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Introduction To The Scripture For Easter Sunday - Year B
Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8a

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION  TO THE SCRIPTURE 	
Easter Sunday (B)

[Note: A more complete analysis follows this summary for church bulletins. 
Multiple readings are suggested in the RCL for Easter:  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. This brief summary does not include the passages 
from Acts 10 or John 20.]


ISAIAH 25:6-9.  God's victory over death is the theme of this brief 
selection, as is appropriate for the day on which we celebrate the 
resurrection of Jesus. The whole section of The Book of Isaiah from which it 
is taken, chapters 24-27, are thought to be from a period several hundred 
years later than the 8th century in which the prophet Isaiah lived. Such 
additions to the work of Israel's great prophets were quite common, enhancing 
the value of the whole as sacred scripture.
	
Christians of the lst century after Christ found this passage especially 
worthy of remembering.  Its words were repeated in Revelation 21:4 and 
interpreted with deepened faith because they knew that Jesus Christ had risen 
from the dead.


PSALM 118:1-2, 14-24.   This psalm of thanksgiving was used extensively in 
Jewish worship.  The closing verses of this selection (22-24) had special 
significance for the first Christians too. It is quoted or alluded to in six 
New Testament passages.  Note their context in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; 
Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4,7.


1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11.  This passage contains the earliest description of the 
resurrection.  It was written by Paul no more than twenty years after the 
actual event.  We have no way of making it correspond fully with the 
narratives of the four gospels.  What Paul does is to state the meaning of 
the resurrection for himself.  Believing the resurrection was the foundation 
of his faith and his apostleship.


MARK 16:1-8a.   No one knows why Mark's Gospel ended here so abruptly, nor 
why later editors added two other obviously artificial endings, 16:8b and 9-
20.
	
Mark gave a very personal account of the discovery of the empty tomb.  Could 
he have left this signature of himself as the young man in white and in 
14:51-52?

*************

ISAIAH 25:6-9.  My professor of OT at McGill, later of Princeton, Dr. R.B.Y. 
Scott, wrote *The Interpreter's Bible* introduction and exegesis of Isaiah 1-
39 (vol. 5. Abingdon Press, 1956) at the time he was teaching us the OT 
prophets.  I naturally turn to his work as my basis for this summary.  Scott 
held that the whole section of Isaiah from which this reading is taken, chs. 
24-27, is "a collection of eschatological prophecy, psalms and prayers dating 
from the later postexilic period ... appended to an earlier edition of the 
book ... which comprised the bulk of the material now found in chs. 1-23." 

Scott's view of this passage is that a victory over some unnamed enemy city 
is celebrated in vss. 1-5.  A feast of triumph and an end to sorrow forms the 
theme of this brief selection, vss. 6-9.  As such, it is appropriate for 
reading on the day on which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. 
Christians of the lst century CE found it especially worth remembering.  Its 
words were repeated in Revelation 21:4 and interpreted with deepened faith 
because they knew that Christ had risen from the dead.  This seems to be 
particularly fitting as an Easter lesson since the festival is about God's 
victory over sin and death.

The reference to a feast in vs.6 undoubtedly recalled to early Christian 
minds the messianic feast featured in later Jewish eschatology (cf. Baruch 
29:3-8; 2 Esdras 6:52; Mark 2:19; Matt. 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-24; Revelation 
19:9, 17).  In earlier times, festal observances marked the renewal of the 
covenant.  The promise of feasting always enhanced the expectations of those 
about to be freed from oppression or in celebration of similar events 
initiated by Yahweh.  The Passover meal was one such festive occasion, 
originally eaten with the anticipation of freedom and remembered as such in 
Jewish tradition ever since.

