Lectionary Commentaries for April 9, 2023
Resurrection of Our Lord

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10

Greg Carey

As a layperson who considers preaching part of my calling, I am deeply curious how full-time pastors approach Easter Sunday. I believe I have preached Easter Sunday only twice, so I wonder whether full-time preachers feel the pressure to be clever, to say something new every year. One pastor told me exactly that recently.

[Looking for commentary on John 20:1-18? See this commentary for Easter Sunday by Gennifer Benjamin Brooks.]

One part of me thinks the best news needs no cleverness. We do not need the people we love most to tell us so in novel ways: just say the words, and I’m fine. Likewise, when it comes to Easter, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” followed by a hearty, “Christ is risen indeed!” takes care of a whole lot. Give me a couple of classic Easter hymns, and I’m ready to bounce out the doors and head home.

The occasion sets some limits. Easter sermons usually can’t go too long due to unique liturgical circumstances. And traditionally, we preach to lots of people who are rarely present on Sunday mornings. It never hurts just to tell the good news that Jesus lives among us.

Yet Matthew offers its own distinctive take on the discovery of the empty tomb, as does each Gospel. Matthew opens a couple of questions: what signs mark Jesus’ resurrection, and how do we respond to that news?

Matthew goes big on the signs of Jesus’ resurrection. Among the Gospels, Matthew alone relates that the women experience an earthquake upon their arrival at Jesus’ tomb. Matthew attributes this earthquake to the arrival of an angel, who rolls back the stone and sits on it. Matthew’s wording suggests that angels make heavy landings. Apart from the simple fact that the tomb is empty, Matthew stands alone in attributing the stone’s removal to a miracle, at least explicitly. 

Preachers have some room for productive theological play with their congregations here. When it comes to Easter, imagination matters, and folks vary greatly in terms of how their spirituality relates to the dramatic. The resurrection constitutes a great miracle on its own. But what signs do we need for it? 

We might describe some listeners as rationalists. “Okay,” they might reason. “I can’t make any sense out of the idea of a resurrection. But I can relate to the sense that, even beyond the grave, Jesus still lives among us somehow.” That sensibility is not absent from Matthew, for whom Jesus is God with us (Matthew 1:23), present whenever two or more gather in his name (18:20), and abiding with the church as it continues his ministry (28:20). For these listeners, the earthquake and the angel function primarily as symbols relating to a deeper truth.

Some listeners will appreciate the earthquake and the angel as critical signs that God’s miraculous power has delivered Jesus from death. These hearers do not struggle with resurrection as a practical possibility but instead take strength in the signs that attest to it. This sensibility also runs through Matthew. For example, Matthew is fond of earthquake language. All three Synoptic Gospels refer to earthquakes among other eschatological portents (for Matthew, at 24:7). But Matthew alone uses earthquake language (seismos) to describe the “storm” on the sea, Matthew alone narrates an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death (27:54), and Matthew alone tells us about the earthquake at the tomb (28:2). In Matthew’s telling all these events hold revelatory, we might say apocalyptic, significance. 

All the Synoptics mention angels in the plural. Matthew and Luke share appearances of an individual angel to direct and interpret the nativity story. But only Matthew and John place angels at the tomb, and only Matthew has the angel roll away the stone and speak to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. (In Mark and Luke, mysterious men address the women at the tomb.) It is fair to say that Matthew emphasizes the dramatic, otherworldly dimensions of Jesus’ resurrection in unique ways.

Our hearers will interpret these dramatic manifestations in a range of ways. We may also ask how they will respond. In Matthew the two Marys respond in at least three ways: fear, joy, and obedience. Fear is precisely how a good biblical character responds to angels and other divine manifestations. Fear is also how mortals respond when we are confronted with a new truth that will change our lives. In this sense fear and joy are not strangers. We experience them when we draw close to a friend, when we fall in love, when a baby is on the way, and when sickness and death draw near. Why should not fear and joy accompany us when we are called to live into God’s good news? 

Preachers will name, evoke, and walk alongside that fear in our hearers, even on Easter Sunday. Personally I find it easier to preach into that dynamic than I do joy. Recently the author George Saunders related how much easier it is to voice criticisms of someone’s writing than to offer detailed praise. I imagine something similar applies to preaching, where negative emotion is more accessible to us than a sublime experience like that of joy. But if we plumb those moments when joy and fear hold hands, perhaps we can reach our congregations with that reality. 

