Lectionary Commentaries for April 8, 2012
Resurrection of Our Lord (B)

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 20:1-18

Lucy Lind Hogan

In the beginning … In the new beginning …

John presents us with the narrative that lies at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised. We watch as Mary, Peter, and an unnamed disciple discover that Jesus’ tomb is now empty—the outward and visible sign that Jesus has conquered death and that a new creation has begun. And we are witnesses to the moment when Mary meets her risen Lord. Her grief turns to joy, and she brings to us the good news that has been proclaimed throughout the ages: “I have seen the Lord.”

This portion of John’s gospel is a play that unfolds in three distinctive acts: a story about people searching, about sadness and fear, about action, surprise, and joy. And it is a story that takes us full circle back to the opening of the gospel.

The scene opens on a solitary figure walking through the darkness. Mary Magdalene has broken through her fear in order to tend to the body of her teacher and friend. All gospel accounts of this moment vary on some points. But what is consistent is the day and that it is Mary Magdalene who is the first to go to the tomb.

When Mary finds that the stone has been removed, she jumps to conclusions. Her perception of what has happened is that someone has entered and stolen the body. But the author does not tell us whether she entered or even looked in the tomb. Did she really know that the body of Jesus was not there? (How often do we jump to conclusions about God’s actions in our lives?) Nevertheless, she runs back to tell Peter what she believes has happened.

Act two shifts to the experiences of Peter and the unnamed disciple intriguingly identified only as “the one whom Jesus loved.” Over the years there have been many suggestions as to whom these two might represent: Jewish and Gentile Christians, Petrine and Johannine Christians. Could it be that the beloved disciple is unnamed because, as one biblical scholar has suggested, this person is to represent us?

Like Mary, they run. The unnamed disciple, perhaps younger, arrives first. Since he could be the junior partner, he waits until the senior partner, Peter, arrives. He (or could it be she?) allows Peter to be the first to enter. Inside, Peter discovers that the tomb is, indeed, empty.

And unlike the case of the four-days-dead Lazarus, who stumbled out of his tomb hindered by his burial wrappings (John 11:44), the cloths are still in the tomb. The details are intriguing. The author describes the placement of the wrappings, but also notes that the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head has been rolled up and put in another part of the tomb. We should note that the tomb is truly empty when Peter and then the other disciple enter. There is no angel, no heavenly messenger.

John tells us that the beloved disciple “saw and believed.” But what did he believe? It could be that he believed Mary was correct—someone had stolen the body of Jesus. Or did he believe what Jesus had said the night of their last meal together, that Jesus had “conquered the world” (John 16:33)?

Act two ends as the two go home. There are no shouts of joy, no celebration. The emptiness of the tomb does not seem yet to have made a difference. (How many people in your congregation will not be feeling joy, hope, or certainty this Easter morning?)

The focus returns to Mary standing outside of the tomb. Weeping, she does, this time, enter the tomb. It would seem that neither Peter nor the other disciple have offered any words of comfort or encouragement to Mary. But Mary does not find an empty tomb. While the body of Jesus is not there, as in the synoptic gospel accounts there are two angels. In response to their almost ridiculous question (of course she should be weeping), Mary repeats her interpretation of the situation: the theft of her friend’s body.

Finally, she repeats the question once again to a man she believes is the gardener. This may not be as ridiculous an understanding as it seems. It could be that John is giving us clues as to how we might understand what has happened. Two things drive us back to the beginning of John’s gospel, encouraging us to view this not as the end of the story but as a new beginning.

First, in the opening of John’s gospel, Jesus’ first words are a question directed at the disciples of John the Baptizer: “What are you looking for?” (1:38). And here, in this beginning, this new creation, Jesus asks Mary the very same question: “Whom are you looking for?” (20:15). A new ministry is beginning, a new story.

Is Jesus asking the same question of us this Easter morning? What are we looking for? It was when Jesus called Mary by name that she recognized her beloved Rabbouni. Is Jesus calling our name? And when John’s disciples called out to this Rabbi, he invited them to “come and see” (1:39). Are we being called to see the new things God is doing in our lives and in our world?

