Lectionary Commentaries for April 17, 2022
Resurrection of Our Lord

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 24:1-12

Lucy Lind Hogan

These words seemed to them an idle tale …

It was quite the crowd that burst in on the disciples who were hiding behind locked doors: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the other women. We don’t know how many women there were, but I would imagine that they were babbling excitedly. Luke tells us that “they told [the disciples] all this.” 

What all did they tell them? Did they talk about how frightened they were when they saw that the stone had already been removed? Did they describe the men in dazzling clothes? Did they repeat the “sermon” the luminous men preached to them? Did the women, and would the disciples, really remember what Jesus had told them—that he would be “handed over to sinners … crucified … and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7)? Jesus had taught them so many things over the years, can we forgive them for suppressing that terrifying lesson? 

And can we forgive the disciples for thinking that the women were babbling about “an idle tale”? Mark’s gospel tells us that the women themselves couldn’t make sense of it. Even though they were told to go and tell the disciples what to do, they “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement … they said nothing” (Mark 16:8). Nothing. 

Easter is not the day on which we are to say nothing. We are here to proclaim that, just as Jesus told us he would, “Christ the Lord is risen today.” But we also should not be surprised when people continue in the footsteps of the disciples, receiving that message as “an idle tale.” We find ourselves living in an age of idle tales, filled with many questions. What are we to believe? What is the truth and what is a wild conspiracy theory? Who are we to believe? I suspect many think that the Easter message is just one more message that is, “a tale … full of sound and fury signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, Macbeth, V.v).

An empty tomb? What did that mean? Men in dazzling white: who were they? Early in the morning, carrying spices, the women were there to do the final preparations of their teacher’s, their friend’s body. This was not what they expected to discover at the end of their sad journey. I would suggest that the entire story of God’s relationship with us, God’s creatures, is a story of the unexpected, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55: 8). As you reflect upon today’s unexpected news and idle tale, do what those “dazzling men” told the women to do. Think back, not just to what Jesus told them, but on all the things that God has done.

From the beginning we have been challenged to see the unexpected, the bewildering and impossible. God is always doing new things. Out of a formless void came light, water, dry land. From the clay on a riverbank God formed creatures in God’s own image. We are told that wolves “shall live with the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6), people walk through the sea on dry land (Exodus 14:29), and the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us” (John 1: 14). “Do we not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). Are we willing to believe that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)? We see God do impossible things every day; unfortunately we ignore or dismiss them. We look the other way, or we search for a plausible explanation. Easter is not the time to offer a scientific, plausible account. Once again, God has done the impossible, death had no dominion over the holy one.

We need to take Easter courage to proclaim this news, first from Jesus. He continued to teach and proclaim the good news despite the thick headedness of his listeners. Peter refused to listen when Jesus told his friends what was going to happen. “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23) Over and over Jesus had watched them ignore what they saw happen before their very eyes. They had watched Jesus feed an enormous hillside of people, walk to them through a storm, and still, “their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52). 

We need to take our encouragement and follow the example of that excited crowd of women. They burst into that locked room telling everything to their friends. They didn’t care about the looks on the faces of their listeners. They didn’t wait for a chorus of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”! They had amazing news they had to share, even if those in the room thought it was an “idle tale.” Finally, we need to turn away from what is not there, focusing instead on the good news. As the men asked the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land with a church group. My husband was telling our eldest son that I would be going. “Why?” he asked. I think my husband was a bit confused. His response was, “Well, you know, Jesus.” I have long recalled my son’s response because I think he understood the angels’ admonition. He told his father, “Tell her he’s not there.”

He isn’t there; he is risen. He has burst the bonds of time and space, yet we continue to focus on the unexplainable empty tomb, looking for him among the dead. The tale of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection can seem like an idle tale. It is the story of a “king” born in a stable, an innocent man arrested and executed, and a tomb that is empty, astounding from beginning to end. He is not there—he is risen. 

God’s ways are not our ways. God is always doing a new thing, every day! We who have met the risen Christ are to join the women in telling “all of this” on Easter Sunday morning. And may we be emboldened by the reminder that has been woven throughout the gospels: “Do not be afraid,” tell all that you have seen.

