Lectionary Commentaries for April 5, 2015
Resurrection of Our Lord (B)

from WorkingPreacher.org

Alternate Gospel

Commentary on Mark 16:1-8

Lance Pape

After a long season of Lenten preparation we are ready to get a good hold on our resurrected Jesus and settle down for a bit, but Mark does not make him available for us.

[Looking for commentary on John 20:1-18? See this commentary for Vigil of Easter by Karoline Lewis.]

Instead, by the time Mary, and Mary, and Salome get to the tomb early on Easter morning (Mark 16:2), Jesus is already gone. Their worry as they approach is that the body of Jesus may be all too secure — that the large stone blocking the entrance to the tomb may be too much for them, and so prevent access to the one they have come to anoint (Mark 16:3). But upon arrival, they find that they actually have the opposite problem: Jesus is not unavailable because his lifeless corpse is locked away behind a barrier; he is unavailable because the stone is removed and he is alive and away on other business!

Strangely enough, in Mark’s telling the emptiness of the tomb is not just evidence for the resurrection. (And, when it comes to that, there are other explanations for why a tomb might be empty; see Matthew 28:13.) Instead, the accent seems to be on Jesus not being present because he has better things to do than wait around at a tomb. The “young man dressed in a white robe” (angelic messenger) delivers the good tidings of Easter morning like an administrative assistant explaining why you can’t have a quick word with the boss: “You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.”

You’ve missed him because he has moved on ahead to other pressing business. The resurrected Lord has no intention of giving us time to sit around pondering whether we believe in this sort of thing or not. Instead, the instruction to the women is to tell the disciples, and especially Peter who had denied him, that they had better get on the move (Mark 16:7). Jesus had explained already that after he was raised up, he would go ahead of them to Galilee (Mark 14:28). Now the “young man” reminds them of this scheduled rendezvous. If it’s Jesus they want, they will need to head back to Galilee.

What exactly would it mean to catch up with Jesus in Galilee? Galilee is, of course, the setting of his early ministry as narrated in the first nine chapters of Mark’s gospel. When Jesus first emerged from his wilderness trials, it was to Galilee that he came with his proclamation of “the good news of God” (Mark 1:14). Galilee is the site of his ministry of teaching, healing, exorcism, and feeding such that his fame spread (Mark 1:28), and a great multitude followed him (Mark 3:7). Note that these very women who have come to the tomb at sunrise to receive this summons have just been described a few verses earlier as those who accompanied him and provided for him during his Galilean ministry (Mark 15:40–41). Is that it then? Is it back to Galilee — back to the good old days with everything just as it was, only better?

Not exactly. The Galilean ministry in the early chapters of Mark is the site of a relentless demonstration of Jesus’ profound agency and power, but it is also the site of profound misunderstanding. Even his closest followers cannot seem to figure out who Jesus is and what he is up to. So pervasive is this theme of misunderstanding, that Mark’s Jesus is constantly asking people to keep silent about him. Whether supernatural beings that know his identity (Mark 1:34, 3:12), or those to whom he is trying to impart special insight (Mark 8:30), or those who have benefited from his power to heal and exorcise (Mark 1:44, 5:43, 7:36, 8:26) — Jesus instructs them all to be quiet. The so-called “messianic secret” in Mark comes down to this: Jesus doesn’t want people spreading news about him, because they don’t yet have the full picture. His full identity has not yet been disclosed.

Jesus had tried to explain about the second act of his performed identity — the part that takes place in Jerusalem, where he is to “undergo great suffering, and be rejected…and killed” (Mark 8:31). Three times he tried to explain it (see also Mark 9:31, 10:32–34), but each time his followers made it perfectly clear that they understood nothing. Finally, he just had to show them.

So now, at Easter, this summons to Galilee is an invitation to rethink it all, to reappraise the whole story in light of its ending. It is as the “crucified one” who has nevertheless been raised (Mark 16:6) that the powerful and dynamic Jesus of Galilee can be fully appreciated at last. These two sides of Jesus — fearless, urgent whirlwind of divine power who ties up the satanic strong man in order to plunder his house (Mark 3:27) on the one hand, and passive, silent victim of arrest, abuse, mockery, false accusation, and execution (chapters 14–15) on the other — are not really reconciled in Mark. It’s a story, not a treatise. We are never shown how to logically resolve the tension between these two aspects of his identity, but Mark insists on holding them both before our wondering eyes. To really understand this Jesus you have to keep thinking both things together — and this is all the more true after the resurrection.