Second, unlike the synoptic gospels that begin at dawn, John’s tale begins in the dark, the absence of light. This is the writer who, at the opening of his gospel, took us not to a stable but to the very opening of creation: “In the beginning.” Could it be that John is taking us back once more to that primordial darkness when “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2)? The author is echoing Paul’s declaration that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we experience a new creation: “Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

And where are we? In a garden. Without knowing it, Mary has correctly identified Jesus as the gardener who is bringing a new world, a new life, and a new creation into being, as he had done before:

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:3-5)

In the first creation story, God drove Eve and Adam out of the garden. But in this new creation Jesus sends Mary out of the garden rejoicing. She is sent out to tell everyone that darkness has not overcome the Word made flesh who lived among us. She has seen her Rabbi, and she now understands that she has seen “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“I have seen the Lord,” she announces (20:18). Her message declares the new beginning that God has prepared for all of us.

Alternate Gospel

Commentary on Mark 16:1-8

Paul S. Berge

The Sabbath day has passed and it is the dawn of a new day.

That for which there was not time to carry out before Sabbath began will now take place. The anointing of Jesus’ body for burial will be carried out on the first day of the week, however, before we continue we need to recall an earlier event in Mark.

We noted in our study of an alternative text for Palm Sunday (Mark 14:3-11), that a woman came into the house of Simon the leper and poured a flask of costly ointment of pure nard over the head of Jesus as he sat at table. There was a protest by some to what was considered an extravagant and wasteful act, and they reproached the woman when the ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor. Jesus interpreted her response differently, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying” (14:8).

We followed the events of the passion narrative from this point, knowing that Jesus’ body has already been anointed for burial and the nard poured over his head was an act signifying the honor of anointing a king. Thus we have known throughout these chapters that Jesus is the King, the anointed Messiah of God’s own choosing. He is the “King of the Jews” as Pilate questions Jesus (15:2, 9, 12) and the soldiers taunt (15:18). The ironic sign on the cross over Jesus reads, “The King of the Jews” (15:26). The final mocking of the chief priests and scribes ironically proclaims that God’s Messiah is indeed the King of Israel: “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, that we may see and believe” (15:32).

The evangelist now brings us in the early dawn hours on the first day of the week to the tomb where Jesus is buried. The Sabbath has passed and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bring spices to anoint the body of Jesus.

The evangelist reminds us of the importance of time: “And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb” (16:2). Greek is an exacting language and has the literary quality of drawing readers or hearers into the immediate presence of the text. The resurrection story is such an example. The New Revised Standard Version text of Mark 16:2 reads: “And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went (Greek: “they come”) to the tomb.” The literal reading of the Greek text would be to translate as a present tense event, “they come.” In Greek this is known as the historic present tense with its purpose to draw you as the reader or hearer into the present time of the story. We, too, become witnesses, even participants with the women, in the action of coming to the tomb.

On their way, the women discuss the difficulty of removing the stone covering the entrance of the tomb (16:3). Another historic present tense verb draws us into the narrative again: “When they looked up, they saw (Greek: “they see”) that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back” (16:4). Listen to the details also drawing us into the tomb: “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were amazed.” (Greek: startled or awestricken) (16:5).

Once again we are drawn into the drama of the young man’s assurance: “But he said (Greek: “he says”) to them, ‘Do not be amazed/startled/awestricken; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified'” (16:6a). The message we hear is the heart of the Easter proclamation then and now: “He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him” (16:6b).

The witness of the empty tomb is a message to be proclaimed: “But go, tell” (16:7a). The two imperative verbs convey an ongoing action and immediacy to the commission. The audience is the disciples, with Peter singled out as a spokesperson in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is already going on ahead of them to the place of his early ministry in Galilee: “there you will see him, just as he told you” (16:7b). During the Passover meal Jesus recalled the prophetic words of Zechariah: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (14:27, see Zechariah 13:7). The shepherd who has been struck in crucifixion is the risen Lord in Jesus’ words of promise: “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (14:28). The disciples are the sheep who have been scattered in the traumatic events that led up to and followed Jesus’ crucifixion. The crucified and risen Lord comes among his followers as the shepherd who goes before the sheep (16:7).

