Sermon Seeds April 5, 2015

Sermon Seeds April 5, 2015

Easter Year B color_white_1.jpg

Lectionary citations
Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8


Sermon Seeds

Focus Scriptures:
John 20:1-18 or
Mark 16:1-8

Weekly Theme:
Now What?

Reflection on John 20:1-18:
by Kathryn Matthews (Huey)

white_flower.jpgPoor Mary Magdalene. One might think that she has it worst on this first day of the week, her hopes once high, now crushed. In John's Gospel, she comes to the grave alone (we also note that she was here in all four Gospel accounts); she hasn't come to tend the body but simply to grieve her loss, perhaps to feel closer to Jesus by keeping vigil at his tomb. Since "it was still dark," maybe she had spent the night tossing and turning, sleepless from sorrow and grief. We wonder what she's thinking, and what she expects to find. It seems certain that she does not expect, of all things, an empty tomb. In Barbara Brown Taylor's sermon on this text, she describes the finality of death ("the only place springtime happens in a cemetery is on the graves, not in them") and likens Mary to the "abandoned pup" who still waits for her master to return (Home by Another Way).
 
Mary Magdalene's thoughts and feelings seem less mysterious than those of the two disciples, Peter and "the one Jesus loved," whom we traditionally think of as John. Philip Culbertson has an interesting take on this scene: when Mary runs to tell the disciples that "they" have taken Jesus' body (and we don't know where "they" took it, or even who "they" are), she's "fearful," but the male disciples are "excited" – a not insignificant difference (New Proclamation Year C 2010). Perhaps, when they rush to the grave, Peter and the other disciple are trying to make up for their earlier failures. The worst has now happened, and maybe they hope to prove themselves in the aftermath of the Teacher's death. When they arrive at the grave, racing, it seems, against each other (John mentions three times that the other disciple got there before Peter), they see the grave cloths, left behind by Jesus, who, unlike Lazarus, did not need to be unbound by others. This detailed description matters, for thieves would certainly not have taken the time or care to wrap up the head cloth and set it neatly aside.

Who will witness to the Resurrection?
 
Whether they considered such details or not, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," the texts says, "saw and believed," and then the two men went back home, a very different response from that of Mary, who felt compelled to share the news, and also to remain at the tomb. At this point, Peter and John didn't make the connection between what their eyes were seeing and what their ears had heard from Jesus on more than one occasion, about his suffering, dying, and rising again. This seeing-and-believing theme, like that of resurrection, also runs throughout John's Gospel, but it isn't clear what the two disciples believed when they returned to their houses. We know, from the end of today's passage, that Jesus still felt it necessary to commission Mary Magdalene to tell his disciples (and that means the community, really, not just the small band of "apostles") the good news. One wonders about the confidence he has in the disciples' ability to carry through even after seeing the empty grave. katehuey150.jpg

This is a good moment to consider the fact that, in all four Gospels, Jesus entrusted such marvelous news and responsibility to a woman, of all people. This charge is both remarkable and ironic, given the lamentable status of women in communities of faith then and ever since, despite Mary's faithful abiding, and her witness to the rest. And that's not the only marvel, for Jesus talks with Mary "in the garden," alone, one single man, and one single woman, a quietly intimate, heartfelt conversation. If we stop to think about it for a minute, not as 21st-century readers who have experienced a least a measure of progress for women, we realize that this intimate conversation, in a very secluded place, must have shocked John's earliest audience.

We have heard this story before

At this crucial moment in the Gospel story, in salvation history, a woman, Mary Magdalene, represents that thread of hope that runs through the Scriptures like indestructible gold: God's trust of the small ones, the ones on the margins, the ones without voice, the ones whom God trusts and lifts up to shine like the sun (remember another Mary's Magnificat, for example?). How ironic, and how wonderful, that Jesus entrusts the primary proclamation of our faith to one of the "least," one of the "small ones"...and yet, how very biblical! Many scholars note that Mary Madgdalene meets the two Pauline criteria for being an apostle, having experienced the Resurrection and received the charge to preach the gospel. Mary Magdalene was a woman apostle, overlooked for centuries, and a "silent" but powerful witness against the marginalization of women in the church. Not that that has kept church leaders from distorting this text in order to accommodate patriarchal practice: I have read more than one church document claiming that Mary was simply a messenger to the "real" witnesses, the (male) apostles.
 
