Lectionary Commentaries for April 20, 2014
Resurrection of Our Lord

from WorkingPreacher.org


Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10

Melinda Quivik

We have to imagine our way into the moment described in this story.

For this day the preaching shoulders a proclamation of both ultimate folly and ultimate salvation. What the preacher must say today puts the preacher in the stead of the story’s angel who speaks to the women who have come to “see the tomb” — theorasai which means to watch, to observe, to hold vigil. The angel addresses Jesus’ followers who are drawn to be near the one they loved and had lost. This is true for the two Marys and for assemblies everywhere on the Day of the Resurrection.

The women experience Earth’s shaking (seismos). To them, the angel looks like lightning — a sizzling power, fraught with danger. Pivotal words like idou, translated as “suddenly” or “behold” or “look here” cannot convey the untranslatable truth that in this sequence of events, light has split a crack in the universe and everything we thought we knew is changed.

This story contains two such moments: “Suddenly … there was a great earthquake” and “Suddenly Jesus met them.” In other words, to meet Jesus is for the ground to move beneath you. Nothing remains as it was. This is the preaching to reach for, a heavy lifting whose aim is to stabilize whatever is in danger of faltering.

Consider two other images that fill the spaces between these “suddenlies.” One image is fear (phobos) — “for fear … the guards shook,” “Do not be afraid,” “they left with fear and joy.” The other image is vision (versions of orao and oida) — “come, see the place,” “you will see him,” “they will see me.” Even in what the angel says, “you are looking for Jesus,” the verb has the sense of seeking what was once in hand and is now lost. Looking for and yearning, fearing and seeing are entwined in the presence of the holy.

Perhaps we can hear in this construction from Matthew an assertion that we cannot see what is truly important without also experiencing fear. We cannot meet Jesus without being shaken. That these two human capacities are linked is evident in their being tied together in this crucial experience for Jesus’ followers. Even the word for “suddenly” has a visual quality. The thing that “appears” to the characters in this scene is as palpable, unmistakable, and fear-engendering as lightning

In our time, however, how do we speak of “seeing” to those whose vision is less than acute? What does this text say to the range of eyesight found among people? For some, even the outlines of guards lying stiff from fear might be too faint to identify. If the beloved teacher suddenly appeared, for some it may be impossible to locate his feet. Let us acknowledge the discomfort that exists when texts are heavily located in the capacity of the eyes. Let us hear beneath and behind the image to the point of the gospel: that witnessing Jesus’ resurrection represents a cataclysmic vision.

Utilizing Matthew’s language of seeing and fearing does honor to the Gospel writer, allowing the portrait offered by this moment to show us how faith is shaped. The promise the angel proclaims to the women is, in fact, an expansion of mere eyesight. It is to recognize and thereby to know the risen one in their — and our own — lives. The angels says that the risen one “is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” The disciples will encounter the risen one. It is a promise that where Jesus’ disciples go, the risen one will meet us.

In addition to the promise of Christ Jesus’ presence, the angel’s message is about fear. “Do not be afraid.” In English, it sounds like a command and, as such, it is impossible to achieve. Fear simply rises in us when confronted with a threatening moment. The fear is physical; it takes the form of an adrenaline burst, makes the heart race, giving us the energy to flee for survival, if necessary. Over time, the stresses of fear take their toll in many maladies that wear down both physical strength and mental well-being.

What the angel says about fear is, however, not a command. The sense of “Do not be afraid” is not an emphatic requirement but a comforting assurance: There is nothing to fear. You need not fear. This calming voice comes from an authority who speaks with power that is beyond this world — a messenger who, the story tells us, rolled a huge stone, sat on it (a rather matter-of-fact posture, to be sure), shone like electricity, engendered such a sight that the guards swooned, and then had the audacity to tell the women there was nothing to fear. With no need for fear, the women are then instructed by the angel to move into their lives with swashbuckling abandon. We, too, are so instructed. Because God’s power has overturned all expectation in our world, we have nothing from which to coil into self-protection.