On the other hand, as Scott pointed out, there was a parallel to vs. 8 in the 
Canaanite myth of Baal's victory over Mot, the god of death and the 
underworld.  A similar myth also existed in the reappearance of Attis in 
Asiatic mysteries.  Christian belief found both of the traditions helpful in 
interpreting the resurrection, especially to Gentiles familiar with those 
myths, however different the Christ-event may have been.  This in no way 
discounts the meaning and value of either the Jewish or the Christian 
celebrations.  As Scott wrote: "The idea of God's ultimate triumph over his 
enemies will also be a victory over death and pain takes on a new and deeper 
meaning here, because the thought of God was more true and worthy in Israel 
than in north Canaan centuries before.  And when in Revelation 21:4 the words 
of this passage were quoted, it was in the light of a new certainty which was 
theirs who knew that Christ had risen."

The metaphor of death being swallowed up (vs. 8) is particularly vivid in 
view of the almost universal practice of human burial from prehistorical 
times. It still sounds the note of victory at the start of many services of 
Christian burial. 

The reference to "rebuke" (KJV) ("reproach" [RSV] or "disgrace" [NRSV]) 
suggests that death was more than a cause for grief.  It recalls the opening 
episode in the story of Ruth. (1:1-9)  For women in ancient Israel, the death 
of a husband was considered more than an end to economic security.  It was 
indeed a rebuke from God and a disgrace in their community, especially if the 
death had occurred as a national disaster such as defeat in war or an 
extended famine.  These were interpreted as acts of Yahweh's vengeance in 
punishment for sin. 

In a rural village in Ontario within the past few decades, where women 
outlived their husbands for many years, widows were frequently excluded from 
social gatherings until they found their "proper" place in a fellowship of 
other widows.  A young widow who was still physically attractive was shunned 
as a genuine threat by other women with husbands who might be led astray. 
Gossip could quickly attach "sinful" behavior to her name if she was seen 
keeping company with any man, married or single.

That this hymn of praise has an eschatological emphasis comes out in the 
phrases vs. 9 "on that day" and "we have waited for him." The anticipated 
salvation lies in the future, as is our expectation of resurrection which 
Paul had in mind when he referred this passage in 1 Cor. 15:54.


PSALM 118:1-2, 14-24.   This psalm of thanksgiving was used extensively in 
Jewish worship.  It is the last of six so-called "Hallel" psalms or "the 
Egyptian Hallel" (Pss. 113-118) probably designed for cultic use in the 
temple.  This one appears to have been associated with the feast of 
Tabernacles, or Sukkoth.  The individual element in it, notable in the 
extensive use of the pronoun "I", may refer to the king as the 
personification of the nation.  Scholars debate whether it was composed 
before or after the Babylonian exile.  It was likely to have been sung 
antiphonally, but it is uncertain just how the parts were allotted to 
different parties of the worshiping congregation. Certainly in vss. 1-4, the 
antiphon was the second part of each verse. "His steadfast love endures 
forever."

The psalm had special meaning for the apostolic church.  The latter verses of 
this reading have particular significance for the celebration of Christ's 
resurrection. While the original psalm may have referred to some earlier 
military victory which the Hebrew tradition attributed to Yahweh, the 
Christian tradition interpreted it as referring to Christ's victory over 
death (cf. vs. 17). This above all was the mightiest act of God. 

Remember too that in the immediate post-resurrection days, the apostles spent 
a considerable amount of time in the temple precincts (Acts 2:46; 3:1-4:31). 
In the first flush of resurrection enthusiasm, vss. 19-20 could well have 
been their mandate for doing so.

 The closing verses of this selection (vss. 22-24) had special meaning for 
the first Christians too.  It is quoted or alluded to in six other New 
Testament passages.  Note their context in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 
20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4, 7.  We often forget that those 
first Christians were all Jews and their only scriptures were those of the 
Hebrew tradition.  According to both the Emmaus pericope in Luke 24:25-27 and 
Acts 2:42, reinterpreting the scriptures from a post-resurrection point of 
view was a significant function of the apostolic church.  The Hebrew 
scriptures were not canonized until about 90 CE, by which time a significant 
body of Christian interpretations has already been written.


1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11.  This passage contains the earliest description of the 
resurrection written by Paul no more than twenty years after the actual 
event.  We have no way of making it correspond fully with the narratives of 
the four gospels. What Paul does is to state the meaning of the resurrection 
for himself.  Believing the resurrection was the foundation of his faith and 
his apostleship.