With the events that we have witnessed at the tomb, we have been drawn into the early dawn hours of a new day. With the women, we have come to the tomb and the discovery of the large stone rolled away. The message of the young man is addressed to us. We too have received the commission to go and tell. Finally, we understand the response of the women fleeing from the tomb “for terror (Greek: trembling, fear) and amazement (Greek: extasis: literally ecstatic or ecstasy) had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8).

The response of the three women to the promise of the young man in Mark’s resurrection story is not unlike the response of Abraham and Sarah to the promise of the three messengers: “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10). At age ninety Sarah responds with laughter. The LORD repeats the promise to Abraham while Sarah denies her response of laughter, saying, “‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid” (Genesis 18:15).

The response of Sarah, “for she was afraid”, and the response of the three women, “for they were afraid,” reflect the presence of the living LORD. In the barren womb of Sarah the LORD promises life in the son she will bear. At the empty tomb the young man proclaims the promise of Jesus’ lordship. Jesus will go before his followers to Galilee. The two stories in Genesis and Mark share a theophany (Greek: “an appearance of God”), a manifestation of God’s living presence. We, too, stand in awe and ecstasy of God’s presence among us in the crucified and risen Lord who goes before us.

See also the narrative lectionary podcast with Rolf Jacobson, Craig Koester, and Kathryn Schifferdecker on this text.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 10:34-43

Eric Barreto

Acts 10 narrates a significant change in Peter’s own life but also a massive shift in the trajectory of the church’s mission in its earliest days.

For Luke, this moment is significant well beyond Peter’s life. This story is a powerful symbol of a promise enunciated from the beginning of Luke’s gospel and throughout Acts, a promise represented most powerfully in the resurrection of Jesus. Without question, God’s spirit is moving. The only question is whether Peter, as well as the church, will sense the winds of change and follow God’s lead.

Peter’s speech emerges in the midst of the rather long narrative around the encounter between Peter and Cornelius the centurion. Twin visions granted to Cornelius and Peter reveal the not-so-subtle hand of God moving to bring these two individuals together and thus precipitating a critical moment of decision. Typically, we assume that it is Cornelius who is brought to that moment of decision. After all, isn’t Cornelius the convert in this story? Perhaps not.

At the core of this encounter is the presence of social boundaries that prevented Peter from “associat[ing] with or . . . visit[ing] a Gentile” (Acts 10:28). The vision of unclean and clean animals begins to persuade Peter otherwise (Acts 10:9-16), but the narrative suggests that Peter remains cautious until the very end of this critical encounter.

Though Peter finally comes to this insight in the dramatic story of Cornelius and his household, Luke has long been heralding this inclusive impulse. After all, Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8 declares that geographical bounds would not constrain the gospel. Peter himself proclaims anew the prophecy of Joel that the Spirit would dawn upon “all flesh” (Acts 2:17). An Ethiopian eunuch has already received baptism (Acts 8:26-40). Even more, these promises began with the opening of Luke’s gospel. Simeon declares that Jesus would be both “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Jesus’ first sermon ends rather inauspiciously when he reminds his neighbors that Elijah shared the goodness of God beyond the bounds of Israel. In other words, the Spirit long preceded Peter’s realization. Peter only came to realize the radical scope of this movement well after the Spirit had begun working.

Peter’s speech starts with a formal opening (“Peter opened his mouth and said”) that marks its solemnity and seriousness. Luke thus portrays this as a monumental speech. His thesis is a brief but powerful theological insight: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (cf. Romans 2:11). No matter our place of origin, the same God reaches out to us; the same gospel calls us home. Social boundaries and ethnic differences are no obstacle to the gospel. Such differences are not an irritant in need of remediation or a problem for God’s church.

In the eyes of God, all of us in our wonderful particularity equally receive the invitation to “fear” and receive God (Acts 10:35). Fear is not often a way to relate to God that we stress in our churches, especially in a culture wherein fear leads us to isolate and protect ourselves from any encroachment. The fear of God differs from the fears that can so easily immobilize us.