Alternate Gospel

Commentary on John 20:1-18

Joy J. Moore

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

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 10:34-43

Adam F. Braun

As I am writing this at a street side café in San Francisco, out of nowhere a young white male attempts to sell me a three-thousand-dollar Louis Vuitton bag for three hundred dollars. In order to convince the viewing public that it is not stolen, he says his friend works for Louis Vuitton and he got a good deal on it. It is a hard sell. Even the young man doesn’t seem to be convinced by what he is saying.

Easter too is a hard sell. The story of Jesus’ resurrection is a hard sell. When Peter says, “God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen, not by everyone but by us. We are witnesses whom God chose beforehand” (Acts 10:40-41, CEB), it sounds even less convincing.

If one reads Acts and the Gospels empathetically, in their Jewish context, there are some difficult questions for the resurrection. Acts asks the most basic question in 1:6, “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” You see, the people of God had waited for centuries to be free from conquering empires: Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now, Rome. That is supposed to be the work of the messiah.

Considering these passages from the perspective of an occupied people, what is the purpose of a messiah who doesn’t rescue God’s people from the clutches of Roman Imperial oppression or a resurrection that demonstrates the power of God without freeing the people? An empathetic reading suggests that the resurrection doesn’t do what it should have done, and the ascension allows the story about God’s people to settle into melancholic messianic anticipation again.

Peter’s explanation shouldn’t convince Cornelius or his family. But Cornelius is already convinced.

Following the previous sequence of Peter’s dream, it seems rather that it is Peter who is in need of convincing. Not that the resurrection happened, but that something else is happening. Through the inspiration of the Spirit at Pentecost, believers are distributing resources so no one has need, and the message of divine love is spreading through the cities of the empire. Acts is, as Justo Gonzalez suggests, the gospel of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in Acts infects and spreads through the Roman empire like a virus, gathering and collecting more and more folk into the expanding people of God.  

For those conspiring with the Spirit, as it spreads through empire, resurrection becomes more than a fact to affirm, but rather a call to live into. The call of the resurrection looks something like this: live as if impossible justice were possible. Acts makes clear that Jesus’ crucifixion was an injustice perpetrated by “lawless ones” (Acts 2:23; 4:27; 5:30), and the resurrection is an impossible correction to this injustice.

Jesus, in Luke and Acts, was full of the Spirit (Luke 4:1; Acts 10:38) and as verse 38 relays, “traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed.” And in Acts, all believers have access to the Spirit which bids all towards divine justice, that impossible and elusive justice.  Moreover, those who can have access to the Spirit are growing across geographies and ethnic differences.

What are the impossible justices today? Racial justice in the U.S. and action on climate change seem to be impossible issues to address, especially while propagandists attack the basic knowledge describing the problems we face. For those who “believe in” the resurrection, and even those who live towards it, the call must be to live as if racial justice and climate justice are possible. Indeed, how could one claim that Jesus rose from the dead on the one hand, but on the other act as if divine justice is too far out of reach? The Spirit beckons to a world otherwise.


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

Paul O. Myhre

Sometimes a single refrain, a word of hope, a comment of concern can be enough to help someone weather a personal storm or lift one’s spirits while the storm still rages. The Psalm writer is evoking images of a God who is more than an unmoved mover. God is more than a life insurance company writing policies that will preserve us no matter what befalls us. God is more than a dispenser providing that which we want when we most want it. 

Sometimes it seems our perception of God and how God may intersect our own life experience is too small, too confined, and too limited. The Psalmist invites the hearer, the reader, the singer to imagine again and reflect anew on the living God. We are assured that God is good. In verse 14 we learn that the LORD is a personal and communal strength, defense, and salvation. If the Psalm were to be sung or recited in a gathering of people, the words, “The LORD is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation,” carry with them both a personal and communal affirmation at the same time. 

The Psalm begins with a simple affirmation that invites an individual and corporate response: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” God’s love endures forever. God’s love is greater than any human experience of love and it will not falter with time or circumstances. This is an assurance that can evoke praise and thanksgiving for a gift that won’t tarnish or fail with age or time. It is by its very nature timeless, and the Psalmist declaration serves as something of an invitation into relationship with this timeless reality.  

The writer invites those who sing the sonnets of this Psalm’s poetry to move with them in thinking about the many ways in which God’s love endures forever. God’s love is shown through strength, defense, salvation, life giving, chastening, mighty acts, and opening gates of righteousness. It is a litany of the activity of God for the people of God. What is the response that one can offer for all that God has done, is doing, and will do? It is thanksgiving. The Psalm is more than a private assurance, it is a corporate one that invites a corporate response by the people of God. 