There is something deeply disturbing about all of this, as the women at the tomb clearly understood (Mark 16:8). But if we can recover from the shock, there is nothing for it but to do as we are told and head back to Galilee — back to the site of his ministry among us, back out into the world where we are promised that he has gone ahead of us. Whatever he is up to out there, it’s probably not what one might first suspect. We would need to know the whole story in order to know where to look for him. We would need to understand that his power is the power of a crucified one. That will have to be enough to go on as our search begins.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 10:34-43

Troy Troftgruben

The first Easter drastically changed how Christians understand God’s activity in the world.

Today’s first reading features a similar paradigm shift in Christians’ understanding, regarding how wide-reaching God’s favor truly is.

I. The literary context: Acts 10:1-11:18

Our reading occurs within the larger narrative episode surrounding Cornelius (10:1-11:18), which Beverly Gaventa calls “the climactic moment of the first half of Acts.”1 The extensive length of the story and its surprising number of repetitions (e.g., 10:28-29, 30-32, 11:4-17) both imply the profound significance of the episode. The central discovery of the episode is stated at its close: “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (11:18). Despite the particular issues of table fellowship (10:28; 11:3), baptism (10:47-48), and circumcision (11:3), the Spirit’s manifestation confirms the overall point: God has accepted Gentiles alongside Jewish believers (10:45-47; 11:18).

II. The text at hand: Acts 10:34-43

Today’s reading features Peter’s message to the gathered household of Cornelius. After opening exchanges (10:24-33), Peter addresses directly the context at hand:

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34b-35).

The Greek is bolder about God’s lack of partiality: “God is not a partiality-shower (lit. ‘face-taker,’ prosopolemptes).” The concept appears elsewhere in Scripture regarding God’s lack of favoritism toward the rich and powerful (Deuteronomy 10:17; Lev 19:15; 2 Chronicles 9:17; Psalm 82:2; Sirach 35:15-16; Colossians 3:25; Ephesians 6:9; James 2:1, 9), but applying this same language to Jew-Gentile distinctions is quite new (also in Romans 2:11). The next verse only accentuates this meaning: “in every nation anyone who fears … is acceptable to him” (v. 35). The language of “acceptable” (dektos) is rare in Luke-Acts, and first occurs to describe the nature of Jesus’ ministry as “the year of the Lord’s acceptance (dektos),” (Luke 4:19, my translation; cf. 4:24). As these factors show, Peter’s message opens with one of the boldest declarations in Luke-Acts about the nature of God’s favor toward non-Jews.

Due to convoluted phrasing, translations render verses 36-37 in various ways. But two focal points in the text clearly emerge: God’s message entails “preaching peace by Jesus Christ,” and this Jesus “is Lord of all” (v. 36). Both points would have sound spoken loudly to hearers within the Roman Empire. The phrase “preaching peace” (euangelizomenos eirenen, lit. “proclaiming the good news of peace”) uses language employed elsewhere in association with Roman emperors (“good news” and “peace” regarding Augustus’s birth, OGIS 2:458; cf. Luke 2:14). Even more, the phrase “Lord of all” implies the inferiority of all rival lords, both human and divine (Epictetus calls Caesar “lord of all” in Discourses 4.1.12; Pindar calls Zeus the same in Isthmian 5.53). These parallels would be striking to a centurion of a leading cohort in the Roman army (Acts 10:1). However, Roman rulers are not the only rivals on the horizon: Peter’s speech later recalls how Jesus’ ministry confronted the oppressive power of the devil (Acts 10:38), a cosmic foe still at large in Acts (13:8-13; 26:18; cf. 19:11-20).2

The rest of Peter’s message (Acts 10:37-43) summarizes Jesus’ ministry, passion, and resurrection (vv. 37-38, 39b-41). Peter also emphasizes how Jesus’ followers are now witnesses (vv. 39, 41) called to testify — with ancient prophets — that he is both judge of all and source of forgiveness for believers (vv. 42-43). In fact, verses 37-43 spotlight major themes from Luke-Acts: John’s baptism, the Spirit’s presence, the devil’s oppression, the apostles’ testimony, Jesus’ resurrection, and the fulfillment of scripture. These verses summarize the highlights of Luke’s story about Jesus so that the audience in Cornelius’s home may hear the story authentically.

