Bible Tuesday for Easter Sunday, 2016
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;[a] for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
The above passage is God’s response to Israel’s complaint of abandonment and excessive punishment. The Israelites interpreted their defeat by Babylon as God’s judgment and punishment for their almost constant worship of other gods. Some Israelites kings even set up altars to other gods in the Temple!
The beginning of chapter 65 contains God’s lament of poor treatment at the hands of the Israelites. God speaks as a spurned parent, whose children want money and car keys only, but distain the person who is their caretaker and provider. God describes Israel as, ”a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks (acts of worshiping Canaanite gods); who sit inside tombs and spend the night in secret places (necromancy with gods of the underworld); who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels…” God goes on to acknowledge that defeat and captivity at the hands of the Babylonians has been miserable, but “when I called, you did not answer, when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my sight…”
Even so, “your warfare is accomplished and your iniquity is pardoned.” God is calling the Israelites home. They have been released by Babylon’s conqueror, Persia. However, when Babylon defeated Israel, they leveled Jerusalem, burned farm fields, destroyed cities and villages. The Israelites are released to go home, but they have no home to go to.
For this reason, God states in the above passage that, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…” The sin of the Israelites, their abandonment of God, God’s law, God love, has been so complete that the Israelites and God cannot merely pick up where they left off. God and this faithful remnant will start over in a whole new earth and heaven.
Yet, this promise of God’s is not completed during the time of the prophet Isaiah, nor will it be until all things are made new in paradise.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
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 the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.*
This psalm of military victory for Israel is a “cover” of Miriam’s song which she sings after God led the Israelites fleeing Egypt safely through the Sea of Reeds. Miriam’s song is thought to be the oldest part of the Bible. Here the psalmist adds to Miriam’s song with exhortations of God and the military might God has shown on behalf of Israel. “The stone which the builders rejected” may refer to derision the Israelite army suffered due to size or lack of the latest weaponry.
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.* For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end,* when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
In this passage of his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul addresses frustrations and doubts of the congregation. From the very beginning of Christianity, resurrection from the dead has been the source of doubt. Sure, Jesus raised from the dead, and the early Christians knew this because there were many people who saw him after he resurrected, complete with crucifixion scars. But what about the believers who die before Jesus returns? If you go to their graves, their bodies are still in them, decomposing. And when will Jesus return? When will the end time come?
The fact is that the gospels never answer these questions. When the disciples ask Jesus “When?” he answers, “Of that, no one knows except the Father.” So then, how do people believe in Jesus with such basic questions unanswered? That is what Paul is trying to address. Paul looks at what he does know about God, based on the Hebrew Scriptures and on his brief encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and attempts to answer. Sin came through a man, Adam, so salvation needs to come through a man, Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead first to make a way for all others to also rise. When will Jesus return and the end come? When Jesus is done doing everything he has to do.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.* 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women* were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men* said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.*6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.*
We know the Easter story so it is hard to read just these words written in the gospel of Luke without reading into this story all the other gospels. But, in order to really receive what Luke has to tell us, we must try to read this gospel as if we did not know this story.
First, who went to the tomb and why did they go there?
Verse 10 tells us that the named women are two of the underwriters of the ministry: Mary of Magdala, and Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s steward, Chuza, and Apostles James and John’s mom, Mary, and the other women. It is important to note this because throughout Luke’s gospel, he names female disciples of Jesus, and recounts their activities, which are omitted from the other three gospels.
The women went to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. Jews bury bodies within 24 hours of death. A body is unclean after 24 hours so all who would come to view the body and comfort the family and friends would be unclean. Since Jesus died during the Passover celebration, being unclean would mean not being able to continue the Temple and familial activities of the seven days of Passover, so Jesus’ body was hastily washed, wrapped in the traditional linen shroud and laid in a tomb without all of the normal dressing and anointing a person of respect would normally receive. As I wrote a couple weeks back, the spices, could be as extravagant as pure nard ointment costing three months’ wages. Frankincense and myrrh were also regularly used. Since Jesus’ body has been in the tomb for more than 24 hours, unembalmed, these women face a gruesome task.
Luke is the only evangelist to tell that two angels met the women in the tomb. Why is it important that two angels are there? The angels remind the women of what Jesus foretold. Here these women are, grieving and steeling themselves for the task ahead, attempting to mask the sight and smell of death with aromas. Then all that is shattered by an angelic invitation to remember and proclaim.
The women ran and told the eleven apostles and all the rest. Who are the rest? Luke tells us in the first chapter of Acts that there are about 120 people, including apostles, who stay together after Jesus’ crucifixion and who are still together on the day of Pentecost. These included Jesus’ mother and siblings, and the two men who are considered for Judas’ replacement. It is to these giants in the founding of Christianity that the glorious news of Jesus’ resurrection is told…but they judge it an idle tale.