In Luke and Acts, fear is often associated with the appearances of angels (Luke 1:12-13; 1:30; 2:9-10; 5:10; etc.); the natural human reaction is to quiver before such appearances, but rather consistently these messengers of God instruct those to whom they appear not to fear. That is, the fear of God is not terror or panic, but a profound acknowledgement that God’s holiness, power, and love are simply beyond our comprehension. It is such fear linked with doing “what is right” which marks off the people of God (Acts 10:35).

In the next few verses (36-43), Peter proclaims the gospel in short form. In theologically dense and significant language, Peter summarizes the whole of the Christian message in a story about God’s action through Jesus, culminating in his resurrection and its proclamation by those who now bear witness to it. Notice what highlights Peter stresses. The exclamatory “He is Lord of all” encapsulates Peter’s declaration. The story of Jesus begins in Galilee and Judea. There, Jesus gains the sanction and power of the Spirit to do good and heal those over whom demons exerted power. His life seems to end on a “tree” (cf. Acts 5:30 and Deuteronomy 21:22-23), but his resurrection and his appearances to select witnesses demonstrate the futility of his execution. His resurrection then results in the command that his witnesses proclaim that he alone is “judge of the living and the dead,” and that the prophetic word has come true in the one who can forgive the sins of all who believe.

At least at this particular moment, this is the essence of the gospel for Peter: the local efforts of Jesus to heal amongst his neighbors take on a universal significance with his resurrection. In this way, Jesus shatters the distinction between the local and the universal, the provincial and the all-encompassing.

Were we to compress our faith, what theological elements would remain as most essential? Were we to tell a simple story of Jesus’ deeds and his person, what would we say?

Of course, our answers may depend on the context of our confession of faith. Peter’s gospel epitome emerges from a specific series of experiences rife with significance. From the three-fold vision (Acts 10:9-16) to the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, Peter must express the gospel in a world radically changed before his eyes. This sounds familiar to those of us who have had to grapple with change, whether tragic or wonderful. Whether as an effect of loss or gain, our lives change, and the gospel must respond. This text reminds us that in the midst of change, the Christian’s instinct ought to be to restate anew the living word of God.

No liturgical date is as apt a reminder of this Christian imperative as Easter Sunday. Jesus’ resurrection violates the natural order of life and death, contradicts expectations that the Messiah would bring a swift end to the political powers, and continually challenges us to examine our faith anew. For Peter, the implications of the resurrection include the shattering of ossified social boundaries, for “he is Lord of all!”

Often, the wider narrative within which we find this brief but powerful speech is labeled as the conversion of Cornelius. Beverly Gaventa has argued persuasively that the typical indications of conversion are absent in this story; in fact, we even mislabel this narrative if we center it around the actions of Cornelius or Peter.1 Conversion requires the selection of a new path in life. In the end, Cornelius’ life does not change as dramatically as Peter’s and by implication, the church’s. In the end, God is the ultimate actor. God has moved ahead of the church to embrace all the world’s people. Indeed it is God’s initiative that sets Peter, Cornelius, and the church to this monumental juncture.

Peter and the church are only playing catch-up at this point in the narrative of Acts. In fact, Peter “was still speaking when the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word” (Acts 10:44). Those who were circumcised were amazed, and Peter finally fully understands the gravity of his speech’s implications. “God shows no partiality,” means that no one ought to “withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:47, italics added).

On the day when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, it may therefore be particularly appropriate for the church to consider how the Spirit may be moving amongst us in unexpected and challenging ways and to ask how the reverberations of the resurrection continue to be manifest around us.

1Beverly Gaventa, The Acts of the Apostles (ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 173-5.


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

Shauna Hannan

Given that the occasion of this Sunday is so prominent (as it should be), we will inevitably end up interpreting this Psalm through the lens of Easter resurrection.

Therefore, I am going to do so unapologetically right from the start. What role might this Psalm play in your Easter sermon? Here are a few possibilities:

First, rearrange the Psalm as a litany with you, the preacher, reading the leader parts.

ALL (refrain):
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice
and be glad in it.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;  
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.

