Tag Archives: Easter

The Unfinished Story

I like stories that wrap up loose ends before the last word. I want to close the book knowing that good will triumph over evil, that lovers will unite having gone through difficult times, that those who are ill receive healing or at least an opportunity to mourn those who die. For when the author has wraped up all the loose ends, I can close the book or eject the DVD, put it on the shelf, and turn to other tasks and adventures.

But the Gospel According to Saint Mark as originally written ended abruptly. The women had seen the empty tomb and ran away afraid to tell anyone what they had seen. Loose ends are left dangling: How did Peter and the others learn of the resurrection? How did the resurrection affect their lives?

The unfinished story must have bothered scribes copying this gospel for they added two endings. We know that these other endings were late additions because the oldest and most reliable manuscript ends with verse 8 and letters between early church leaders also note the abrupt ending of Mark’s Gospel.

I think Mark did this intentionally. An unfinished story demands attention. For example: a composer once lay on his bed awaiting sleep while someone practiced a melody on a nearby piano. But the piano player stopped one note short of resolution. Instead of sleep the composer tossed and turned in his bed until he arose and strode the to the piano, played the melody with the resolving note that begged for attention.

Mark left us begging for the rest of the story, imagining how we would respond the stranger’s message: “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.”

This is incredible! Tombs do not open themselves. Dead men, especially after crucifixion, stay dead. No one would believe them. Their friends and family at best would pat them on the hands and explain what they had seen and heard as a hallucination; at worst they would laugh at these silly women.

Would you tell? Would anyone believe you?

Will you tell a neighbor about Jesus this Easter?

After Easter

Easter Surprise 2007
(Photo credit: otzberg)

Most of the Easter lilies have been taken home. The chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, and candy eggs if not already eaten are not likely to last the week. The bright white tapestries and table runners  will stay up until Pentecost, nearly seven weeks from now, but after a flash to red, even they will also quietly return to the green of ordinary time. It is almost as if Easter had not happened.

The Apostle John records that after Easter the disciples returned to what they had done before Jesus had called them from fishing beside Galilee (see John 21:1-3). If was almost as if Jesus’ birth, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection had not happened.

Most of the year I wonder how to design worship to invite people to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit that will sustain them for nearly 7 days until we meet for again. For Easter, I wonder what difference the resurrection makes the next 364 days.

A short answer: Wow! Everything he told us is true! Jesus really IS God’s Son.

The long answer: Today I get to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven: making disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Christ commanded us (see Matthew 28:19-20). The resurrection opens believers to risk physical life to love our neighbors.

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March 31st: "Anyone?"

After being surprised by the scope of God’s mercy, Peter recaps the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

This Week’s Passage: Acts 10:34-43

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for Resurrection Sunday in Easter

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

34 Peter had thought that only Jews could be baptized, but now has come to understand that God’s circle is wider than his. Whom do we seek to exclude from God’s circle?

35 Salvation by works?

36 The “message” is not Jesus Christ, but is sent through him.

37 The expansion of the Gospel starting in Galilee: John’s baptism was one of repentance for the Kingdom of God is near.

38 a. God anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit is a matter of faith.

b. “oppressed by the devil” — Is Peter preaching in the vernacular which expects a battle between good and evil?

c. “God was with him” — Why not he was God as in John’s Gospel?

39 Why not say nailed him to a tree? Or is this a euphemism for crucifixion as well as picking up the scriptural admonition against hanging on a tree?

40 God “caused him to appear”.

41 Proof that he was risen bodily, at least among the believers.

42 Jesus is ordained as judge by God. Peter appears to be testifying that Jesus is a prophet rather than the Son of God.

43 Consistency with earlier Scripture.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Peter has been sent for by Corneilus, a Gentile. Corneilus has seen a vision while in prayer that he should see Peter, and Peter has seen a vision that it is God who decides who is clean.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

1 Corinthians 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

Jews shunned eating with Gentiles (offered to idols); even visiting a Gentile household would cause spiritual uncleanness.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

Passage begins with Peter opening his mouth and ends with people speaking in tongues.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Chapter 10 is a well structured story: Begins with a centurion, an outsider of the community, whose worship was answered through an angel. Paralleled with Peter praying and receiving a vision. The vision is explained through the acceptance of Cornelius by the Holy Spirit.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

In the larger story Cornelius does not question why he invites Peter or what he expects when Peter begins to speak. Thus they are much like a congregation sitting waiting for the preacher to speak. In the end the congregation becomes the object lesson for the preacher and his associates.