The women were still afraid, of course. Courage is not simply throwing caution to the wind, as they say, but action despite danger. Their fear, we can see, also now contains joy. For the preacher the challenge on this day is to stand with the angel, proclaiming the possibility of needing not to fear so that the assembly can move into the coming New Year with joy. There will be fear and joy. Why is this important? It was as the women left the tomb “with fear and great joy” to go find the other disciples that “Jesus met them … ”

The sermon on this day should propel the assembly to leave worship with both awe and celebratory power, eager to see where and how the risen one will meet them in their neighbors and friends, their prayer, their advocacy for what is good and just, and in their own gratitude for life and resurrection.


First Reading

Commentary on Acts 10:34-43

Christian A. Eberhart

The lectionary passage Acts 10:34-43 features the sermon that Simon Peter gave in the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, in the city of Caesarea Maritima. 

The broader context is important to understand Peter’s homily but lacking from the lectionary passage; therefore, I will summarize it here and present the main characters before addressing the actual message of the sermon.

Luke narrates that the Jews who believed in Jesus were being persecuted and had to flee from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). In the course of these events, Simon Peter traveled west to the city of Lydda, where he healed a paralyzed man, and then to Joppa on the Mediterranean coast, where he restored the female disciple Tabitha (Dorcas) to life (9:32–43).

The next events all happen along this coastline. Further north is Caesarea (Maritima), a city that Emperor Augustus had given to Herod the Great in 30 B.C. and that became the capital of Palestine when Rome took control in 6 C.E. Caesarea featured an impressive artificial harbor and was the seat of the major Roman garrison. This means the city was the epitome of Roman presence and administrative control. It is thus fitting that, when Luke mentions Caesarea in Acts 10:1, the first person he introduces is a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

That person could be portrayed as a ruthless official executive. Luke, however, surprises his readers. He describes Cornelius as “a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10:2). He is thus sympathetic to Judaism. According to Luke, he does not belong to the group called “proselytes,” who were Gentiles observing all the Old Testament laws; instead, Cornelius is a “God-fearer” who respected and acknowledged the Old Testament moral teaching. His piety is further manifest in a vision from God in which he is asked to have Simon Peter come from Joppa.

By coincidence, Peter too is having a vision; he sees an “object” (Greek skeuos) resembling a big sheet that is being lowered down from heaven. It contains various kinds of animals that, according to the purity laws of the Torah, are considered unclean and, therefore, prohibited for consumption (Leviticus 11). In the vision, however, a heavenly voice tells Peter to “kill and eat” the animals (Acts 10:13). As a devout and Torah-observing Jew, Peter is reluctant to follow such advice, yet the heavenly voice insists three times: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (10:15).

Puzzled about his vision, Peter agrees to travel to Caesarea, some fifty kilometers away. On the way, it dawns on him that the vision might refer to the encounter between Jews and Gentiles: He must first visit Cornelius, the Roman centurion; only then can he proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ.

Yet will he not be in danger? What will his arrival in Caesarea, the Roman capital of Palestine, yield? What about his encounter with the non-Jew, the “other”? Luke surprises his readers once more. Cornelius, the centurion used to others obeying his orders and honoring him, falls down before Peter to worship him. The first things the apostle does at the house of Cornelius points forward to the sermon he soon delivers: He literally “raises up” his host and tells him: “Stand up!” (Acts 10:26) These are the key words of the gospel about the resurrection of Jesus (10:40, 41).

Thus, Peter gives his last great missionary speech in the book of Acts. It is structured as follows:

10:34–36, Introduction: The impartial God has sent Jesus as Lord of all.

10:37–41, Kerygma: Life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

10:42–43, Conclusion: We are his witnesses and announce forgiveness of sins in his name.1

I want to focus on the middle section of this missionary sermon. It presents an outline of the story of Jesus, beginning with his baptism by John. The next sentence interprets this event in a typical Lukan fashion: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (10:38). Luke is indeed the theologian of the Holy Spirit. He mentions, for example, “instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles” (Acts 1:2), the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (2:1–13), and how the Holy Spirit falls upon all who listen to Peter’s sermon (10:44–45). Thus, the Roman centurion eventually becomes the first gentile Christian.

