Lectionary Commentaries for April 16, 2022
Easter Vigil

from WorkingPreacher.org


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).1

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 2,000 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.”2 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 the world is to bring this testimony to everyone. It is a familiar story. And the next generation deserves to hear it.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 21, 2019.
  2. Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen, “Jesus and Women in the Gospel of John,” Direction, Fall 1990 (Vol. 19, no. 2). http://www.directionjournal.org/19/2/jesus-and-women-in-gospel-of-john.html

Vigil Reading VII

Commentary on Ezekiel 36:24-28

Tyler Mayfield

Ezekiel 36 provides some of the most comforting rhetoric in this prophetic book. Ezekiel can be quite judgmental in his declarations against the people of Israel. The earlier prophetic oracles in Ezekiel 4-7, for example, rebuke the people of God for their unfaithfulness and rebellion. They are to receive severe judgment because of their disloyal actions. The difference between those harsh oracles and this oracle concerns Jerusalem. 

Now, Jerusalem has fallen. 

Ezekiel 33:21b: “The city has fallen.”

This is the decisive moment for Ezekiel and his ministry. His prophetic message turns from judgment to hope, from reproach to promise. Now that God’s punishment has been received, Ezekiel turns to the future and to the ways that God will act to revive and restore God’s people.

Our focal verses (24-28) are midway through an oracle which begins in 36:16 and ends in 36:38. The opening verses of the oracle provide a history of the house of Israel focused on their misdeeds. They are reminded of their past and their disobedience, but the prophecy does not end there. Despite these actions and precisely because of God’s concern for God’s holy name, God will act now to rescue them. 

God’s actions

The prophet’s theological proclamation does not focus on the people’s actions and responsibilities going forward. The emphasis is on God’s role. Ezekiel’s hope is not in the faithfulness of the people. His concern here is not to lay out a new set of rules for them to follow. God is their hope. God’s acts will save them.

God’s actions in summary include:

  • Gathering Israel back to the land
  • Cleansing Israel
  • Giving Israel a new heart and spirit to obey Torah.

The result of these transformations is that God will be their God, and they will be God’s people. Right covenantal relationship is reestablished. 

Let’s explore each of God’s actions further.

God gathers

First, God will gather the dispersed people of God back from the nations and into their own land. The exile has scattered God’s people away from the land, the temple and the community. This experience of exile is a traumatic one for the people. God will reverse this pattern by assembling the people. In the next chapter, Ezekiel 37, we get a visual of God’s work as the dry bones receive breath and connect back together. 

God cleanses

Second, God will purify the people, cleansing them from their rebellion and defilement. The book of Ezekiel contends that the exile is a punishment for the people’s corruption. They are therefore in need of purification. Our passage mentions idols as one element in need of cleansing. 

God gives newness

Finally, God promises to give the people a new heart and new spirit. The imagery represents the people’s desires and will, their renewed commitment to God’s dream. They will think and act differently because of this gift from God. Their current heart is stone, that is, dead and unresponsive. It needs a transplant. Notice that they don’t need a spiritual heart; they need a beating, working heart. They are to come alive again to God’s desire for them and the world. 

Jeremiah 31:31-34—also written in relation to the exile—mentions a new covenant (a renewed relationship between God and God’s people), which will include God placing God’s instructions (torah) within the people and writing it on their hearts. 

My people, your God

The people will be transformed through heart surgery and renew their covenantal relationship with God. Ezekiel uses the language of Exodus (and Jeremiah) to explain this bond: “you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” 

Despite all the threats of judgment from earlier in Ezekiel and considering the people’s distressing experience of exile (loss of land, temple, kingship, community), God desires to be the people’s God. God wants a relationship with God’s people as they move forward into restoration.  

Vigil Reading X

Commentary on Jonah 1:1—2:1-3 [4-6] 7-9

Tyler Mayfield

Perhaps you know the pleasure of figuring out ahead of time a plot twist in a novel or movie. So, when the “surprising” event happens and all is revealed, you think “I knew this was going to happen!”

Jonah also has one of those moments when reality meets his anticipations. 

Jonah runs

When Jonah is called by God the first time, he runs quickly in the opposite direction. We are not provided the reason for Jonah’s running. Of course, there are all sorts of reasons one might run from God. God does, after all, want Jonah to go to Nineveh, “the wicked city.” The capital of the Assyrian empire, the headquarters of oppression. Ask anyone about Nineveh, ask Zephaniah1 or Nahum2, and they will tell you: Nineveh is a desolation, a bloody city. They will tell you: We will clap our hands when Nineveh is destroyed!3 Being called to Nineveh is reason enough for Jonah to run.