Peter is like the preacher who visits the hospital on the request of family, and experiences a miracle!

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: This is the kernel of a much larger passage about the wideness of God’s desire for salvation. It matters not who we think should/will be saved (by God), but rather that we need to be about confirming with baptism whom God has already chosen.
  • Emotional Center: God breaking forth in our midst!

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Peter associates with Gentiles setting up the conflict in chapter 11 about future ministry with the Gentiles.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts) notes two errors in his sermon to Cornelius: 1) that “anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” is otherwise unsupported in Scripture; and 2) that Jesus was sent to Israel does not support ministry with Gentiles.

Robert W. Wall (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Acts of the Apostles”) notes the parallel with the story of Jonah, the prophet also sent from Joppa to preach to people he was reluctant to meet. Jonah needed three days in the belly of the great fish before he would preach to the Ninevites. Peter (aka Simon bar Jonah) took three auditions from God. Jonah’s preaching resulted in the repentance of the Ninevites. Peter’s preaching resulted in the conversion of all of Cornelius’s household and his friends.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

You know the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Everyone who trusts him, receives forgiveness.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Experience Peter’s surprise with God’s mercy.

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Celebrating the Lord's Supper in Easter 2012

Bread and cup“Teach the congregation about the depth of meaning in the Lord’s Supper, not just with words, but also with how we celebrate Communion,” the Elders on Session challenged. In addition to serving communion every Sunday in Easter, they wanted more. Thus we are now scheduled serve communion eleven times in ten weeks (including Maundy Thursday and the first Sundays of April and June).

Worship Plans for Easter 2012

These worship plans are tentative and subject to revision. Suggestions will be carefully considered.




April 1
Passion Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a – Christ: God’s Forgiveness
Remembrance of God’s grace, Christ’s sacrifice, and work of the Spirit.
Communion as Atonement
Small cups & wafers served to participants in pews
Christ’s Body given & Blood shed for us.
April 5
Maundy Thursday
Sin as slavery; Orderly plan of freedom.
Institution of the Lord’s Supper
Passover Meal: Unleavened bread, wine
April 8
Mark 16:1-8 – You are looking for Jesus
Gift of God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit
High formality. Sung responses.
Child delivers elements gift wrapped.
Participants come forward to receive bread and small cups.
April 15
Easter 2
Acts 4:32-35 – Everything in Common
Reconciling community
Sit in a circle, minister to one another.
Intinction with one loaf
April 22
Easter 3
Youth Group skit
The resurrection has implications today.
Youth serve with modernized setting: Bread sticks in a pizza box, Grape Kool-Aid in plastic cups
April 29
Easter 4
John 10:11-18 – Good Shepherd
Eucharist is our great sacrifice of praise to God.
Each family presents a slice of bread during the offering. Those slices are shared during communion.
May 6
Easter 5
John 15:1-8 – On Christ’s Vine
One loaf divided and shared with cups in pews. Elder and Deacons immediately leave worship to offer communion to those unable to attend.
May 13
Easter 6
John 15:9-17 – Love one another
Spirit filled symbol of God’s Love
Women of the Church
Heart shaped pieces of bread
May 20
Easter 7
John 17:6-19 – Christ glorified in disciples
Wedding Feast: Invitations sent with a “robe”
Wedding runner & Unity Candle
Table filled with food: Fish, milk, wine, honey, salt, …, braided bread.
May 27
Acts 2:1-21 – God pours out the Holy Spirit
Give all members a red stole
Confirmands get white stoles
Give red stoles after confirmation
June 3
Trinity Sunday
John 3:1-17 – Born of water and spirit.
Flour and oil dedicated as a sin offering after assurance of pardon. Children shape flour into pastry and bake it during sermon to be served for communion.

Other Notes:

  1. Commend using the unison prayer after communion as a prayer before meals.
  2. Add explanatory notices in bulletin beginning in Lent, March Newsletter, and email March 21 – May 23.
  3. Families invited to bring bread for one of Sunday.