III. Significance

In the lectionary, Acts 10:34-43 appears most notably on Resurrection Sunday, and on that day is hardly the focal text.3 But this story’s contributions are not only independently profound, they are complementary to the message of Easter.

First, more directly than anywhere else in Luke-Acts (and arguably the New Testament), Acts 10:34-35 declares that “in every nation” God shows no favoritism to particular peoples. For a church now overwhelmingly Gentile that holds dear an Easter story entirely about Jewish characters, this is no small detail. For our benefit Peter’s message proclaims: God does not play favorites.

Second, the passage declares “he is Lord of all,” using politically- and religiously-charged language (kyrios, “lord”) to claim Jesus’ lordship over earthly and supernatural forces. In this way Acts 10:34-43 makes explicit what the resurrection story only implies: Jesus is Lord over all things — death, the devil, and all the forces that defy God.

Third, the message of Jesus is powerful. Just outside the bounds of our first reading, Peter’s message is interrupted by an unexpected guest: the Holy Spirit (vv. 44-45). Although the narrative of Acts complicates a formulaic relationship between the proclaimed message and the Spirit’s presence, the Spirit’s advent at several occasions (e.g., 2:37; 10:44) implies there is a mysterious power about the message of Jesus.

Whereas today’s Gospel reading states “he is risen,” our first reading declares boldly a message no less profound: “he is Lord of all.”


1 Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries; Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), p. 162.

2 On this topic, see Susan Garrett, The Demise of the Devil: Magic and the Demonic in Luke’s Writings (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989).

3 It also occurs as the second (epistle) reading on the Baptism of our Lord during Year A.


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

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 118 is the last psalm in a group of six psalms in Book Five known as the “the Egyptian Hallel” (Psalms 113-118), psalms that are used in present-day Jewish life at the Passover meal on the eighth day of that annual spring celebration.

Psalms 113 and 114 are recited before the meal. Psalms 115-118 are recited at the conclusion of the meal while drinking the fourth cup of celebratory wine. Many scholars maintain that in ancient Jewish life Psalm 118 was used in liturgical processions, perhaps an entrance liturgy into the temple in Jerusalem. According to the Mishnah, a document that interprets the Torah, the procession around the altar that took place on seven successive days during the Feast of Tabernacles was accompanied by the recitation of Psalm 118:27.

In present-day Christian lectionary use, Psalm 118:1-2 and 14-24 is the psalm reading for Easter Sunday in all three years; Psalm 118:1-2 and 19-29 is the reading for Palm Sunday in all three years; and Psalm 118:14-29 is the psalm reading for the second Sunday of Easter in Year C. All four of the New Testament gospel writers use the words of Psalm 118:26 — “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” — in their Palm Sunday narratives (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 19:38; and John 12:13). In Mark 12, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22 — “The stone the builders rejects has become a cornerstone” — as the explanation for the so-called Parable of the Vineyard. Peter quotes the same verse in Acts 4:11 in reference to Jesus; Paul alludes to it in Ephesians 2:20-21; and the words of Psalm 118:6 — “The Lord is for me; I will not fear” — echo in Romans 8:3 and Hebrews 13:6. Thus, Psalm 118 has a rich and varied history of transmission and use in both Jewish and Christian life.

The timeless appeal of Psalm 118 may have something to do with its form and content. Erhard Gerstenberger states that the psalm “abounds in liturgical forms and rhythmic, repetitious, formulaic phrases and shouts.” It is an Individual Hymn Thanksgiving, a psalm in which a single voice praises God for God’s goodness to or on behalf of that individual, usually for deliverance from some trying situation. But in Psalm 118, the words of the individual hymn singer are woven into, H.J. Kraus says “anchored in,” the liturgy of the gathered worshiping community. Thus, the psalmic voice moves back and forth between the singular and the plural, as the individual worshiper approaches God in the context of corporate worship with thanks for deliverance from trouble.