That brief summary does not in the least exhaust all that this passage had to 
say. Not only was this the heart of the gospel Paul preached everywhere he 
went (vs. 1), it was the source of salvation for those who believed (vs. 2). 
In other words, being saved depends on faith and faith alone. In whatever way 
we may interpret "being saved," it has only one source: an experience in 
which the believer trusts that God in some incalculable way has taken the 
initiative to relate to that one believer.  That divine initiative changes 
the believer's life in such a way that it can only be described as a total 
conversion, a transformation of the moral character and daily behavior of the 
ordinary person.  In the words of the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich: 
"His natural goodness causes mercy and grace to work in us, and the natural 
goodness that we have from Him enables us to receive the working of mercy and 
grace."

A young man, about to enter college to study horticulture, stands listening 
to his father and a theological student talking about how few candidates for 
ministry there are in training.  The young man hears a voice saying to him, 
"Why not you?" he turns around to see which of his brothers had spoken to 
him, but no one is there.  Deeply moved, he goes to his room and spends an 
hour or more thinking and praying about this experience.  Then he invites his 
father to go for a walk and tells him about what has happened.  He recognized 
the voice he heard as the call of God to the vocation of ministry and offers 
himself as a candidate.  The next 59 years of his life are given to that 
vocation; and he is still fully engaged in it, although in different ways

That was Paul's experience too.  He interpreted his experience as meeting the 
risen Christ on the Damascus Road (vs. 8).  It wasn't that he had never been 
a religious person or lacked faith.  He had been a deeply faithful Jew, one 
of the Pharisees, in training as a rabbi under one of the most respected 
rabbis of his time.  What happened dramatically transformed the spiritual 
quality of his religious experience.  It totally replaced the core of this 
faith, and completely reversed the direction of his witness to his faith. 
Deeply religious although he had been in his earlier years, he could only 
describe his experience since his conversion as the grace of God working in 
and through him. 

Grace, Paul appears to be saying, is a function of the resurrection.  It is 
the same all-powerful activity of God that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. 
Paul fully accepted the apostolic interpretation of Isaiah 53:1-12 (vs. 3). 
He had heard it from Peter himself and the others of the twelve (vs. 5; cf. 
Gal. 1:18).  Most probably he was not in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost, 
but he certainly had heard about it from some of those who were, from his 
teacher Gamaliel in particular.  That is the likely meaning of vss. 6-7. 
These experiences were the evidence of the resurrection with which he had 
wrestled after had he stood by watching the cloaks of those who stoned 
Stephen (Acts 7:58-8:1).  It was this same all-consuming power with which he 
had to cope on his violent mission to Damascus (Acts 9:1-2).  The violent 
negativity arising from his fear of failure to keep the law was transformed 
into the all-encompassing positive gospel of God's love in Jesus Christ.

It still happens whenever the Holy Spirit of God in Jesus Christ touches 
another life with the resurrection experience.  But does it also occur in 
societal situations too?  The late Professor James Sutherland Thomson, in his 
concluding lectures to a graduating class in theology on the Person and Work 
of Christ stated that in his opinion we had gone about as far as we can go in 
understanding the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ for 
individual salvation.  It was now time for Christian theologians to consider 
what this mighty act of God meant for the social, economic and political 
affairs of humanity.  He gave a further elaboration of this theme in the last 
chapter of his book, *The Hope of the Gospel*, the Robertson Lectures at his 
own alma mater, the University of Glasgow, in 1954. 

"There is no heavenly gospel indifferent to the hopes of earth....  We are 
therefore to seek a righteousness of God in the economic world not because we 
want it, but because it His will to give it, not as a secular engagement, but 
in the assurance that we are fulfilling a divine purpose. Here lies the 
evangelistic world whitening to harvest." 

In the half century since those prophetic words were written, how many 
nations and communities have received the gifts of freedom, self-
determination, democracy and the concomitant opportunities to create a better 
life for all people.  One can name Germany, Japan, the Philippines, India, 
many Latin American countries.  As we celebrate this Easter in the 21st 
century, will it be Iraq, the first of the Arabian nation states to feel the 
power of resurrection too?