Remarkably, the combined experience of fear and joy propels the two Marys to run and tell the other disciples. On the way they encounter the risen Jesus, who commands them to do precisely what they were already about to do. Fear, on its own, provides poor motivation for obedience. But joy, properly guided, makes us run to tell the story.

Alternate Gospel

Commentary on John 20:1-18

Gennifer Benjamin Brooks

The themes of darkness and light are clearly visible in John’s account of the resurrection.

[Looking for commentary on Matthew 28:1-10? See this commentary for Easter Sunday by Greg Carey.]

Mary Magdalene sets out in the dark of early dawn, and there is darkness within her. She is full of pain and grief, the darkness of sorrow, having witnessed the death of her beloved teacher, the one who had removed the darkness of seven devils that plagued her and given her renewed life and light. Jesus, the Word, through whom life had come into fruition in the beginning, “the light of all people” (John 1:4b) had been relegated to the darkness of death and the tomb, and Mary Magdalene, under the cover of darkness, had come to do whatever she could to restore the light.

The story of Mary’s journey to Jesus’ tomb is almost ludicrous. How did she expect to get to the body that had been made dark by being crucified, and put in a tomb that according to custom, had been sealed to thwart potential grave robbers. James E. Davison, Greek Language Scholar, posits that “John understands Mary Magdalene’s arrival in darkness as a sign that she did not yet understand that Jesus was to rise from the dead,”1 however, as appropriate as that interpretation is, it does not speak directly to Mary’s mind and heart as she set out to do whatever it took to serve her teacher even in his death. On this day when we celebrate the culmination of Jesus’ redemptive work on behalf of all people, and perhaps especially those who are caught in the darkness of their and others’ making, we must recognize that across the world the lives of many women are steeped in darkness.

Mary’s reaction is understandable. She finds herself in a situation that she is unable to overcome on her own, so she immediately seeks help. The second act of the story tells us that she accompanied Peter and “the other disciple” who arrived at the tomb before she did, which may be interpreted as either their agonizing concern, or their disregard of Mary. But they also can do nothing to resolve the situation. John reports that after each went into the tomb, they “saw and believed.” Believed what? It speaks of their dismissal of Mary’s report, a position in line with the place of women in her society, that only when they had seen the evidence for themselves, did they believe her report. It is the reality of too many women in society and in the world, that their lives are lived in the darkness of disregard and dismissal by those who consider themselves of a higher status than women. The hierarchical structure that persists nationally and globally relegates the lives of too many women into obscurity.

Weeping in sorrow, her world made dark by her tears, Mary did not see the light that had already come into her world. The angels questioned her, but the darkness of despair was thick around her. Yet the light had already come and no darkness of sorrow, pain and grief could overcome it. As John had foretold earlier, he had come to his own, Mary, and she did not recognize him. The light of Christ in his resurrected glory was such that Mary could not see through its brightness to the person of Christ, standing before her. It is a common situation with human beings who are caught in the darkness of pain and sorrow and grief. Christ comes to bring light into our lives to offer ways of overcoming the darkness that has enveloped us, and we cannot see the light.

There is so much that qualifies as darkness in the world that we who are Christians, who have made a commitment through our baptism to follow, walk and live in the light of Christ, allow to block out his light. While it is true that there is darkness all around, our propensity for giving in to the darkness is also true. In too many cases, we are prevented by the curtain of our tears from seeing the light that is already shining on us. Mary did not understand, but she was not ready to give up. As we find with many women caught in dastardly situations, she appealed to all who came into her sphere. First it was the angels, and then the person who looked like he was part of the scene, a gardener. Regardless of the strictures of her society, she spoke to this man, seeking any help that he could give. It is the way of women, of persons who find themselves in desperate situations. Mary was desperate to leave the darkness of sorrow and find the light of joy. Jesus called her by name, and she recognized his voice because being in conversation with him was a common practice for her. With that recognition the darkness rolled away and the light that had come into the world, streamed on her.

Jesus is life and light and when we recognize the voice of Jesus, it can dispel any darkness that infects our lives. Easter joy is based on the realization that death has lost its power and because Christ lives, we can live also. Living in the light of the risen Christ compels us to share the joy. Jesus identified himself to Jesus and sent her forth with a message for the world. And “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” In other words, I have seen the light. That is the message of Easter. We have seen the light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” That was the message that Mary Magdalene received, and it is the same message that we receive every Easter, every day. Christ our light is alive and there is no darkness in the world that can overcome it.


