Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Resurrection of our Lord, Year C
April 21, 2019
Lessons: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are called to be witnesses to the resurrection, regardless of our perceived reliability in sharing the good news.
Key Scripture: But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. – Luke 24:11
Hopefully your Easter sermon is well on its way to completion, but if you’re like me the proclamation is never fully formed until you are standing before God’s people. Sure, the bones and sinews are in order (i.e. full manuscript that is honed and polished into key notes), but the flesh and the breath is usually formed by the Spirit’s winds, the shape of the week and current events — and sometimes even the look on a parishioner’s face reflecting their current grief, pain, or joy. There’s a certain amount of self-imposed pressure for Easter sermons because there are likely to be folks there for the first time or for the first time in a while. I want to do justice to the gospel, I want to make sure there’s something preached that will carry into the week and “real life” — a fresh approach that’s perhaps even a bit rattling. Above all, I want to be faithful. Proclamation is a tall order any Sunday (or it should be), but Easter is, as my father used to say about big events, the “daddy rabbit” of Sundays.
Luke’s account of the resurrection, along with the other Lectionary lessons for Easter Sunday Year C, provides rich preaching possibilities for this pinnacle Sunday of the church year.
- We have the lovely truth of the women being the first apostles and proclaimers of this very good news. The role of women in the church is important and has been discounted and quieted for far too long. (Check out this article.)
- One could also connect the dots that Peter’s response to the resurrection illustrates the principle that discipleship and evangelism are processes rather than a once-and-done event. After the women report their findings Peter goes to the tomb out of curiosity, and he is “amazed.” There appears to be a gap between hearing and proclaiming for Peter, but he does finally get around to it in the book of Acts. We should not be surprised to find that it takes a while for the good news to percolate in our own lives before we are equipped to share it.
- Finally, there’s a lovely tension between expectations and reality: the women and the other disciples expect a dead body and a failed movement, but what they actually find and receive is something much different, quite fantastic, and life-changing.
I am sure you can add to this short list of sermon starters, for the Easter story is never old and never stale unless we allow it to be told that way. The part of the gospel that has gripped me this week is the fact that the women were deemed unreliable witnesses and dismissed. The very first Easter “sermon,” it seems, is a total flop. Yet, the Christ will not be contained or restrained by human expectations. The sermon flop is flipped on its head as more people encounter the Christ and have their own assumptions and comfort levels turned inside out. Doubt, disbelief, and suspicion are transformed into joy and praise by the end of Luke’s gospel—a mere 41 verses later.
Those same responses of doubt, disbelief, and suspicion are alive and well today, and our political and social polarization leads us quickly to question just who is a reliable, or in legal terms, a credible witness. Ask a trial lawyer about the power of a credible witness and you’ll find that despite research pointing to false recollection and exoneration by DNA evidence, the account of an eyewitness can convince a jury. A credible witness is a powerful storyteller who can create a cohesive and coherent narrative from evidence and presence. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, and the other women are not deemed credible or reliable because they are women. Their viewpoint and testimony doesn’t count for much in first century social structure so their words are dismissed as nonsense.
I wonder … what witnesses to the gospel would be deemed unreliable today? What witness would stand as credible? We have no eyewitnesses to the empty tomb itself, although we have plenty of witnesses to the risen Christ. Will we be like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, and the other women who are perplexed by what they find yet willing to tell and live into the story anyway? Perhaps we will be more like Peter, who goes and sees for himself but has to take time to process and witness the resurrected Lord before he is bold enough to proclaim the good news. Hopefully, even though we may doubt the logistics and the evidence (or lack thereof) of the resurrection event, we won’t turn and walk away or celebrate a hollow Easter. I pray that the power of Christ working in you, present in you, and shining forth from you will embolden you to trust the power of your own resurrection encounter with the risen Christ. Credible, reliable, foolish or idle—it matters not, for all creation bears witness to the good news of God that infuses every atom and molecule with life beyond death, with hope beyond possibility, and with grace, mercy, and love beyond measure. Trust the story. Trust your own humble faith and encounter. Remember and trust.