There's no conversation between the two male disciples and God's messengers (the angels), or with Jesus himself. That encounter waits for Mary to return to the grave, still faithful, still present, still waiting. Still weeping, too. Why does she look in the tomb again? What does she expect to see – the body returned? Evidence of where it was taken, or who took it? We don't know, nor do we know whether she perceives the angels to be more than ordinary people, for her grief focuses on where Jesus' body has been taken. Even when she turns and faces Jesus himself, she doesn't recognize him. It's surely no accident that the question he asks of her is the same one asked twice before in John's Gospel: first, of the inquisitive disciples-to-be ("What are you looking for?" 1:38), and later, of the mob who came to arrest Jesus ("Whom are you looking for?" 18:4; see Mary Margaret Pazdan, The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels). The story in the garden that inspired a hymn by that name doesn't worry about the technical details of how Jesus was raised. Instead, it tells the story of a deeply personal experience of the resurrection. Perhaps that's the reason there's a measure of discomfort with that hymn, since many folks miss the third verse that tells Mary, and us, not to linger there, waiting for Jesus, but to go back into the world that is suffering. We have been assured that we will find him there, in that suffering and need. 

What do the Gospels tell us about this?

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book on the last week of Jesus, appropriately titled, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus' Last Days in Jerusalem, culminates in the Easter experience and its two-fold significance, both personal and communal. Crossan and Borg say that our joyful proclamation, along with Mary Magdalene, that "Jesus lives" is a claim about Jesus today, in our own life and time. Like the earliest Christians, we follow "The Way," a way, according to Borg and Crossan, that leads to our transformation. Mary Magdalene's garden encounter with the risen Christ is familiar to us in different forms today, when we experience resurrection and new life, when we encounter the risen Christ in our own lives. But there is the other side, too, for the resurrection is God's way of defeating and denying the powers that be that were responsible for his death, including empires both ancient and contemporary. We are reminded that Jesus is really in charge, not the petty powers that seem to rule the world in every age.

And that, Borg and Crossan write, tells us something about God and what God is about, for God is about repairing the damage that has been done, and is calling us to join in the work. We may feel very close to Jesus when we imagine ourselves in the garden, walking and talking with our risen Lord. But following Jesus after that encounter, they write, means caring about Jesus' great passion, which is also the great passion of God, what Borg and Crossan call "the Dream of God," the well-known kingdom of God, when all of God's children will live in shalom, with enough for all, and healing, peace, justice, and mercy will reign. (Borg and Crossan even dare to use the word "distributive" – a word that sounds a lot like the controversial "redistribution" that has become a political hot button in our country.) This beautiful hope, Borg and Crossan write, calls us to be "grounded ever more deeply in the reality of God, whose heart is justice," which is, they claim, "the political meaning of Good Friday and Easter" (The Last Week). That sounds as if there is more for us to do than merely take good news back to the others: it's a call for our whole lives. The world should be able to see in our lives our own passion for the truth that Jesus is risen and that God has indeed begun the "Great Clean-up," the work that requires our participation. If we go back to our lives tomorrow as if nothing has changed, what then have we really experienced? Do you think the world is ready to hear a "political" meaning in Easter?

Life experience in dialogue with faith

John K. Stendahl's commentary on this text is especially insightful. He contrasts the boyish racing between Peter and the other disciple with the depth of feeling in Mary Magdalene's response to the resurrection. The difference between the two notes struck by this account – almost comical, and deeply tragic – is a font for preaching: not just one or the other meaning is worth our attention, Stendahl claims, but both, because different people respond differently to the resurrection (Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 2). I remember what that was like in Bible study in the local church, with one church member who was a scientist viewing the resurrection story through a different lens than another person, who simply took the story at face value. Both of them, in different but mysterious ways, grasped the truth of the resurrection and proclaimed, "Jesus is risen!" There is a delicate and deep interplay between faith and life experience, even life stages and cultural conditioning. The people in our pews, members and visitors alike on this Easter Sunday, are each in a place and time in their lives when they need to hear the core message, a word of hope and new life, even if each one hears it differently, out of their own life experience and situation.
 
What do you expect from life? In your relationships and ministry, in your family, your neighborhood, your community, the nation, and the world, in your own congregation and in the United Church of Christ, what do you dare to hope for? When you come to church on Sunday morning and prepare for worship, what do you expect to happen that day? When you go to meetings, write sermons, keep appointments, visit the sick, make plans, dream dreams, what do you expect to see? Have you ever done the things you planned to do, and then witnessed something, or even experienced something, that you never thought would happen? When have you been surprised, caught "off guard" by good news and unforeseen joy?
 