In his sermon, Peter goes on to mention how Jesus was “doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil” (10:38) and how he was then crucified and raised from the dead “on the third day” (verse 40). This expression belongs to the earliest proclamation about Jesus (see also 1 Corinthians 15:4). Two remarks are important regarding this topic. First, Christians should exercise care not to think that resurrection is characteristic of Christianity and would distinguish it from Judaism. Resurrection is, instead, a religious concept promulgated by the Pharisees, a Jewish subgroup.

Second, resurrection is not resuscitation. Both are miraculous but different. Peter was able to resuscitate Tabitha (Acts 9:36–43), yet she remained a mortal human being. The resurrection of Jesus is of a different quality. The risen Jesus belongs to the heavenly realm and has an eternal body. This post-mortem body is, nevertheless, of a corporeal nature; Jesus did not become a ghost. Peter therefore mentions that Jesus ate after his resurrection (10:41; see also Luke 24:30).

Both resuscitation and resurrection, however, demonstrate alike that in God’s eschatological kingdom, death as the “hostile, cosmic power”2 will be vanquished and life will reign. God will reign over the entire earth. In this eschatological kingdom, also the division between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, or male and female will be overcome.

In the words of Jeromey Martini: “Resurrection … becomes not simply a believer’s personal privilege, but a passive part of Christ’s grander cosmic activity: a constituent part of God’s ‘all in all’ order.”3 A facet of God’s all encompassing reign is foreshadowed when the division between Jew and Gentile has been overcome in the encounter between Simon Peter and the Roman centurion Cornelius. 


Notes:

According to Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J., The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible 31), New York: Doubleday, 1974, p. 460.

Martini, Jeromey, “An Examination of Paul’s Apocalyptic Narrative in First Corinthians 15:20–28,” in: Criswell Theological Review 8 (2011, pp. 57–70), p. 64.

Ibid, p. 69.


Psalm

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

J. Clinton McCann, Jr.

Psalm 118 has been and is an extraordinarily important psalm in the history of Judaism and Christianity.

It was Martin Luther’s favorite — “My own beloved psalm,” as he put it. Luther considered verse 17 to be “a masterpiece,” and he asserted that “all the saints have sung this verse and will continue to sing it to the end.”1

Luther’s “masterpiece” is a good place to start in appreciating and appropriating the message(s) of Psalm 118. It serves as a summary of the psalmist’s account of having been delivered from deadly threat into the renewed opportunity to live (verses 5-18), an experience for which the psalmist thanks God in what appears to be a liturgical enactment (verses 19-29; see “thanks(s)” in verses 19, 21, 28, 29, as well as in verse 1).

The prominence of thanks leads scholar to categorize Psalm 118 as a psalm of thanksgiving; but there is widespread disagreement on questions like these: Who is speaking? An ordinary worshiper? A king? And on what occasion? Is a particular deliverance in view? And if so, which? And in what setting was thanks offered? The Temple? Or are the references to “gate(s)” (verses 19-20) to be understood metaphorically? To be sure, these are interesting questions; but the possible answers are manifold, and certainty is elusive.

Thus, it seems best to return to verse 17 and to realize that its affirmation of deliverance, along with the psalmist’s commitment to serve as a witness to God’s life-giving work, would have been (and is) appropriate on the lips of many people in many times and places. If the original pray-er was an ordinary worshiper, as many scholars suggest, it is noticeable and significant that he or she describes the experience of deliverance in terms that clearly recall the exodus.

Verse 14 quotes Exodus 15:2ab, and the repeated “right hand” in verses 15-16 matches the three occurrences in Exodus 15:6, 12. Not surprisingly in this regard, Psalm 118 concludes the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118), which is used at Passover, a celebration that recalls and recounts the deliverance from Egypt.

Verse 14 is also closely related to Isaiah 12:2, which is part of a song of praise (Isaiah 12:1-6) that responds to the immediately preceding account of God’s gathering of outcasts (Isaiah 11:10-16). This connection is a reminder that Psalm 118 would have been an appropriate response to the return from exile, as well as the exodus. In this regard, verse 22 also serves as a fitting image to describe the return from Babylon and subsequent restoration (see Isaiah 28:16; Jeremiah 51:26).