For Christians, verses 14-19 invite reflection about the activity of God through a carpenter’s son one thousand years after the Psalm was written. Since the Psalms were to be sung or recited corporately, one might say that the request, “Open for me…” could also mean, “Open for us…” the gates of righteousness. This notion was not lost on the New Testament writers. Matthew recounts Jesus as saying, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Reading the Psalms through Christian eyes suggests a particular way of reading and hearing the Psalms. They reverberate with the original intent and then expand it to mean Christ as the one who brings about salvation and a shared hope for eternal existence in the presence of God.

Thinking about the Psalm as it was originally intended and in what contexts it was used is nearly impossible to reconstruct since we are separated by more than 3,000 years of time and a vast array of cultural differences, cultural epistemologies, historical interpretations of the text, and the precise contexts in which the Psalm was recited or sung. However, even with these sedimentary accretions we may still be able to catch glimpses of the Psalmist’s art, theological convictions, and hoped for responses. Reading the text today in English will likely miss some of the subtleties, yet the lyrical art still breathes with intensity and truth. 

The assurances that come through experience with rumination on God’s law and within a communal relationship with God bring forth a spirit of thanksgiving. God answers our questions, our hopes, our desires, our wonderings, our fears, and so on. The answers may not be the ones we want, yet they are there, nonetheless. A living relationship with God invites people to ponder the infinite and to reflect on the activity of one who is greater than any mind can comprehend. Yet, this infinite one invites us to a relationship, between the creator and us, the created beings.

The gates of righteousness are an opening through which people are invited to travel toward a place of goodness and life flourishing. Those who are counted as righteous, who are on a path toward righteousness, or who are made righteous by the activity of God, may find a gateway to discover contentment and wellbeing. I think the poetry evokes not a physical gateway as much as a spiritual one. It also suggests that what is impossible for people to accomplish, God can make possible. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). What did the Psalmist mean here? Perhaps it suggests a capacity to see what might be possible for a stone or a person that experts would regard as unworthy. God takes that which is rejected and makes it the cornerstone, a key piece for any construction project to make the foundation and building secure.

This text became an important one for the New Testament writers and they tied the imagery of the rejected cornerstone to Jesus Christ himself. In Mark’s Gospel, chapter 12, verse 10-11 (NIV), Jesus teaches the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders about his identity, “Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” The people of Jesus’ time had difficulty accepting that the Messiah could be a carpenter’s son from a backroad village of Nazareth. First Peter, chapter 2, verse 1, aligns with Isaiah as support, Jesus as a stone that causes rejection or stumbling, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

It is relatively certain that the Psalm writer had no idea that what he wrote would inspire other associations 1,000 years later by Jesus, Peter, and the Gospel writers. Yet, his theology suggests an understanding of God as someone who can take the rejected and turn it into something that becomes important and vital. That which people would regard as worthless is regarded differently by the creator God who made the stones, and the created world, in the first place. The Psalmist is welcoming new horizons for thinking about the God who was, is, and is to come. There is a thickness to his words that transcend time and space. They serve as invitations to know and receive blessings from the one who is able to do so much more than they can imagine or hope to be accomplished. 

The poetic stanzas of Psalm 118 breath with an intensity of experience, with a God who becomes known through thanksgiving and praise, a God who draws near as we draw near through ruminating on the law of God as a roadmap for living. The idea that God is involved with the living beings of earth brings people to see something that may have been thought of as impossible or only associated with those that are worthy enough. Perhaps the Psalmist was thinking of an eternal day on which God’s activity is always present when he wrote, “the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” The activity of an eternal God is something that happens every day and throughout each day. 

When I was in art school, I was taught that drawing and painting require an intensity of looking and observation about what you see and what you think you see. The activity of drawing slowly develops the eye/hand coordination to discern the contour of something with greater clarity. It has the capacity to help art students see the bumps and textures of a surface that at first glance looked smooth. Slowing down your gaze can help you discern what you thought you saw,  to reveal what the actual contours of the object are. 

The eyes of faith need training and practice as well. With reflection on words, the contours of faith and theology begin to become clearer. The one who seeks to know God can begin to discern something of the contours of God’s intentions for the world and the Psalm writer’s words serve as reminders and an invitation to look again and again to see that which may not be easily discernible. Heightening awareness of something through sustained and slow attention, like slow drawing methods, can steepen one’s faith and fidelity to the God who made and sustains all that is, was, and ever shall be.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Holly Hearon

It’s tempting to leave the preaching to the magnificent music of Handel’s Messiah and other composers and hymnists. Easter is the stuff of music and poetry, not essays. It should fill us with wonder, renew our hope, move us to joyful thanksgiving. 