The structure of Psalm 118 may be outlined as follow:

Verses 1-4:       Call to Worship

Verses 5-18:     Voice of the Individual

Verses 19-28:    Mingled Voices of the Individual and the Worshiping Community

Verse 29:         Conclusion

The focus verses for this study, vv. 1-2 and vv. 14-24 are located in the Call to Worship and in the Mingled Voices of the Individual and the Worshipping Community.

In verse 1, worshipers are called together to “give thanks to the Lord” because of the Lord’s goodness and steadfast love (NRSV). The words of verse 1 are typical gathering words, used in many calls to worship in the Hebrew Bible (see Psalms 106:1; 107:1; 136:1; 1 Chronicles 16:34; 2 Chronicles 5:13; 7:3; 20:21). The word translated as “steadfast love” is hesed. A prominent Jewish scholar defines hesed as “a free-flowing love that knows no bounds.” Hesed is most closely connected conceptually with the covenant relationship between God and children of Israel (see Genesis 17:7 and Exodus 19:5-6, for example).

In verse 2 Israel is called upon to say (declare publicly for all to hear), “His hesed endures forever,” followed in verses 3 and 4 with a call to “the house and Aaron” and “those who fear the LORD” to do likewise. After verse 4 the word hesed does not appear again in Psalm 118 until its closing verse, v. 29. Therefore, we may be permitted to understand verses 5-28 as a description, an “example story” of hesed.

In the midst of that “example story” are our focus verses, 14-24. Verse 14 states, “God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation,” repeating exactly the words that Moses, Miriam, and the children of Israel sang in Exodus 15:2 after they crossed the Red Sea; the singer of Psalm 118 likens the help (salvation) rendered in the present situation to the help God gave to the Israelites in the Exodus. The psalmist has escaped; the enemy has perished; a new life lies ahead.

Verses 15b and 16 echo Exodus 15 (vv.6, 12) as well, celebrating in a three-fold summary the might of the right hand of the Lord. And in verse 17, the psalmist affirms, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.” Martin Luther inscribed these very words on a wall of Colburg Castle in Bavaria during his 165 days of hiding during the Diet of Augsburg.

The words of verse 22 (“the stone the builders rejected”) are quoted and alluded to in many places in the New Testament, appropriated by its writers as a metaphor for Jesus (see Mark 12:10-12; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20-21; and 1 Peter 2:4-8). In the ancient Israelite context, we may understand the “stone” as the psalm singer, who has not been cast off, but has become a cornerstone, an essential element in the construction of the life of the ancient Israelite faithful.

Verse 23 states emphatically that all of this is the Lord’s doing. The NRSV says “it is marvelous in our eyes.” The word “marvelous,” (from the Hebrew root pala’) actually means “too difficult to understand.” How could a stone that the builders reject become a cornerstone? In verse 24, the voice of the community appears clearly for the first time in the psalm and declares, “This is the day the Lord made,” and admonishes hearers, “Let us rejoice and be joyful.”

A student in the psalm class I taught in the fall of 2014 gave a presentation on Psalm 118 that incorporated a powerful additional way to understand “the stone that the builders rejected.” He told the story of Ishmael Beah, who at the age of 13 was “recruited” by a rebel government in West Africa to be a child soldier. The rebels desensitize the children to violence, make them feel like outcasts from their families, and give them little hope for any future outside the rebel groups for whom they work. But Ishmael’s story ends differently than for the majority of the children. The United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund rescued him and taught him to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and to heal. Ishmael has since committed his life to helping other children soldiers as an advocate, activist, and author. Imagine the words of Psalm 118:21-24 — “I thank you that you have answered me … the stone that builders rejected … this is the LORD’s doing” — on the lips of Ishmael Beah!

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

C. Clifton Black

Today’s Gospel lection again competes for the preacher’s attention with another of the New Testament’s choice epistolary texts.1

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is the oldest of all testimonies to our Lord’s resurrection by one among many eyewitnesses, the apostle Paul.

Here or elsewhere, Paul says nothing of the place and people predominant in the Gospels, namely, the women’s discovery of the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-18). It’s easy to suppose that Paul knew these traditions familiar to us from the Gospels, committed to writing two to five decades after his letter to Corinth. However, writing in A.D. 54, he may not have known them. Indeed, the point at which 1 Corinthians 15 stands closest to the Gospels is the identification of Simon Peter (Cephas: verse 5) as among the first to whom the risen Lord appeared (cf. Mark 16:7; Luke 24:34; John 21:1-8).