Christian readers are accustomed to hearing verse 22 in connection with Jesus’ rejection and crucifixion, followed by Jesus’ resurrection (see Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11-12). This is not to say that Psalm 118 should be understood as a prediction of Jesus. Rather, the New Testament citations of verse 22 are evidence that the early Christians understood that God’s life-giving work was continuing in the Christ-event.

The liturgical use of Psalm 118 during the seasons of Lent and Easter is instructive. Psalm 118 is the Psalter lection for both Palm/Passion Sunday (compare Psalm 118:25-27 with Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 23:38; John 12:13) and Easter.

The effect is not only to hold cross and resurrection inseparably together, but also to affirm that Jesus’ death and resurrection are life-giving events in continuity with the exodus and restoration from exile. God was, and is, the God who gives life amid the threat and the reality of death.

Verse 24 concludes the Easter lection, and its affirmation is crucial. The NRSV is familiar: “This is the day that the LORD has made.” But the CEB offers a helpful alternative: “This is the day the LORD acted.” Throughout its history, this verse has been capable of affirming God’s life-giving power and action in …

… the deliverance of enslaved Israelites from Pharoah’s deadly power.

… the return of dispirited exiles from Babylon.

… the resurrection of Jesus.

… the lives of ordinary folk who trust and affirm that life (and all that sustains life) is not merely a human achievement, but rather a gift from God.

For Christians, Easter is the quintessential, paradigmatic instance of “the day the LORD acted.”

In their description of Psalm 118, Hossfeld and Zenger conclude that it is “a liturgical cantata with an instructional purpose.” At the heart of what Psalm 118 teaches is that “God is ‘good,’ that is, life — promoting, and that his ‘love,’ that is, his mercy endures forever [see verses 1-4].” Thus, Psalm 118 “invites [the reader] to a liturgical celebration of this divine reality, and to allowing oneself to be transformed by it.”2

Hossfeld and Zenger’s description of Psalm 118 helps us to appreciate why it is so appropriate for Easter. Like Psalm 118, Easter is a liturgical celebration “with an instructional purpose.” Easter teaches us that God is essentially “life-promoting,” because God is fundamentally loving and merciful. And so Easter, like Psalm 118, invites transformation!

What a difference it would make if we were to view our lives and livelihoods not as something we achieve (note our preoccupation with “making a living”), but rather as a gift we receive. The pervasive greed and acquisitiveness of our North American culture might be replaced by radical gratitude. The dogged attempt to build up our own reputations and fortunes might be replaced by a commitment to “declare what the LORD has done” (verse 17) and how “the LORD acted” (verse 24, CEB).

The stress and strain of vain striving might be replaced by true joy and celebration (verse 24). As a response to the life-promoting divine power and action that we celebrate on Easter, Psalm 118:1 is a wonderful place to start: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”


Notes:

Quoted from Luther’s Works, Vol. 14: Selected Psalms III, by Ronald M. Hals, “Psalm 118,” Interpretation 37 (1983);277, 280.

Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 3: A Commentary on Psalms 101-150 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 232, 246.


Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 3:1-4

Kyle Fever

In Colossians, Paul addresses a way of thinking and existing that runs counter to the thought and life rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ.

We just don’t really know for sure what this other “philosophy” was. Most likely, it was not something definite — Stoicism, mystical Judaism, or the like.

It was probably a mix of popular elements, as few people on the street were preoccupied with the technical details of philosophical jargon one finds among the literati of the day. Most people just wanted to make sense of their lives and find real meaning: a little Jesus, a little consumer escapism, a little Hollywood, a little nationalism, a little legalism.

Some ways of making sense of things, as good intentioned as they might be, have unintended consequences and even poor grounding when set next to the new life God gives in Christ. Such is Paul’s case in Colossians.

In the first four verses of Colossians 3 Paul articulates a central part of his overall argument: for those in the community of faith, the starting and ending point of existence is Christ. We don’t start somewhere else and get to Christ somehow; we don’t begin with Christ to get somewhere else; we don’t mix the best things about Christ into another foundation.

Christ brings death and life.

We have died with Christ. We now live in and with Christ. This is the basis for the meaning of life.

