favorites can be problematic.

I have seen the devasting effects of favoritism — what it can do to one’s sense of belonging and sense of being. It often creates a competition for affection or attention (even if the struggle is an internal one). The struggle is seen in classrooms and within families, but it can also be witnessed in professional settings as a worker vying for the attention of their boss.

Parents are recipients of endless advice and one of the most memorable pieces of advice that I have received was from a woman who said that all of her children think that they are her favorite child. What an amazing feat! To make each child feel so individually special that they feel like the favorite is the ultimate parent accomplishment. Frankly, I have adopted it as a personal goal of mine with my own children and I think we find this exhibited in the scriptures. As a middle child who was/is overly concerned with parity, I must admit that I am comforted by the fact that God doesn’t have favorites.

The book of Acts is an epic tale of the evolution of a movement into an establishment. In this book we learn how a small group of Jesus followers develops into “the church.” In a book that describes miracle after miracle and takes its readers on adventure after adventure, it is in these few verses that Peter declares the complete gospel. Jesus of Nazareth was anointed and chosen by God. He received the Holy Spirit and with its power he goes around doing good and healing those who were oppressed. He was put to death, dying on a tree. God raised him on the third day and he appeared to a chosen few. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.

This is the gospel! The good news of Jesus the Christ leads us into the presence of a loving and accepting God. The gospel is simple: it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, the context of Peter’s message is more complex.

Peter begins his homily by saying: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.” If we read this declaration within the context of Acts 10, it becomes evident that Peter needed to be reminded that God does not play favorites.

A man in Caesarea named Cornelius, an Italian centurion, is described as devout and God fearing (10:1-2). Based on a vision that he has received from the Lord, Cornelius summons Peter. Meanwhile Peter was receiving a vision of his own concerning what he could and could not lawfully eat (10:9-16). Peter arrives at Cornelius’ home and informs him: “You yourself know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with or to visit an allophylo (a foreigner) but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (10:28). Although this is often translated as Gentile; the word is best understood as stranger or foreigner or someone from another race.1

Peter did not want to associate with the foreigner, with someone who was different. However, in front of Cornelius and the family and friends that he had gathered in his home, Peter declared God to be impartial. Although Peter may have had his prejudices, God did not.

Like Peter, it seems that we, too, can lose sight of this important attribute of God — God shows no partiality. All too often I have heard Christians declare things like: “favor ain’t fair.” Christians can too quickly deem ourselves “chosen by God” or “God’s anointed” while marginalizing others. On the surface these statements can be benign, simply descriptive yet when they are employed to distinguish our particular group as special to the exclusion of others, we, quite frankly, miss the mark. Likewise, when our actions reject the foreigner and the stranger, when we put our nation or our people over any other or when we support policies that do so, we are acting out of accordance with a God who accepts anyone who fears God and does what is right. God has no favorites.

Because God has no favorites, Peter is compelled to share the good news with Cornelius and his friends and family. Like prophets past, present, and future, Peter testifies about Jesus. It is through this testimony that those who come to believe will know that their sins are forgiven in his name. The gospel went ahead of Peter; it goes ahead of us, revealing a God who cares for us all. We join a cloud of witnesses who can declare the goodness of the Lord

As we celebrate the most holy of our religious observances, the Resurrection of our Lord, let us be reminded that his salvific act was for everyone. Let us remember that the path that Jesus created for us brings us to the presence of a loving God who accepts us all. Let us join with the prophets and testify about the one and emulate his life by living a life where we can be described by others as going about doing good and healing those around us because God is with us. He is not only our Lord; he is the Lord of all.


  1. ethnos is the Greek word that is more commonly translated as Gentiles, but can be rendered as the nations. That is not the word that we find here.


Commentary on Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Jerome Creach

Psalm 118 is the psalm of psalms for the Easter season.

The early church found in Psalm 118 the words of Jesus who remembered his suffering and persecution during Holy Week and who gave thanks for deliverance from the grave on Easter.

Psalm 118 concludes a run of psalms (Psalms 113-118) known as the Egyptian Hallel (Hallel, after the word hallelujah, “Praise the Lord” that appears prominently in these psalms and helps tie them together). These psalms were central to the Passover liturgy. Jewish tradition holds that the Israelites recited the words of the Hallel when they came out of Egypt (b. Pesahim 117a).