Has anything ever happened in your life, or the life of your church, that seemed too good to be true? Have you ever received news so good that it required a re-appraisal of your worldview? What evidence did you need in order to trust in the good news? What did you need to "see" in order to "go tell"? This was the moment that changed the world, and, hopefully, our expectations, even today, two thousand years later. Where do you stand in a world made new by the events of Easter Sunday so long ago? Where does your church stand in such a world? What, then, will you do?

Reflection on Mark 16:1-8:

The high point of the church year is upon us, no matter the state of the world around us, personally or communally. And yet our Marcan text is short and even mysterious, leaving us with no appearance of a risen Jesus to put a nice, happy ending to a story of suffering and death. Don't we prefer an ending that's satisfying in the way it ties up loose ends, answers our questions, and leaves just about everyone happy? (For example, in the world of television series, contrast the popular last episode of "Friends" with the controversial final episode of "The Sopranos," where everything was left unresolved.) However, as Douglas Hare puts it, "Mark's story of Jesus' ministry, passion, and resurrection terminates abruptly with fear, flight, and silence." Or does it? The story of the resurrection of Jesus, Hare says, is not primarily about Jesus but about a God who is powerful enough to raise Jesus up, so "the resurrection of Jesus must be regarded as God's comment on the crucifixion" (Mark, Westminster Bible Companion).

Our text from the prophet Jeremiah two weeks ago claimed that desolation was not God's last word, or "comment," on the people of Israel. Instead, God spoke a new word, a word of hope and new life in a new covenant written on their hearts. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate this God's "comment" on the death of Jesus, the assurance that God's final word is not death and despair but resurrection and new life. If we accept this spare account, just eight verses, as the authentic ending to Mark's Gospel, we're challenged to take a long, long look at that comment rather than simply wish that we could preach on a text full of riveting stories of post-resurrection appearances.

Left without a nice, clean ending

Scholars have many comments of their own to offer on this text, and they often agree: they connect the women at the tomb with the woman who anointed Jesus at the beginning of last week's passion narrative; they suggest a connection between the young man in white sitting in the tomb with the young man whose linen cloth was torn off in the garden as he ran away from the scene of Jesus' arrest (was it Mark himself, they ask?); certainly, they observe that the lack of a nice, neat ending may be just the thing we need to get us moving out into the world, proclaiming the good news, doing a better job at being faithful than the first disciples did; most of all, they remind us that, at the heart of the Gospel of Mark is the way of the cross.

In fact, Fred Craddock suggests that Mark's "accent" on the cross is the very reason that he didn't include resurrection appearances that might pull focus away from it as the meaning of discipleship: "For Mark, the resurrection served the cross; Easter did not eradicate but vindicated Good Friday" (Preaching through the Christian Year B). In all of our Easter finery, in our celebration and our Alleluias, in flowers and white cloths, it jars our sensibilities to be reminded of Good Friday, to think that we worship an "executed God": Megan McKenna quotes Mark Lewis Taylor, reminding us that "To follow the executed God today is to let die the god of religious respectability" (Mark Lewis Taylor, The Executed God, quoted in MdKenna's On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross). At the heart of the Gospel of Mark is the way of the cross.

What were they thinking, what were they feeling?

Once again, a passage begins with the quiet appearance of women, coming from the sidelines of the story to tend to what needs to be done, caring for Jesus' body even after death. Craddock finds this appropriate in a "Gospel in which insiders become outsiders and outsiders do the work of insiders" (Preaching through the Christian Year B). We can only imagine how they planned to accomplish their task, what drew them back to a place of loss and pain in order to perform an act of tender care. The women at the tomb provide an excellent subject for our reflection: what must they have been feeling and thinking as they went about their traditional task (women's work) of tending to the dead? They had just witnessed brutality that was unusual even in a day of great brutality, under the heel of a brutal empire. Their hearts were surely broken, their minds undoubtedly confused, their lives suddenly without the direction they might have sensed while Jesus was with them. (Even if they had no idea of the destination, they did have a deep desire to follow in the direction Jesus was heading.)

As it so often goes, these "outsiders" make their way to the center of what's happening (although they think everything is over, done and buried) to do what has to be done, the work others often don't want to do. The tomb turns out to be one of those "spaces where so much of life unfolds," Serene Jones writes, "the hard work of loving, of being present, the grit that allows human life to keep going in the very moments that it encounters the reality of violence and relentless march of death." She claims that God is there, even in the places of death where we are "broken by violence and by love and by the sheer exhaustion of the labor it takes to go on" (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2).