These particular verses from 1 Corinthians 15 feel more like the stuff of the lecture hall. And, to a certain degree, they are. Verse 19 tips us off: Paul is responding to an idea circulating that resurrection power is something we experience in this life, leaving in question whether there is a future resurrection. Unfortunately, we don’t have all the details on this debate, but it shows us that from the beginning there have been a variety of views about what resurrection means for the lives of believers. 

Isn’t it all about heaven?

Today, the television show The Good Place is just one of a multitude of programs and films that tap into popular views about heaven and life beyond death. Whether or not these can be considered to represent “resurrection” is debatable. Yet for many of us, they portray the first image that is likely to pop into our minds when we think of resurrection: in other words, the belief that although we die a physical death, we will live forever. Some might add to this that some will live forever in heaven, while others will live forever in hell.

It is important to observe that the New Testament does not offer a single view of resurrection. There are shared themes and threads, but nothing that amounts to a single, definitive understanding. This gives us all the more reason to delve into what Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26. Not because it offers a “last word” on resurrection, but because it can open up additional ways of thinking about resurrection and its significance for the life of the believer.

Christ, the first fruits

The point of debate in 1 Corinthians 15:19 is not whether Christ was raised from the dead. The question is whether or not our hope in Christ is for this life only. Elsewhere, in Romans 8:11 Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” It isn’t difficult to see how such language could lead to the idea that when we are clothed in Christ’s spirit at baptism, it means we participate in his resurrection now. But is it only now?

This idea actually has some appeal because it means we don’t have to get locked into debates about whether or not we exist in some form when our physical bodies have been reduced to atoms. On the other hand, it isn’t very satisfying when it comes to grief and hopes of being reunited with loved ones. Paul’s response is that Christ is the “first fruits” of those who have died; that is, the first of many who will be raised. This invites us to see in resurrection something that is wildly expansive, that transcends temporal boundaries as we mark them, and which expands far beyond our small circle of family and friends. Resurrection is about something greater than our personal fate.

A tale of two human beings

Verses 21-22 (“For,” gar) carry forward Paul’s discussion of how it is that Christ is the first fruits of those who have died. They could be called a Reader’s Digest version of what Paul discusses more extensively in Romans 5. It is also Paul at his most abstract. “Adam” here is not Eve’s companion, but rather stands for humankind as a type. This type of human being, says Paul, introduced death, but he leaves it open to our interpretation of Genesis for how this happened. I would propose: by grasping for knowledge of good and evil while lacking the wisdom to adequately distinguish between the two, leading to mayhem. 

In contrast to “Adam,” Jesus Christ represents another type of human being. It is important to notice that Paul uses the same word, anthrōpos, when speaking of Adam and also of Christ. It is essential for his argument that Christ became fully human. In contrast to Adam, however, Christ alone of all “Adam” pursued a path defined by faithfulness to God, summarized in the phrase “the faithfulness of Christ” (pistos Xristou). Christ’s faithfulness resulted not in death (separation from God), but in resurrection (union with God). We are all, says Paul, “Adam” and are destined to die. Yet because of Christ’s faithfulness (which we participate in when we are baptized into Christ’s spirit), “all will be made alive in Christ.” 

All things in order

Paul, steeped in apocalyptic thought, sees the fate of creation unfolding in a linear fashion. Christ has been raised by God, the first fruits of the dead; then Christ will return to gather those who belong to or are “in” Christ. When the end of time arrives, Christ hands over the kingdom of Christ to God, but only after “destroying” every ruler, authority, and power other than God. The last of these is death itself. I deliberately say power “other than God” rather than “opposed to God” because, with our propensity to confuse good and evil, it is too easy for us to believe that our organization, church, family is a power aligned with God and therefore somehow exempt.

This is a scenario that is played out in a thousand films, the more violent the better. The word translated “destroy” (katargeō), however, has the broader sense of “to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness” (Danker, page 525). Are there ways other than violence to do this? And does this ask us to relinquish in humility our desire to rule, or control, or have power over?

There are unanswered questions as the moral arc bends towards justice. One thing is certain: resurrection, in Paul’s thought world, is more than an empty tomb. It is an epic.