Themes related to the exodus (Psalm 114), including allusions to the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:4-6; Psalm 115:3-8), as well as references to the house of Aaron (Psalms 115:10, 12; 118:3) solidify the association with the events the festival celebrates. Psalm 118 concludes this section of psalms by giving thanks for God’s deliverance. Thus, the language of the psalm fits Passover (verses 10-14), but early Christians saw in it language and themes that spoke most directly about God’s vindication of Jesus.

All four Gospels report the crowd at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem recited Psalm 118:25-26 (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19). That portion of the psalm is part of the reading for Palm Sunday (Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29), and another division is a reading for the second Sunday of Easter (Psalm 118:14-29). The verses of our reading for the Resurrection of the Lord fit particularly well the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

One of the most difficult questions about this psalm regards its genre. What type of poem is it, and what type of occasion likely gave rise to it? Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 contains elements of several psalm genres, each of which is appropriate for this day in the church year. The reading begins with and is dominated by thanksgiving. The opening of the psalm has language common in thanksgiving prayers, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (verse 1; see Psalm 30:4, 12). Verse 21 again expresses thanks in first-person style, like the thanks Israelites gave when they brought their thanksgiving offerings to the temple (Jeremiah 33:11). Hence, the opening verses set the tone for the lectionary reading, and for the Easter celebration, by offering thanks to God for God’s “steadfast love” (verses 1-2).

Verse 14, again in first-person style, echoes the expressions of confidence in God that appear in individual prayers for help: “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (see Psalms 3:3; 13:5). As in the other such prayers, this expression of confidence assumes there was trouble in the past, but God has delivered the one who speaks. The verses prior to this one describe the trouble (verses 5-13).

The early church read all the prayers for help in first-person style as the prayers of Jesus. These psalms were especially important for understanding Jesus’ suffering and death. For example, the writers of Matthew and Mark used Psalm 22 to frame the passion narrative (see for example Mark 15:24/Psalm 22:18; Mark 15:34/Psalm 22:1). Early Christians likewise read numerous elements of Psalm 118 as expressions of confidence and praise for God’s salvation of Jesus from the dead.

The invitation to praise in verse 24 is like the calls to worship in hymns of praise (Psalm 100:1-2) and this element of the psalm may be most suited to Easter. Originally the reference to “the day” likely referred to the climactic day of a festival in the Jerusalem temple. Verse 27 speaks of a procession to the alter of the temple with worshippers carrying festal branches. This reflects the practice during the Feast of Booths in which participants cut branches as part of the celebration (Leviticus 23:40). Christians came to understand all these festive images as evocative of Jesus’ life and “the day” became the day of resurrection, the lord’s day.

Perhaps the most vexing question about Psalm 118 is, who is the individual who speaks? Whose voice recalls past trouble and celebrates God’s salvation? Specifically, who professes “the lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (verse 14), declares “I shall not die, but I shall live” (verse 17), and says “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation” (verse 21)? Some scholars believe the king of Judah was the original voice who prayed in Psalm 118. It seems likely that the king played an important role in public worship, and that much communal worship engaged issues in the life of the king (2 Samuel 6).

His appointment to office, along with his victory or defeat in battle were matters of prayer, concern or celebration. The psalm does not identify the speaker, however, and that leaves the psalm open to interpretation and to apply its words to new situations. The early church naturally connected the psalms prayer and claims of faith to the resurrected Jesus. The messianic reading drew from numerous part of the psalm. Jesus was the “stone that the builders rejected” who had become “the chief cornerstone” (verse 22; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; 1 Peter 2:7). His resurrection was “the day” God had made (verse 24). He was the one who came in the name of the lord (verse 26). In these ways the psalm expounds on Jesus’ identity as the son of David (Matthew 21:9), the king of Israel (John 12:13).

Some modern readers have balked at the association of Jesus with the one who prays in Psalm 118 because it was not the psalm’s “original intent.” The connection between the psalm and Jesus, however, is not a claim that the author spoke about Jesus, as much as it is recognition that the way God provided salvation to the speaker in the psalm fits perfectly the circumstances of the risen Christ.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Jin Young Choi

The Corinthians received the gospel (euanggelion, “good news”) from Paul, who in turn had received it from others.

This tradition includes a series of the events — Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and appearance (1 Corinthians 15:3-11), but for Paul it is also the manifestation of power in proclaiming the gospel (euaggelizo 15:1, 2; kerysso, 15:11, 12). While Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are not separate, Paul focuses on the resurrection: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (verse 12). 