The clear imperatives in these verses concern where the believers are to set their focus: “seek things that are above…set your minds on things that are above” (3:1–2). So often this is taken to mean something like, “think about heaven,” “seek things that are of a Godly quality,” or “set your minds on things that are good, peaceful, divine, rather than things that will bring you down.”

Right in the middle of the two imperatives to “seek” and “set your minds,” Paul identifies “above” as “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” In doing this Paul draws attention to Christ’s lordship. The one who reigns as Lord of the universe, the one at the center of our seeking, is none other than the crucified Jesus, the image of God, who came to renew life.

The lordship of Christ is intimately connected to Paul’s reminder that we have been buried and raised with Christ. If we are raised with Christ, then we have died to the old life and all of its ways. We should, therefore, spend no time seeking after things that are under the lordship of the rulers of this earth (whether human rulers or human built “kingdoms” that seek to rule our lives).

We should no longer have any investment in their agendas, but in Christ’s. Seeking things that are above is all about re-orienting our allegiances to the Lordship of the crucified Christ, so that Christ’s lordship might be known and experienced in this life now.

Drawing attention to Christ’s lordship illuminates a different sort of “divine reality” for Paul’s audience. While we do not know with certainty the other “philosophy” that influenced those in Colossae, we do know it involved some sort of escapism or focus on some sort of communion with the heavenly realm. By drawing attention to Christ as the one “above” who should capture their attention and steer their lives, Paul draws attention not to escapism but to a heavenly reality that has made itself known in human form. This is down-to-earth-ism.

Paul transforms the way to look at things, calling the escapism and pursuit of heavenly realities pursuits ultimately rooted in “the things of the earth.” It is not true “spirituality.” It’s too lofty. Jesus is not “lofty.”

Christ in this letter is not just another divine intermediary by which one can attain union with the divine. For so many people still today, Jesus is a means to heaven. The manifestation of the mystery of God in Christ does not condone an escape from the earthly life, it is an embrace of this earthly life for the purpose of transformation and renewal. The hope of glory is not in heaven, it is in the body of Christ (Colossians 1:24–27).

When Paul says that our life is “hidden with Christ in God,” he gives the reason for seeking things above. That is to say, we seek life according to Christ’s lordship not as a means to get closer to God, but because now the identity of the believer’s life is found with Christ in God who came to us! This resonates with Galatians 2:19–20: “I have been crucified with Christ; I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and what I now live in the flesh, I live in faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself over for me.”

When Paul tells his audience, “your life is hidden with Christ in God,” he uses the plural. While Paul must use the plural because he is addressing a community, it does at times carry significance. It is not that my individual self is hidden with Christ — though it is. The emphasis here seems to be that the life of the body is hidden with Christ in God. To be hidden with Christ is to be in the body.

The upshot of being hidden with Christ is that “when Christ, our life, is ‘made manifest’ (phaneroo), then also we will be made manifest in glory.” It is typical to think of the future parousia here. But Paul never mentions the parousia in Colossians. Additionally, Paul does not use the verb “make manifest” (phaneroo) to refer to the parousia, but to refer to God’s “making manifest” of God’s good news of righteousness in Christ in the present time (Romans 3:21; 16:26), and the “making manifest” of Christ’s ongoing presence and work through the ekklesia (2 Corinthians 4:10–11).1

Paul goes on in Colossians 3 to talk about the present life, exhorting to put off the old life because those in Christ have died and have been raised with Christ. I wonder, then, if we can read Col. 3:4 as referring to the present and future before the parousia. Perhaps Paul is saying, “When Christ is made manifest in you all, as you all together display Christ to the world, it is then that you all also will (truly) be made manifest.”

We are not waiting around for Christ to be revealed, and so also for ourselves to be found, as if we are lost in the middle awaiting the coming of Christ. Our lives are so wrapped up in our union with Christ that where we once were “made manifest” in all sorts of other pursuits, now we cannot be made manifest apart from the ongoing work of the crucified Lord who reigns, who has been raised for us — and we in him and he in us — today.

—–

Unlike Romans 8:19, Paul is not talking about the revealing of the sons of God and the future glory here in Col. 3:4. Paul uses a different word in the Romans passage (apokalypsis).