  1. James E. Davison, Exegetical Perspective of John 20:1-10 in Feasting on the Gospels John, Volume 2 Chapters 10-21, (Louisville, Kentucky: 2015), 309.

First Reading

Commentary on Acts 10:34-43

Jeremy L. Williams

When Peter opens his mouth before Cornelius, his message succinctly captures the heart of Acts’ understanding of the good news. For those who consider Acts’ speeches as models for preaching in the first centuries CE, this message could easily be understood as a paradigm. In cliff note fashion, it relays the life of Jesus, his violent execution, his subsequent resurrection appearances, and his eminent role as judge. The message ends with a call to action—an invitation to trust Jesus and receive something that U.S. student loan holders have yet to receive—forgiveness of debts.

There is one aspect of Peter’s sermon that I have left out in my recounting above, but it is fundamental to this message, to this scene in Acts, and to the larger narrative altogether. The aspect is God’s role in the life of Jesus, which mirrors God’s role in Acts more broadly. By looking at what God does or has done in Peter’s speech, we can potentially celebrate the resurrection with even more enthusiasm.

God (Theos) is directly named six times in this pericope (Acts 10:34, 38 (2x), 40, 41, 42). In most of those occurrences (four out of six), God’s activity is portrayed with passive verbs. Twice the passivity includes a version of the verb eimi (to be) to reflect God’s state of being. In the other two occurrences of Theos, God’s deeds are depicted with active verbs. Paying attention to God’s being and activity in this passage provides clues for Acts’ understanding of how audiences should be and act.

The first mention of God in this reading is in verse 34. There Peter employs a passive verb to present God’s character. Although many versions, including the New Revised Standard Version (updated edition), translate this verse as active: “God shows no partiality,” the Greek uses a form of the verb eimi (estin) to more literally state that “God is not a respecter of persons.” The word behind the term “respecter of persons” or “shows no partiality” is a hapax legomenon in the New Testament, which means that this is the only place where this term occurs. The constitutive parts of the word could be taken to mean that God does not “accept/receive persons.” This can sound a bit harsh, but its force in some ways is mitigated by the NRSVue translation mentioned above. But the harshness does not necessarily need to be mitigated. This passage is more than a milquetoast statement that God does not put people over others.

Indeed, the rest of Peter’s message does not even fully support that interpretation, because in verse 35, Peter shows that there are people that God accepts (dektos). The people that God accepts are not accepted because of where they were born or because of the nation or family (ethnei) from which they come. God accepts people based on their respect (phoboumenos) for God and their practicing of justice (ergazomenos dikaisunē). God’s being is connected to those who do justice. The one who respects God and works for justice is (estin) accepted by God. Their being is rooted in God’s being and vice versa.

In Acts 10:38, one of the two active verbs linked with God (Theos) is “anointed” (echrisen). God anointed Jesus with holy spirit and power. Jesus’ anointing was not to be a king as other kings had been anointed in the Hebrew Bible. Nor does Acts link Jesus’ anointing to fulfilling priestly roles. God’s anointing of Jesus was most obvious when Jesus was doing good (euergetōn) and healing those who were oppressed by the trickster (diabolos). In that work, God was with him. The anointing and sign that God is with someone according to Peter’s message can be evidenced by their commitment to doing good and healing those who are oppressed.

Interestingly, Peter’s message does not discuss Jesus directly confronting the oppressor, but it does acknowledge the care that the oppressed need from larger-than-life diabolic forces that attack their health, dignity, and general well-being. Perhaps the reason that Jesus is not portrayed as vanquishing the diabolic trickster in Peter’s message is because that was not for Jesus to do. In Jesus’ good work of healing those who had been oppressed, he was himself oppressed.

His oppression most notably appears when “they” hung him on a tree. Peter does not name the “they” here, but from the larger context of Acts, it is the Jerusalem court. I intentionally say the Jerusalem court, rather than “the Jews” or the Jewish court, because centuries of anti-Semitism have led to passages like this being used to harm Jewish people and to blame them for the execution of Jesus. I instead present the antecedent of the “they” here as the Jerusalem court to highlight how Jesus, as an impoverished Jew, born in what is modern-day Palestine, was executed by the judicial system of his day—a system that Acts repeatedly presents as unjust. To this injustice and oppression, God Godself responds. God does so by overruling the unjust courts and raising Jesus from the dead. Here it is important to note Acts’ language. Jesus did not just get up. Nor is it ambiguous for Acts what happened. Acts uses an active verb to declare that “God raised him on the third day.”