Grief, relief and more

We hear the story today, long after this astounding event, just as Mark's community heard it so long ago. But these women were there, in that moment and in that place, and it's also clear that they immediately run away from it. It's that running away that prompts an interesting conversation among the scholars. Most commonly, they conclude that the fear of the women, and their silence, even disobedience, make them just like the other disciples who have feared and run and disobeyed throughout the Gospel. As David J. Schlafer observes, "Conspicuously absent as they run is joy (Matt. 28:8), rekindled memory (Luke 24:8), or belief (John 20:8)" (New Proclamation Year B 2009).

Who can blame them for running away? Today we might say that they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (Jones calls them not only "determined" but also "traumatized"). Their world was dramatically, suddenly, thrown from a course they grieved but at least was one that fit into their understanding of how things work. How things work include both the finality of death and the immovability of large stones, so they had approached the tomb filled with grief but also with certain assumptions. The text tells us that they were sure they were going to encounter an obstacle to the completion of their task when they faced that stone, more massive than anything they could move on their own. Perhaps they brought even more, something we might be surprised to consider: relief. Intriguingly, D. Cameron Murchison reminds us that even in grief there can be a little bit of relief, for many reasons that may include a sense of closure. Here, the women may have experienced at least a measure of relief not that they had lost Jesus but that they no longer had to bear the burden, Murchison wonders, of "costly discipleship." However, the empty tomb presented them with "the challenge still before them"! (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2). If the dream is in fact not dead, if the reign of God is at hand, then there is work to be done and risks to be taken, dangers to be faced. No wonder they ran!

What stone blocks our path?

That stone is worth some of our time in reflection, too. As a metaphor for everything that keeps us from faithfulness, it seems immovable and makes faith (especially as trust) seem impossible. For the women, the other disciples, Mark's community, and for us today, the call is to Galilee and a new beginning, setting out on the way again, following Jesus faithfully, this time with the terrible knowledge of his suffering and death but also with the world-changing awareness of his resurrection. However, Megan McKenna draws on the work of Eugene LaVerdiere to describe the difficulty of that path of following Jesus once again, for "the stone is a symbol for everything that blocks the way. It may be different for each, but for everyone it is a very large stone" (LaVerdiere, The Beginning of the Gospel, in McKenna's On Your Mark). McKenna says that we may not want to see or face certain things, but all of us need to remember the path that has brought us this far, and the failures we experienced along the way, just like the disciples so long ago, whether they were cowards, or clueless, or worse.  We may think we know this story because it is so familiar, so central to the life of the church and the life of faith, but somehow we've lost the passion of our youthful enthusiasm for God, no matter what age we became Christians. Mark, McKenna writes, call us back "to the intensity of our first commitments" (On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross).

If we've grown old and tired and perhaps cynical in our faith, steeped in doubt and burdened by technical questions, Mark comes through for us, then, too. Morna D. Hooker calls Mark's ending "theologically profound" because of the paradoxical promise to believe first and then to see: "Mark insists that we must finish the story for ourselves, by setting out on the way of discipleship" (New Proclamation Commentary on the Gospels). One more voice calling us back to the way of discipleship, to following Jesus, and to a faith that is trust.

Terror, amazement, awe

As mentioned before, many scholars compare the silence, disobedience, and fear of the women at the tomb to the fear and flight of the other disciples when Jesus was arrested. Are they like those disciples when they can't seem to comprehend what the young man is saying? Gail R. O'Day's commentary is most helpful in providing a different way of reading this text as well as an excellent approach to preaching on it this Easter Sunday. A preacher doesn't need to focus on "the triumph of Easter," she writes, but simply "to bring his or her worshiping community into direct and immediate encounter with the cosmic transformation that is the resurrection." Of course, this isn't a simple or easy thing to do, but Mark's words about fleeing and terror and amazement are where we begin, with "awe at what God has done in the life and death of Jesus." In O'Day's reflection, the women know who has the power to do such a thing as raise Jesus from the dead: God. And they know how to respond to such an amazing experience: "In the face of theophany, silence is not a failed or inadequate response....because the women's silence creates a space for the voice and presence of God to resound." It's one thing just to be afraid or even to have your world turned upside down, but it's an entirely different thing to have an encounter, an experience, with God's power and presence. Terror and amazement are an appropriate response, but so is awe at what God has done in raising up Jesus (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2). On this point, all the scholars agree, because this is a story about God at work, about the power of God, not about us or our doubts and questions. It is a story about God.