Invite worshipers to consider whether their witness to the risen Christ would be considered credible or unreliable. Why or why not? Are they even able to articulate when and where they first encountered the risen Christ in their life? What other faithful witnesses are discounted today or judged as nonsensical? Beyond all the pomp and pageantry of this day, what is the heart of the Easter story? What do we take with us from the worship into the world?
Consider how your benediction and sending are charging worshipers to take this story of resurrection hope and promise, of the ultimate defeat of death and the powers of evil and destruction into a world that so needs this good news.
The wisdom and passion of youth are all too often discounted in our faith communities. If you have time with youth on this Easter Sunday invite them to share their concerns, their doubts, AND how they have encountered Christ in their lives. Really listen to them and find ways to share and affirm their gifts, their willingness to be vulnerable, and the ways they are making a difference in the church of today, as well as the hope for our world tomorrow.
This week’s focus verse is Luke 24:8-9 – “Then they remembered Jesus’ words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.”
Invite the children to contemplate two chocolate Easter bunnies or eggs. Most of us have come to expect such things in our Easter baskets. What would they do if they were expecting, for example a solid chocolate bunny or a peanut butter filled bunny only to bite into it and find out it was hollow and not what they expected or imagined? Would you be confused? Would you wonder what happened? Imagine how more perplexed the women must have felt that Easter morning when they went to the tomb expecting Jesus’ body to be there only to find it empty. Sometimes in life we don’t find things as we expect to find them. And in the case of the Easter story, that’s a WONDERFUL thing. Jesus defied all expectations and wouldn’t stay put. Now Jesus is everywhere—in all of creation, and he’s already making all things new. True, a hollow Easter egg or bunny is not even close to Jesus’ empty tomb, but with Jesus we often don’t get what we expect. The good news is that with Jesus we get so much MORE than we expect, and if we look, we can see Jesus everywhere. Of course, a little chocolate is also good for the soul, so if giving out candy is acceptable in your context, give each child two pieces—one to enjoy and one to share along with the good news that Jesus is everywhere. Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
The first witnesses to the resurrection certainly do not find what they expected! Instead of a dead, defeated body, they find that hope had infused the world through the risen Christ. This week, instead of seeing death and defeat, be a steward of hope and possibility. Truly believe that with God, all things are possible.
Stewardship at Home
After the Easter dinner is digested what next? Spend the week giving thanks for visions and sightings of the risen Christ and resurrection. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Monday: Look for hope in the sound of laughter. This day is celebrated in many cultures as a joyous day, a day to laugh in the face of the powers of death now defeated. Tell some jokes (check out our joke archive), watch a funny movie, or try some laughter yoga.
- Tuesday: Yesterday was Earth Day. Give thanks today for the gift of creation. Take some time to walk outside (rain or shine) and look for signs of God’s goodness.
- Wednesday: Look for the face of the risen Christ in others, particularly those who are different from you. Learn something about a different culture, religion, or race.
- Thursday: Do something today to counteract the forces of evil and abusive power in your context. Learn something about others who have had to confront such powers. Watch the movie Romero, or learn more about refugees who are fleeing their countries in hope of a fresh start and better life. Where do you see the face of Christ in their stories?
- Friday: Give thanks for the gift of food. Appearances of the resurrected Christ tend to involve food—broken bread, grilled fish, for example. Have a celebratory meal that is simple and involves seasonal fresh ingredients. Give as much as you spend on your meal’s ingredients to a local food ministry to help be the presence of Christ for others.
- Saturday: Tomorrow’s gospel is the story of Thomas, although some congregations may be celebrating Earth Day Sunday. In either case, spend some time learning about climate change—even if you doubt the science. Consider watching the Netflix documentary Our Planet. Why does stewardship of creation matter?
Narrative Lectionary Year 3: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/04/no-idle-tale/
Photos: TED, David Morris, and Marco Verch, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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