God actively intervened in human history and systems of injustice. God is so connected to the one who does good and the one who works for justice and the one who heals the oppressed that God does not let corrupt courts, unjust judiciaries, sick systems, or death dealing have the last word. God acts, and God’s activity looks like raising those who heal the oppressed even when their efforts feel futile. In such cases, the hanging will never overshadow God raising.


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

Jerome Creach

Psalm 118 is the psalm of psalms for the Easter season.1

The early church found in Psalm 118 the words of Jesus who remembered his suffering and persecution during Holy Week and who gave thanks for deliverance from the grave on Easter.

Psalm 118 concludes a run of psalms (Psalms 113-118) known as the Egyptian Hallel (Hallel, after the word hallelujah, “Praise the Lord” that appears prominently in these psalms and helps tie them together). These psalms were central to the Passover liturgy. Jewish tradition holds that the Israelites recited the words of the Hallel when they came out of Egypt (b. Pesahim 117a).

Themes related to the exodus (Psalm 114), including allusions to the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:4-6; Psalm 115:3-8), as well as references to the house of Aaron (Psalms 115:10, 12; 118:3) solidify the association with the events the festival celebrates. Psalm 118 concludes this section of psalms by giving thanks for God’s deliverance. Thus, the language of the psalm fits Passover (verses 10-14), but early Christians saw in it language and themes that spoke most directly about God’s vindication of Jesus.

All four Gospels report the crowd at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem recited Psalm 118:25-26 (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19). That portion of the psalm is part of the reading for Palm Sunday (Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29), and another division is a reading for the second Sunday of Easter (Psalm 118:14-29). The verses of our reading for the Resurrection of the Lord fit particularly well the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

One of the most difficult questions about this psalm regards its genre. What type of poem is it, and what type of occasion likely gave rise to it? Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 contains elements of several psalm genres, each of which is appropriate for this day in the church year. The reading begins with and is dominated by thanksgiving. The opening of the psalm has language common in thanksgiving prayers, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (verse 1; see Psalm 30:4, 12). Verse 21 again expresses thanks in first-person style, like the thanks Israelites gave when they brought their thanksgiving offerings to the temple (Jeremiah 33:11). Hence, the opening verses set the tone for the lectionary reading, and for the Easter celebration, by offering thanks to God for God’s “steadfast love” (verses 1-2).

Verse 14, again in first-person style, echoes the expressions of confidence in God that appear in individual prayers for help: “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (see Psalms 3:3; 13:5). As in the other such prayers, this expression of confidence assumes there was trouble in the past, but God has delivered the one who speaks. The verses prior to this one describe the trouble (verses 5-13).

The early church read all the prayers for help in first-person style as the prayers of Jesus. These psalms were especially important for understanding Jesus’ suffering and death. For example, the writers of Matthew and Mark used Psalm 22 to frame the passion narrative (see for example Mark 15:24/Psalm 22:18; Mark 15:34/Psalm 22:1). Early Christians likewise read numerous elements of Psalm 118 as expressions of confidence and praise for God’s salvation of Jesus from the dead.

The invitation to praise in verse 24 is like the calls to worship in hymns of praise (Psalm 100:1-2) and this element of the psalm may be most suited to Easter. Originally the reference to “the day” likely referred to the climactic day of a festival in the Jerusalem temple. Verse 27 speaks of a procession to the alter of the temple with worshippers carrying festal branches. This reflects the practice during the Feast of Booths in which participants cut branches as part of the celebration (Leviticus 23:40). Christians came to understand all these festive images as evocative of Jesus’ life and “the day” became the day of resurrection, the lord’s day.

Perhaps the most vexing question about Psalm 118 is, who is the individual who speaks? Whose voice recalls past trouble and celebrates God’s salvation? Specifically, who professes “the lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (verse 14), declares “I shall not die, but I shall live” (verse 17), and says “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation” (verse 21)? Some scholars believe the king of Judah was the original voice who prayed in Psalm 118. It seems likely that the king played an important role in public worship, and that much communal worship engaged issues in the life of the king (2 Samuel 6).