Terror, amazement, awe. God at work in our lives and in the life of the world. Our questions in this case can lead to amazement once again, and also to Easter hope. After all, as Charles Campbell asks, "If stones are rolled away without human effort, if Jesus really is raised from the dead, what other human assumptions about wisdom and folly, power and weakness, will likewise be proved false?" Who can say or limit what God can do, at work in the world? No wonder we tell this story, then, that is central to who we are as a community of faith, a band of believers, two thousand years later. "Power," Carolyn Heilbrun once observed, "consists in deciding which story shall be told." We tell the story of life, even in the face of suffering and death. Setting out on the path of discipleship, perhaps a little more conscious of the cost of that discipleship after our Lenten observance, we do not travel alone. We have one another, we have and are the Body of Christ, the church in the world, and we have a call. Things may never be the same, our assumptions may never be safe, but we are not alone. Campbell has said it beautifully: "Jesus is loose in the world. He is not in our present as a lifeless corpse or in our past as a distant memory. Rather, he goes ahead of us into the future to meet us there and claim us, not on our terms, but on his" (The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels).

Telling the story again and again

Richard Swanson observes, that our "task on Easter (which is every Sunday for an Easter-based faith) is to tell stories about resurrection in a world where everyone dies" (Provoking the Gospel of Mark: A Storyteller's Commentary, Year B). In this world "where everyone dies," where is your hope? Where have you and your congregation seen life out of death? Were there some who refused to believe, and others who could not find their voice or their courage to share that good news? If the women in the story have brought aromatic oils to honor the body of Jesus, they are greatly frustrated in that task by the surprising things God is doing. Have you ever been so focused on your task that you missed a great wonder unfolding before your eyes? What do the words "terror and amazement" say to you about the experience of the women at the tomb? How does that strengthen the power of this story? What do you think happened one hour after they fled, since we know that their story was eventually shared?

The Rev. Kathryn Matthews (Huey) serves as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio (https://www.facebook.com/AmistadChapel).

You're invited to share your reflections on this text on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

For further reflection:

Mother Teresa, 20th century
"Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen."

Arundhati Roy, 21st century
"Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

Emily Dickinson. 19th century
"To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else."

George Eliot, 19th century
"It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them."

Carolyn Heilbrun, 20th century
"Power consists in deciding which story shall be told."

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop, 20th century
"Miracles... seem to me to rest not so much upon... healing power coming suddenly near us from afar but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that, for a moment, our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there around us always."

John Paul II, 20th century
"Do not abandon yourselves to despair....We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song."

Frederick Buechner, 20th century
"It has always struck me as remarkable that when the writers of the four Gospels come to the most important part of the story they have to tell, they tell it in whispers. The part I mean, of course, is the part about the resurrection."

Mary Gordon, 21st century
"For me the meaning of the Resurrection is the possibility of possibility. The great perhaps. Perhaps: the open-endedness that gives the lie to death. That opens up the story."

Martin Luther, 16th century
"Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail."


Lectionary texts

Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

or

Isaiah 25:6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

O give thanks to God, for God is good;
   God's steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
   "God's steadfast love endures forever."

God is my strength and my might;
   God has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory
   in the tents of the righteous:
"The strong hand of God does valiantly;
   the mighty hand of God is exalted;
   the strong hand of God does valiantly."

I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of God.

God has punished me severely,
   but God did not give me over to death.

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

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

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

The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.

This is God's doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.

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

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them — though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

or

Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

or

Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


Liturgical notes on the Readings

In ecumenical liturgical practice, there are normally three readings and one psalm at each Sunday service, in this order:

First Reading: Hebrew Scripture
Response: Psalm (or Canticle) from the Bible
Second Reading: Epistle (or Acts or Revelation)
Third Reading: Gospel

The first two lessons are normally read by laypeople, the Gospel by a Minister of the Word or a layperson. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and liturgical Protestant churches, it is uncommon for an ordained minister to read all of the lessons.

The psalm is not a reading but a congregational response following the lesson from Hebrew Scripture: it is normally sung with a refrain or recited by the congregation as poetry. Occasionally, a canticle is appointed in place of a psalm; it is sung or recited in the same way. The New Century Hymnal provides a complete liturgical psalter with refrains and music.

A hymn may be sung as an introduction to the proclamation of the Gospel.

Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors

Lent and Easter

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Violet throughout Lent is in wide use, but some churches have begun instead to use browns, beiges, and grays (burlaps and unbleached fabrics, for example) to reflect the mood of penitence.

There are many variations in the use of vestments and color during Holy Week. Some common practices: Red, the color of martyrs, for Palm/Passion Sunday up to Maundy Thursday, when White is used for Holy Communion; stripping of all chancel paraments at the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday service, with no adornment until the appearance of White and/or Gold at Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday; the use of Black, Red or no color for Good Friday; the use of Scarlet during Holy Week instead of the "fire" Red of Pentecost.