So, this dove—Jonah means “dove” in Hebrew—takes flight to get away from God. 

But when God calls Jonah a second time—after an encounter with a big fish—we discover the true reason for Jonah’s running away. 

This time, Jonah listens to God, goes to Nineveh, and delivers a message of doom to that great city. Jonah delivers one of the shortest sermons of all time: “Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 

And the whole city responds! We’re talking city-wide revival. Animals, not just people, are fasting. Animals are putting on sackcloth. All are turning from their wickedness and violence. Even the king is covered in ashes. Like several of the details in the book of Jonah, exaggeration is used as a literary device: the city’s response to Jonah’s sermon is over the top. 

And what does God do? 

God changes God’s mind about the disaster that God was going to bring to this great evil city. The Bible said it, not me. God’s changes God’s mind. God relents, if you prefer gentler language. And God doesn’t do it. 

I knew this was going to happen! 

And how does Jonah respond to this sudden cancellation of judgment? Jonah is furious! He is outraged! 

Jonah thinks, “I knew this was going to happen! I just knew it. I saw this coming a mile back! This is why I fled to Tarshish. This is why I went in the opposite direction of Nineveh. This is why I ran from that call, God. This, what you are doing here, God. This. I knew you were a merciful God, a God of compassion, giving birth to mercy. I knew you were a God of steadfast love. I’ve been reading Exodus 34! And I knew somewhere deep down from reading Torah that this mercy and love was not just for me and Israelites. I knew—and this is what really gets me—that if we gave them, the Ninevites, a chance, you would do your mercy thing, your relenting thing, and you wouldn’t bring disaster upon them. You would relent. I knew you’d change your mind. That king of Nineveh was right all along about you and your mercy, your ability to change your mind.”

So, Jonah concludes: “I would rather die than see THEM receive your mercy!”

Seeing ourselves in Jonah

We might be tempted at this point in the story to think that Jonah has overreacted. Why all this anger and animosity? After all, most preachers would love to receive such a large response to their ministry. A whole city—animals, kings, and all – turn to God, and Jonah’s angry? 

I can’t help but see us in Jonah.

I can’t help but see myself in Jonah’s anger. 

In calculating that divine equation that involves the variables of Justice and Mercy, I can often too heavily lean on my own ideas of who gets justice and who deserves judgment. 

Like Jonah, I start thinking: “You reap what you sow. Nineveh, My Nineveh, whoever my Nineveh may be, that wicked city, deserves God’s judgment. No exceptions. Like Jonah, I too can create a nice list of the wicked—well, I might not call them wicked, that’s a strong word—but I definitely think they deserve some judgment.”

Shallow waters

I too can find myself in the shallow waters of faith. Have you ever found yourself standing in shallow waters: waters in which God’s profound mercy has not been reconciled to MY desire to judge and maintain the category of wicked? These shallow waters of spiritual formation. 

Where I try not to think too much about God’s mercy and compassion, but instead spend a great deal of time focusing on who around me stands in need of some judgment. Shallow waters. 

Where I’ve read enough Torah and heard enough Jesus to know about God’s mercy and acceptance, forgiveness and love. But I’m not quite ready to have those concepts actually operating in my relationships. 

Shallow waters. 

Where I can sing “There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea” but then think “yeah, BUT that wideness probably has some limits, probably ends before we get to the Ninevites.”

But here’s the thing about God. While we are standing in those shallow waters, tending to our judgments, forgetting God’s mercy, God calls us to Nineveh. God says go to Nineveh, that place that we want to receive judgment so badly. And maybe at first, we think: “well, this is going to be good, I’ve always had a few things on my mind to tell those wicked folks.” But then we quickly realize that if we go, that we leave our shallow waters and wade deeper into the water, that we might find God’s mercy for Nineveh. That we might find in the wading in the water that we say “I knew this was going to happen.” I just knew. I know too much about God’s mercy.  

Thank God, that when we wade into the water—God’s gonna trouble the water. 


  1. Zephaniah 2:13-15
  2. Nahum 3:1-7
  3. Nahum 3:19

Vigil Reading XII

Commentary on Daniel 3:1-29

Jin H. Han

What a sight it must have been! Grand enough to be an attraction of the empire, a gargantuan statue is on display. The towering, massive simulacrum of royal majesty is sixty by six cubits—about ninety by nine feet. The cubit ancient unit of measurement is the most ingenious invention. Using one cubit as the length from the elbow (Latin cubitum, “elbow”) to the tip of the fingers, one can measure as large an area as one can walk about and count. The proportion of the width and height of the statue would have provided the spectators with an impression that it is piercing into the sky. Gold in color, it would dazzle from near and far under the ray of the celestial luminaries.