ALL (refrain):
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice
and be glad in it.

I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.

ALL (refrain):
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice
and be glad in it.

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice
and be glad in it.

How is it for you to be the one testifying to what the Lord has done for you? How is it for you to have the congregation confirming that experience? I hope it is not too foreign since this is one thing preachers do; that is, as Tom Long reminds us, preachers are those who witness something and then bear witness to what they have seen and experienced.1 Preaching as witness bearing is testimonial in nature. Anna Carter Florence reclaims testimony as a pulpit practice in her book, Preaching as Testimony.

When testifying one first narrates what one has seen and heard [e.g., “the Lord did not give me over to death” verse 18] and then declares what one believes about what has been seen and heard [e.g., “The Lord has become my salvation,” verse 14, and “I shall not die, but I shall live,” verse 17].2 This Psalm is a leader’s testimony to the people.3 (Goldingay, 355 and 360). This Psalm is your testimony, preacher. Preach it!

Of course, the trajectory of the Psalm does not end there. This is not to be a self-serving Psalm for preaching is not a self-serving endeavor. Instead, this individual song of praise becomes a communal song of praise as it moves others to testify to what God has done in their lives. The celebrant could be any one of us who has born witness to God’s mighty act of delivering us from bondage when we cannot free ourselves.

How might you shape this sermon so that your testimony urges the people’s testimony? You might imagine how this Psalm picks up where the shorter ending of the Gospel of Mark leaves off; that is, you break the silence of the women who first witnessed the empty tomb by proclaiming, “He is risen!” In doing so you encourage others do the same. Let the “Alleluias” return.

Finally, it is worth focusing a bit on verse 22 (“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”). Architecturally, the cornerstone is key; it is key for the stability of the structure and, additionally, as a kind of capstone that points to the architectural plan’s perfect execution.4

The Psalm suggests that what has become the cornerstone was once a stone that the builders rejected. For whatever reason, it was once of no use but now, unexpectedly, has become the chief cornerstone. It is possible that the Psalmist has moved from a place of rejection to restoration and is now celebrating God’s role in this. Could it be that when we testify as the Psalmist did we, too, are rejoicing at the unexpectedness of now being the one to testify!

Talk about unexpected . . . whoever imagined a baby from Bethlehem would grow up, die an untimely death and rise from his own tomb! Because the leap has already been made from cornerstone as inanimate object to cornerstone as metaphor for a person, it is no surprise that the leap is made in the New Testament to identify Jesus as the cornerstone, the chief cornerstone even. [Note that this Psalm (this verse) is one of the most often quoted in the New Testament. (See, for example, Matthew 21:41, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:6-7, Ephesians 2:20.)]

Preacher, you might consider highlighting this unexpectedness as you testify to what the Lord has done in your life with the hope that others will do the same. The essence of this sermon might be that one “cannot encounter God and not talk about it.”5 The news that God has defeated death must be proclaimed on this day that the Lord has made. Rejoice! Alleluia! 

1Thomas G. Long. The Witness of Preaching. Louisville: WJKP, 2005, 45-51.
2Anna Carter Florence. Preaching as Testimony. Louisville: WJKP, 2007, xiii.
3John Goldingay. Psalms: Volume 3: Psalms 90 — 150. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 2008, 355 and 360.
4Geoffrey, W. Grogan. Psalms. The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008, 194.
5Florence, 106.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Susan Hedahl

Note:  Part I explores the biblical text and Part II discusses homiletical strategies for the text.

Part I

The entirety of this chapter is the eloquent center of Paul’s primary argument for the Resurrection.

As a result, these first eleven verses should be considered as a prologue to what is laid out in the remainder of the chapter.  Paul introduces himself in relationship to the Resurrection as an apostle, though one with a mixed and questionable lineage.  The God-given authority of his apostleship is the rationale for proclaiming the Resurrection and for his witness to be accepted among the Corinthians.

Rhetorically, the question of ethos (personal image and credibility) is a major feature of these eleven verses.  Paul was not among the original group of apostles who experienced the historical Jesus directly.  He came to belief through the bitter avenue of his personal persecutions of believers and so he admits in verse 9 that “For I am the least of the apostles….”