MARK 16:1-8a.   No one knows why Mark's Gospel ended here so abruptly, nor 
why later editors added two other obviously artificial endings, 16:8b and 9-
20. We may ignore the shorter and longer endings, as the NSRV calls them, but 
we cannot ignore the final words of vs. 8a: "They said nothing to anyone, for 
they were afraid." Isn't that why we still debate the reality of the 
resurrection and rarely discuss it with anyone? It seems so much easier just 
to wonder how and why, or even doubt that it could ever have happened, than 
come to any real conclusion on what it all means.

Mark gave a very personal account of the discovery of the empty tomb.  Could 
he have left his own signature as the young man in white and in 14:51-52?  He 
had run away naked from the garden when Jesus was arrested.  So he needed a 
new robe.  In the slanting rays of the sunrise, the robe must have shone 
white as snow.  An angel, as Matthew 28:3 interpreted it?  If Mark was that 
young man, what was the mission he had been given?  And who gave it to him? 
Was he the first to have met Jesus on resurrection morn?  And who moved the 
stone?  Surely not the slight wisp of a youth who sat there and reflected on 
what he had seen.

Those questions stimulate the imagination. Put yourself into that scene and 
identify with one of those women; or with the young man himself.  Of course, 
there are no answers to most of those questions, except perhaps for the one 
about the message he had for the women.  They found the young man inside the 
tomb "sitting on the right side."  He told them to tell the disciples and 
Peter and then to head back to Galilee where Jesus would meet them.  If you 
had been one of those women, what would you have done?

In Jerusalem still, one can visit the Garden Tomb which may or may not have 
been the one where Jesus was buried.  Once having been inside the tomb, as 
mourners frequently did when they brought spices to embalm the body, one can 
imagine the scene Mark portrays and understand where the young man may have 
sat.

The devoted English charity, *The Garden Tomb (Jerusalem) Association,* which 
maintains this site, has kept alive General Gordon's 1883 discovery of what 
he believed to have been "the Place of the Skull" (Golgotha) and the rich 
man's tomb in the garden close by.  There in Resurrection Garden, the 
narrative of the gospels comes alive.  It certainly is a more credible site 
for the resurrection to have taken place than the ornate Church of the Holy 
Sepulchre at the end of the Via Dolorosa.

Canadian biblical scholar Tom Harpur wrote in his column in the Toronto 
Sunday Star of April 9, 2000, of "the glorious truths in the Christian 
myths."  He challenged readers "to understand that the Christian story is a 
'high' myth - just as in other major religions.  Yes, Jesus actually lived, 
was crucified and 'raised' by God.  This happened in certain historical times 
and places.... But that the whole account is set in highly mythical terms is 
evident on every side in the New Testament."

Harpur goes on: "A myth often is a symbolic or otherworldly telling of a 
truth that can be communicated only through a story.  What matters is the 
inner essence.  Such a truth can be more crucial to one's life than any 
purely factual account."

However one understands the resurrection story, the essential truth is that 
redemption to spiritual living entirely motivated by love comes through faith 
that it is possible because Jesus did it.

Rabbi Jordan Pearlson made a similar comment in another column in the same 
newspaper when he compared the masquerades of Mardi Gras and the Jewish 
festival of Purim.  "What is often forgotten is that neither Mardi Gras nor 
Purim stand alone.  Both markers of false redemption, the festivals of let's 
be what we pretend, are preludes to the high points of redemption, the time 
of let's rejoice in who we really are which follow shortly thereafter.  Mardi 
Gras in Christianity gives way to Easter. In Judaism, Purim fades away into 
the powerful messages of the Passover....  It occurs to me that there is an 
intended pattern to be celebrated.  Redemption is neither a masquerade nor a 
drunken stupor.  We, in our separate traditions, annually try the shallow 
answers lest we give them more credence than they deserve, but we follow with 
the deep and profound challenges that real redemption implies."


copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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