1 Corinthians 15:1-7 presents rudiments that another lection, Acts 10:34-43, elaborates:

  • A reminder of the gospel’s original terms (1 Corinthians 15:1, Acts 10:36)
  • The necessity of preaching (1 Corinthians 15:1, Acts 10:42)
  • The faith in which the church stands (1 Corinthians 15:2, Acts 10:43)
  • Handing down the tradition and story of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3, Acts 10:37-39a)
  • Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 15:3, Acts 10:39b)
  • The forgiveness of sins (1 Corinthians 15:3, Acts 10:43)
  • The connection to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Acts 10:43)
  • Christ’s resurrection on the third day
  • Christ’s appearance to Cephas, the Twelve, and many others (1 Corinthians 15:5-8, Acts 10:41)

These parallel testimonies of Christ’s resurrection may be largely independent of each other, approaching something like bedrock of the primitive church’s formative Easter witness. It would be no small thing this Easter Sunday for the preacher simply to remind the church in what terms it first received the gospel by which it still is saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 set the stage for Paul’s preoccupation in 15:12-58: how to answer those who say there is no resurrection of the dead. Although logically implied by that issue (see 15:13-19), that’s not the problem Paul addresses in 15:3-11. I doubt that’s the problem most preachers would or even should tackle from the pulpit on Easter Sunday. 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 has other concerns. Today is the day for congregants to examine them.

Verses 3-7 articulate the heart of the Christian gospel–“Christ died for our sins”–and the primary means by which Christians have considered that claim substantiated. After having really died (“he was buried” for “three days”), Christ was raised from death into new life. God was the one responsible for that raising. And if this Jew was raised and no one else, then by that resurrection God irrevocably committed himself to Jesus, who likewise had held back nothing for the sake of God’s kingdom.

This happened “in accordance with the scriptures.” Jesus’ death was so momentous that it dealt with human sin against God, and it was validated by the only God capable of undoing that death and bestowing life. Accept that, and such a death and resurrection had to accord with the character and intentions of the God whom we meet on the pages of the Old Testament. The Chief Justice has decided the case in favor of Jesus, consistent with Israel’s Constitution, in a verdict corroborated by competent witnesses.

The risen Christ appeared to Cephas, to the Twelve, to over five hundred disciples, to James the brother of Jesus and to the rest of the apostles (see Galatians 1:17-18; 2:1-10). Paul is adamant that he didn’t make all this up. In good rabbinic fashion, he delivered to others what he had first received. This is the church’s common legacy. Following the apostles’ lead, the church is responsible to hand it down to a new generation.

“Last of all, in miscarriage [to ektromati] as it were, he appeared to me, too” (1 Corinthians 15:8). This is the lection’s transitional hinge. We move from the caravan of witnesses (verses 5-7), to the last witness (verse 8), then to Paul’s self–assessment of his own apostleship (verses 9-11).

Now Paul speaks of the resurrection’s personal impact. Like the autobiographical flashes in other letters (2 Corinthians 11:21b–12:10; Galatians 1:11–2:14; Philippians 3:4b-11), 1 Corinthians 15:9-11 is an all too human mixture of self–recrimination (“unworthy of being called an apostle”), vanity (“yet I toiled more than any of them”), second–guessing (“though not I but God’s grace with me”), shrugging (“whether I or they”), and confidence (“so we preached and so you believed”).

By his own admission, Paul was the unlikeliest of apostles, not because he considered himself inadequately religious (quite the contrary: 2 Corinthians 11:22; Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:4-6), but rather because he had tried to destroy God’s church (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6). That venture’s monstrosity may lurk behind his self–caricature as “a deformed fetus.” “But by God’s grace I [now] am what I am; and his grace, which is in me, wasn’t in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Between these poles, the communal and the personal, swings the message of Easter. If it’s only a creed that never touches us, or merely a “me and Jesus” project untouched by the church, then a gestation has not yet proceeded to term. Those untimely born stir in our pews and, on occasion, from our pulpits.

On the Day of Our Lord’s Resurrection, we may be surprised to realize in faith that no longer is it we who live but rather Christ who lives in us; a life transfigured by God’s Son who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

1. This commentary was first published on this site in conjunction with texts for April 12, 2009