By claiming apostleship, he deftly alters the historical meaning of an apostle — one who experienced Jesus in his earthly life — to include one who also experienced him at other levels of reality.  Paul alludes to this encounter in verse 8 where “he appeared also to me.”

This text can be divided into these four sections: Paul’s rationale for why his message should be accepted (verses 1-3); the content of Paul’s message concerning Jesus (verses 3, 4); the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (verses 5-8) and a reiteration of the type of apostle which Paul considers himself to be in relationship to proclaiming the gospel.

Paul starts his discussion of the Resurrection by reminding the Corinthians that they heard it from him.  He affirms that this message means “you are being saved” (verse 2) and that they have a responsibility for this salvation “if you hold firmly to the message that I have proclaimed” (verse 2).  Paul combines remembrance of his Corinthian relationships with admonition and a reminder of the salvific benefits of the Gospel.

Paul then describes the content of his message, creedal in form.  Jesus died for our sins “in accordance with the scriptures” (verse 3).  He was then raised and again Paul reiterates the phrase here “in accordance with scriptures” (verse 4).  This two-fold repetition is significant!  Proclaimers should remember that this reference might be lost on contemporary listeners, who can miss the fact that “scriptures” meant Hebrew Scriptures only.

In the third part of this text, Paul lists the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  He notes that “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (verse 5).  At this point, Paul’s list omits the most obvious part of all the gospel resurrection narratives, when his account is set next to them — where are the women? Paul’s writings precede the writing of the Gospels.  It is historically impossible to know what kind of information Paul received from others about the resurrection.  As with all accounts, his list is partial. No witness has the entire story!

Paul continues his list with Jesus’ appearance to hundreds of men and women, to Jesus’ brother James, and “all the apostles,” (verse 7).  This reference seems to indicate far more people than the original twelve.  The final section, verses 9 -11, is a splendid combination of personal confession and assertion of Paul as an apostle, with his short comings and the gift of his apostleship.

He confesses he was late to his work — “one untimely born” (verse 8) — and actually “unfit to be called an apostle” (verse 9).  He states clearly that he is undeserving of what he is doing for one simple reason: “because I persecuted the church of God.” (verse 9).  The phrasing is interesting here because he ascribes the church to God, a will that laid its foundations prior to Jesus’ appearance.

Paul continues to show what undergirds his work (including his boast that “I worked harder than any of them” verse 10b).  In verse 10 he mentions “the grace of God” — twice. God’s grace is what supports Paul in terms of his self-understanding “I am what I am” (verse 10) as well as his work.  In both personality and deeds, Paul senses God’s presence and grace.

Paul concludes this introduction by admitting that it doesn’t make any difference –really — from whom the Corinthians heard the gospel.  The most important thing is “you have come to believe.” (verse 11).  This is a generous statement in view of the jealousy Church leader’s exhibit over taking credit for their deeds!

Part II

This epistle text is well worth an Easter morning sermon!  Through Paul’s discussion of all the ramifications of the gospel in his own life, he lends credibility and support to the gospel’s core message: Jesus died for sinners.  While this text is removed from the obvious immediacy of the empty tomb scene of the gospels, it definitely lends itself to the contemporary question: what does this empty tomb mean — today?

A sermon on this text can focus on biographical witness to the resurrection.  This is demonstrated by how Paul recounts the way the gospel personally intersected his life and radically changed it.  His changed life is proof of the gospel’s power.  At Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar, Minnesota, wooden panels containing names of historical witnesses to the gospel encircle the church.  The last two panels are blank. Former pastor Paul A. Hanson used to tell confirmands:  “Those panels will have your names on them….” The apostle’s words depict the fact that the gospel invites each of our names to be inscribed within the generous space of the gospel’s invitation to us.

This text might also dwell on what it means to share the gospel; its contents, its power and its personal encounters with God.  Serving the Gospel can be strenuous.  People may feel they do not have the right or the qualifications to do so.  Paul’s words speak to the contrary.  The gospel and its proclamation is for all!