In the immediate context of the story of Daniel, the statue flaunts the splendor of the empire. In the larger context of the book of Daniel, the statue reminds the readers and audience of the dream Nebuchadnezzar had earlier (chapter 2). In the dream, he saw a statue whose body was made of multiple metals. The head was gold. With the chest and arms in silver, the figure had the bronze middle and thigh, and iron legs were extended to the feet made of mixed elements of iron and clay. 

To the king and others, Daniel explained that each body part represented a different period in history. In our chapter, the king has his statue constructed in gold, the metal that represented his reign according to Daniel. Although the story never says the statue is of the king’s own image, apparently, he wants to claim the entire history in his ore and color.

To drive home his glorious reign, King Nebuchadnezzar dispatches an empire-wide call. Come and be awed by the statue! The royal edict goes out to summon everybody that is somebody in the realm. The pomp of the list of the dignitaries (“the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces,” verses 2, 3) is so grandiose as to make it sound even comical. 

The imperial mandate compels them all to participate in paying homage to the king’s image. The herald issues the command to “peoples, nations, and languages,” underscoring that this ritual is designed to unify the empire. Non-compliance will result in death. The herald issues the command to “peoples, nations, and languages,” underscoring that this ritual is designed to unify the empire. To borrow from Reinhold Niebuhr, “obedience is prompted by the fear of power on the one hand and by reverence for majesty on the other.”1

The civic event makes three Jewish young people stand out, for they missed the ceremony. Accused of sedition are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were appointed to govern in the province of Babylon after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream in chapter 2. Upon receiving the report of seditious Jewish governors, the king goes into a rage, a dangerous situation in the monarchic world. 

A royal tribunal is held, and the king charges the young men with two counts of offense, one religious (“you do not serve my gods,” verse 14) and the other political (refusing what the king commanded). In his interrogation, the king repeatedly refers to worshiping the statue as a royal act. Non-obeisance is a challenge to the throne—a treason. 

The accused are given one last chance to correct their error. Refusal will result in execution by burning in the furnace. The king underscores that there is no recourse for them. Ironically, the king’s decree of no way out conveys that this is going to be a contest not of political expediency but of theological truth. 

The three young men reject the royal offer. They are not interested in getting out of the fix somehow. They present two possible scenarios. First, God can deliver them, making it unnecessary for them to find a way out by surrendering to the idol worship. Second, even if God does not come to their aid, they will not worship the golden statue that the king had built. The two scenarios not only show their commitment to God. They also hint at a time when the faithful faced the martyr’s death without seeing God’s miraculous intervention. 

The king’s wrath gets so intensified that his face changes—the Greek text implies that it became beyond recognition. Upon the king’s vengeful charge, the fire of the furnace is stoked seven times hotter than is customary. The king’s furious command overheats the furnace, which becomes too hot to shield the executioners from burning. The three young men, still bound but with no one to throw them into the fire, “fell down . . . into the furnace of blazing fire” (verse 23). Earlier in the story, the idol worshippers fell down to worship the statue. Now the faithful “fell down” into the fire, for they have chosen death over disloyalty to God.

While the king must have imagined an immediate incineration, the king is shocked to see the young men unbound and walking around in the fire—not alone but with the fourth figure that appeared to be a divine being (see also “a son of the gods” in Aramaic; verse 25 note). In the Christian reception history, the fourth person is often identified with Jesus Christ, albeit anachronistically, but Jerome objects that the vision of the Son of God could not have been granted to the impious Babylonian king.2 The king may not know whom he saw, but he has a change of heart. The three young men are rescued unscathed.

The immediate upshot of the story is that the event has made a believer out of Nebuchadnezzar, who praises the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, for God saved them “who trusted in him” (verse 28). The king issues another edict that supersedes the earlier one, interdicting irreverence against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, at the pain of horrible death and the desolation of the offender’s base of life. Even in the middle of reporting the king’s conversion, the storyteller astutely includes a note about royal violence and cruelty. Some may question whether the time of Antiochus IV could have been the historical background since the royal figure seems benevolent, but a close look reveals both the whim and cruelty of the regime. In Daniel 3, the political climate does not shape the commitment of the faithful. Albeit obliquely, the lectionary selection for today echoes this, leaving out their political promotion reported in the last verse of the chapter (verse 30). Their faith is shaped neither by peril nor by political comity.


  1. The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation. Vol. 1: Human Nature. Gifford Lecture. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964, p. 209.
  2. Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, tr. Gleason L. Archer, Jr. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), p. 43.