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Bible Study: Easter Day (B) – March 31, 2024

March 31, 2024

RCL: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18

Acts 10:34-43

This passage is part of the story of Peter and a centurion named Cornelius. Here, Peter is speaking to Cornelius and “his relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24). Peter and Cornelius come together because both of them have had visions. Cornelius has received a vision leading him to Peter, whereas Peter has had a vision about a new way to interpret laws about what is permitted to eat. Peter’s vision is about whether it is acceptable to include people who do not follow the law of Moses in the fellowship of the followers of Jesus – for example, Cornelius. This is why today’s passage opens thus: “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” The second part of this passage rehearses the core doctrines about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Jesus’ role as judge of the living and dead. It is no accident that the Easter message of resurrection and the Easter message about a God that accepts devotion from people “in every nation” belong together. Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the world forever, for everyone, not just people in one place and time, and not just for people who look, act, or think the same. The criteria are simple, and universal: fear God and do what is right.

  • Have you ever, like Cornelius, felt like you were on the outside? If so, how were you welcomed into fellowship? Have ever, like Peter felt like you were on the inside? If so, how might you help welcome someone on the outside into fellowship?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

This psalm includes two familiar verses. Verse 22 is quoted by Jesus in all three synoptic gospels, and is also quoted in Acts and the first letter of Peter. Verse 24 is one of the sentences of Scripture chosen to open Morning Prayer during Easter season. The two verses are linked and together express some of the most fundamental claims of Christianity. The imagery of verse 22 is that of divine reversal, upending human expectation, expanding the horizon of our imaginations. It is meant to remind us of the unlikeliness of Moses as a potential leader, of David, the shepherd not originally included in those presented to Samuel for anointing, and most of all, of Jesus, the humble Galilean. That God sees value where people fail to see value is an evergreen reminder to us to question our assumptions about what (and especially whom) we value and why. Verse 24 collapses time, so that the “today” of the Lord’s action is at once the day of the psalmist, the days of Jesus, the day of the resurrection, and today, here and now. Just as our baptism is mystically linked to both the baptism of Jesus and his death and resurrection, and every Eucharist is mystically linked to the times when Jesus breaks bread in fellowship with his disciples, so is the psalm’s “this day” mystically linked to today. We may join the psalmist in proclaiming that the upending of expectations, the expanding of horizons, and the linking of divine action across time is “the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

  • How has God surprised you in your life, upending your expectations or expanding your horizons?
  • If resurrection is at once then and now, how might that affect how you act today?

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Biblical scholars date some of the letters ascribed to Paul, including 1 Corinthians, to before the writing of the Gospels as we encounter them today. This suggests that this passage may be one of the first written accounts of Christian belief about the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is important because neither Paul nor the Corinthians had an agreed-upon canon of Scripture about Jesus. All they had were stories and sayings passed from one person to the next, from one community to the next. Without a book, without church buildings as we know them today, and without structures of ministry, people either believed what they heard or not. In this context, both the beginning and end of this passage give us clues as to why, according to Paul, the Good News survives and spreads. In verse 1, Paul reminds his readers that he proclaimed the Good News to them, but then we note that there is a second step in the process: his readers received the Good News in turn. This means that it’s not just about proclamation. There is something that happens in the hearts of the hearers, there is a reception that is between them and God, distinct from the proclaimer. Likewise, at the end of the passage, Paul makes no distinction between himself and the other apostles when it comes to the truth of the Good News. The message has its own authority, and its conveyance is in an important sense first and foremost because of the grace of God.

  • How do you proclaim the Good News in your life?
  • How does the grace of God affect what you believe?

John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene is revered as the “apostle to the apostles,” because she is the first to recognize the resurrected Jesus, and in turn to proclaim this miracle to other disciples. With all due respect to Peter and the other disciple, the writer of this gospel presents us a sharp contrast between their behavior and that of Mary. Mary is the first to the tomb, and the first to tell Peter and the other disciple. When Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb, they see what is there, and then they return to their homes. But Mary remains. There is something here that the writer is suggesting about the time and focus it can sometimes take to receive revelation. Mary takes the time to come to the tomb in the first place, takes the time to consult with others, takes the time on her own to feel her grief as she stands weeping. It is because she has taken this time that she is there to meet the angels. We are not told how she reacts to the fact that they are angels. Her response to them remains completely focused on Jesus. She then takes the time to converse with the person whom she takes to be the gardener. She is, even then, ready to take more time to learn where the gardener has supposedly taken Jesus’ body and to take the body away to provide a proper burial. Throughout this, Mary has devoted her time and focus to Jesus, and it is our tradition that all Christians have Mary’s devotion to thank for the beginning of the spread of the Good News, for the beginning of the celebration of Easter.

  • What practices do you have (or might you develop) to set aside time and focus in your life to devote to Jesus?
  • Proclamation of God’s work takes courage; it is easy to be afraid of being seen as foolish. Where do you find your courage to proclaim the Good News?

Phillip Lienau is a seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

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