His appointment to office, along with his victory or defeat in battle were matters of prayer, concern or celebration. The psalm does not identify the speaker, however, and that leaves the psalm open to interpretation and to apply its words to new situations. The early church naturally connected the psalms prayer and claims of faith to the resurrected Jesus. The messianic reading drew from numerous part of the psalm. Jesus was the “stone that the builders rejected” who had become “the chief cornerstone” (verse 22; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; 1 Peter 2:7). His resurrection was “the day” God had made (verse 24). He was the one who came in the name of the lord (verse 26). In these ways the psalm expounds on Jesus’ identity as the son of David (Matthew 21:9), the king of Israel (John 12:13).

Some modern readers have balked at the association of Jesus with the one who prays in Psalm 118 because it was not the psalm’s “original intent.” The connection between the psalm and Jesus, however, is not a claim that the author spoke about Jesus, as much as it is recognition that the way God provided salvation to the speaker in the psalm fits perfectly the circumstances of the risen Christ.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 21, 2019.

Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 3:1-4

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

It’s Easter Sunday and you get to choose from: a) John 20, in which Mary Magdalene is called by name by the risen Lord, b) Acts 10, in which Peter summarizes in a mere ten verses the whole story of the Jesus up to and including his resurrection, and c) four curt, allusive, poetic, and wrenched-out-of-context verses from Colossians. Tough choice!1

This snippet of Colossians has, as an Easter text, everything against it: “Seek the things that are above.” This passage sets all the wrong bells ringing. It sounds gnostic, as if we were to eschew the material filth that weighs down our souls and peer into the great ether of Platonic purity. It sounds like religiously justified absenteeism from real life, scorning the workaday vocations of family and state and economy to dwell daintily in a celestial starscape. It sounds like that most scorned version of Christianity, “pie in the sky by and by,” heavenly hopes to the exclusion of earthly engagement. “Set your mind on things that are above”—what are you, some kind of snob? Too holy for the likes of us down here?

Of course, none of the foregoing is an accurate reading of this portion of Colossians, or of the Epistle as a whole, though it’s hard to garner that from these verses standing alone. The immediate run-up to the exhortation to keep your sights set high is a warning against competing forms of false religiosity.

In Christ, you died to the “elemental spirits of the universe” (Colossians 2:8, 2:20), so why do you carry on living as if you were enslaved to them? Christ redeemed you and forgave you, so why do you keep thinking that mere “human commands and teachings” (2:22) like “food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths” (2:16) with their “appearance of wisdom” (2:22) count as good religion? The worship of creaturely spirits and blind observance of human traditions are the things that are “below.” They are the alternatives to “the things that are above.”

“Things above” refers to what comes from the true God, the Father, and “his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14). The point of the exhortation is that we should give our attention and worship to the true God instead of pretenders to the throne. But it in no way suggests a gnostic or a falsely pious disdain of the created world.

Actually, and rather surprisingly, Colossians suggests that heaven and earth were in the same boat, so to speak. Christ came to reconcile “all things, whether on earth or in heaven.” He did so not by lordly fiat or a miraculous airlift of the worthy out of the domain of suffering but by “making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:20), “in his body of flesh by his death” (1:22). You can’t get any more this-worldly than a body bleeding to death on a cross.

Those who are now transferred into the kingdom of light, the church, are to grow to maturity in their faith and their life together, “being knit together in love” (2:2). They should cast off the flesh in confidence that the body will be raised—a distinction that needs to be made continuously and tirelessly. Colossians 3 carries on from its entreaty on behalf of the “things above” to talk about the sins of this life that need to be crucified, the proper virtues to exercise in fellowship, and the nature of the relationships between spouses, parents and children, and masters and slaves—reciprocal and centered around Christ at every point. Having the mind set on “things above” is no escape from the tasks and struggles of this earth. It’s rather having the Star of Bethlehem to orient one’s journey.

A common Easter exchange is “Christ is risen!—He is risen indeed!” A Colossians variation on the theme might be: “You have died!—I have been raised with Christ!” Both assertions are true, and true at the same time. Colossians is all about the stereoscopic vision that comes from the resurrection. You see yourself as dead, and you equally see yourself as alive. You carry out the business of this earth in public and in broad daylight, yet your life is also hidden with Christ in God. When Christ is revealed in his glory, you also will be revealed in the same glory, despite your status as sinner transferred from the kingdom of darkness.

How can you set your mind on the things above while living on the earth? By the double vision of the Christian faith. Faith gives us the lenses to see reality aright and accordingly act, obediently, and joyfully.


  1. Commentary first published on April 16, 2017.