Up to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul has not mentioned the resurrection of Christ in either noun (anastasis) or verb (egeiro) form, except in 6:14. Instead, he declared only the cross of Christ, which looks foolish but actually is the power of God, saying he knew nothing “except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” among the Corinthians (1:17; 2:2). Why does Paul turn to the resurrection only later in his letter?

Paul states, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings [reigned]!” (4:8; see also 15:25) The Corinthians might have understood the resurrection only as a spiritual reality and thus despised the earthly body, which they thought would be excluded in the resurrection (see 15:42, 52-54). Ironically, then, what one can hope for and take pleasure from is only “this life” (4:8; see 15:25, 32). Early in the letter, Paul needed to redirect them toward the crucified Christ for without crucifixion there is no resurrection.

At the same time, without the resurrection it cannot be the good news. Christ has been raised from “the dead” (15:20). “The dead” points to the human mortality in a collective form. Death is part of the creation: “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Paul knows the creation story, but also is imbued with Jewish apocalyptic thought, which understands the present age as controlled by forces of evil. Jewish apocalyptic literature, produced in the context of the Jewish people’s suffering under empire after empire, depicts the destruction of oppressive rulers at the end of time when God restores God’s people. Those martyred for God’s justice would be vindicated. 1

Similarly, Paul believes that God intervenes in history through the death and resurrection of Christ. Roman crucifixion demonstrates the power of the “rulers of this age” (1 Corinthians 2:6, 8). It signifies that Rome’s subject people are those perishable bodies. Yet, God’s power manifests in the cross by raising Christ from the mortal body. The resurrection of Christ is God’s vindication, indeed. For Paul, this is not just a future event; God has already commenced definitive intervention in the death and resurrection of Christ who will destroy “every rule and every authority and power” and reign until God’s final victory (15:24-28).

Therefore, Christ’s resurrection is not the end. As the first fruit of those who died (verse 20), his resurrection assures the resurrection of the dead. To illuminate this collective resurrection, Paul uses the typology of Adam-Christ. As Adam appears as the origin and archetype of human race, Paul’s understanding of Adam stretches beyond the creation story. Since sin and death came through Adam, “all die” in Adam (verse 22). The “all-die” reality is not neutral (Romans 5:12-14). Death is destructive. Crucifixion exhibits the power of death to crush the bodies of subjects, control their minds through fear, and threatening human dignity. It is not only imperial power but also spiritual powers of this age.

God intervenes in history through the Christ event. If all die in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22). The meaning of “make alive” (zoopoieo) is clearer in 15:45: “Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’ (eis psychen zosan); the last Adam became a life-giving spirit (eis pneuma zoopoioun)” (cf. 15:36; Romans 4:17; 8:11). While Adam died, Christ is not only given life through the resurrection, but also becomes a “life-giving” spirit. Whereas God created Adam as the first human being, God’s creation continues through Christ despite the persistent power of Death. Paul depicts this new reality that has begun in Christ will bring the resurrection of all in Christ at his coming (parousia). And finally, Christ will bring an end to oppressive human and superhuman powers by destroying “the last enemy” — Death (15:26).

Rather than inviting us to fantasize about catastrophic events of the end times as in popular culture, Paul urges us to discern dominating powers of sin and death in the world, which shape human experience and social practice. We still witness physical and spiritual deaths of many people under sway of unjust human powers. Many people live in cultures deeply embedded in the power of death.  

Resurrection belief is not just assuring individual salvation, but collective resurrection; a vision of history and a hope for the ultimate renewal of God’s people and liberation of all creation. Paul does not just teach Christ’s death and resurrection but demonstrates God’s life-giving power in his proclamation of the gospel. How can Christians witness the power of life here and now, so that they may hope for, and bear witness to, the future resurrection as living on earth? This witness includes discerning, resisting, and overcoming the power of sin and death in all forms.

Using the imagery of destruction and triumphalism on the day of the Lord should be undertaken with care, particularly in churches and cultures of power and privilege. Paul’s language is that of the powerless: God intervenes to judge the oppressive powers, deliver God’s people, and vindicate the crucified Christ. On Resurrection Sunday we boldly preach, and humbly embody, God’s saving action and power through Christ in and for the world to those most desperate for resurrection today.


[1] Richard A. Horsley, “Rhetoric and Empire — And 1 Corinthians,” in Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation, ed. Richard A. Horsley (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000), 72-102.