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Introduction To The Scripture For Easter Sunday - Year C
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; I Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18
Alternate Readings
Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman ( 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'.

Easter Sunday -  Year C

    Further below are the alternate readings for Easter, Year C
    following from the Gospel According to Luke (and Isaiah) as
    is 'normal' for Year C.   Acts 10:34-43 is normally read as
    the first lesson or the epistle - depending on which scheme
    you decide to follow.   (RJF) 
ACTS 10:34-43            This prime example of what the apostles proclaimed
about the resurrection was delivered to a Gentile audience at the home of a
Roman army officer.  When Peter preached this sermon the gospel had already
spread beyond Jerusalem and Judea.  The message itself contained only a few
details: The resurrection had been revealed to only a few witnesses who had
been given the mission of telling the story and proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

PSALM 118:1-2, 14-24     This psalm of thanksgiving may have been used at
various festivals in both Jewish and early Christian communities.
Originally celebrated a military victory, its later use by the early church
celebrated God's victory over sin and death in the resurrection of Christ.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:19-26   This earliest written version of the resurrection
story dates from no more than 20 years after the event.  Paul explains what
the resurrection means for every believer: human sin and death have been
overcome by the resurrection of Christ in which we too shall share.  Our
faith has to do with resurrection, not immortality.    

JOHN 20:1-18             Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the
resurrection.  Her first reaction was disbelief.  When she told Peter and
another disciple what she had seen, they too did not believe despite the
evidence of the empty tomb.  Finally, Jesus met Mary again and commissioned
her to tell of his resurrection to the disciples.

                              He is risen! 
                          He is risen indeed! 

ACTS 10:34-43   In 1930s the Professor C.H. Dodd, of Cambridge University, 
first proposed that all the sermons in Acts follow the same general formula
to which he gave the name "kerygma."  Professor F. F. Bruce, of Manchester,
added that this principle adopted the form initiated by the Greek historian
Thucydides in putting words into the mouths of the speakers "to give the
general purport of what was actually said.  Following this principle, Luke
introduces speeches with proper regard for the speakers and the setting." 
["Acts of the Apostles," in *The Oxford Companion to the Bible,* 7.]

The resurrection of Jesus, not his life or his teachings, formed the core
of early Christian teaching and preaching.  This passage is a prime example
of what the apostles proclaimed to all who would hear them. 

Note in particular that Peter delivered this message in Caesarea to a
Gentile audience at the home of Cornelius, a Roman army officer.  This
indicates one of the fundamental aspects of the whole book: to show how the
gospel spread from Jerusalem to Rome.  At this point, the gospel had
already spread far beyond its Galilean origins or Jerusalem, where Jesus
had been crucified and raised from the dead.  Peter had been in  Joppa, an
ancient suburb of the modern city of Tel Aviv, at least a day's journey to
the south of Caesarea, when Cornelius had summoned him.  The setting was in
keeping with Luke's intent to show to the imperial establishment that the
Christian faith was a legitimate and honourable religious tradition.
Peter's experience in Joppa had convinced him of the necessity of including 
Gentiles in the Christian fellowship without regard for the rigid Jewish
dietary laws and customs (10:9-23).

Peter's message itself contained only a few details: It began by
acknowledging that God had no partiality toward the nationality of those
who had due reverence for God and righteous ways of living.  This concept
of universalism had been an element of the teaching of the great prophets
of Israel before and during Israel's exile in Babylon.  Jesus, however, had
been sent by God to Israel alone.  Anointed with the Spirit, Jesus of
Nazareth, had done much good and performed many miracles of healing.  Yet
he had been put to death by his fellow Jews.  The resurrection of Jesus had
been revealed to only a few witnesses who had been given the mission of
telling the story and proclaiming Jesus as Lord.  In this way, the
fundamental theological principle of faith in response to hearing of the
grace of God in Jesus Christ became the basis for the advance of the
apostolic mission.  

The late Professor Heinz Guenther, former professor of NT at Emmanuel
College and the Toronto School of Theology, proposed a different analysis
of The Acts of the Apostles.  In his analysis the book is a fictionalized
'faith history' of the early Christian mission rather than an account of
the historical events. The central character of the story is the Holy
Spirit, not the apostles Peter and Paul who appear as the chief evangelists
of the mission.  In this passage, the work of the Spirit extends even to
Jesus' ministry (vs.18).  In the passage subsequent to this excerpt, the
Spirit is particularly evident.  "While Peter was still speaking, the Holy
Spirit fell upon all who heard the word."  Jews who accompanied Peter "were
astounded that this gift had been poured out even on the Gentiles."  This
occurred before the Gentiles had been baptized.  All of this caused Peter
considerable trouble with the Jerusalem church.  In the end, the Spirit
convinced the church to undertake the Gentile mission in earnest. (11:1-26)
We too have inherited this mission.

PSALM 118:1-2,14-24   This psalm is the last of six (113-118) known as the
Hallel psalms which have a special place in Jewish liturgy.  It has been
used at various festivals in the Jewish religious calendar, most likely at
the harvest festival of Sukkoth.  Early Christian communities made use of
it as well.  It was a special favourite of Luther: "It has helped me out of
grave troubles, when neither emperors, kings, wise men, clever men, nor
saints could have helped me." (Quoted from Kittel in *The Interpreter's
Bible,* iv, 661)
Whereas the psalm may have originally celebrated a military victory, its
later use by the early church celebrated God's victory over sin and death
in the resurrection of Christ.  The motif of vss.17-18 can also be found in
the OT story of Hezekiah's sickness (2 Kings 20:1-11) and in Paul's claims
of God's providential aid (2 Cor. 6:4-10) during his mission to the
Vs.22 became an often repeated motto for NT authors: See Matthew 21:42;
Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2: 4,7.  Such
extensive literary use points to it being part of the earliest liturgical
tradition of the church.  On the other hand, the festival day referred to
in vs.24 may well have celebrated the completion of the rebuilding of the
walls of Jerusalem with God's help after the return from exile. (Nehemiah
6:16)  Vss.19-20 may both recall and celebrate the entry of the faithful
into the restored temple, the centre of Israel's religious and national

1 CORINTHIANS 15:19-26   Paul gave the earliest version of the resurrection
story in this passage, perhaps  no more than 20 years after the event.  In
this brief selection, he explains what the resurrection means for every
First, it is the only basis for hope of life beyond death (vs.19).  Unlike
the Greek tradition, we do not believe that we are naturally immortal.  Our
faith has to do with resurrection, not immortality.

Secondly, Christ has been raised from the dead.  What is more important,
his resurrection is "the first fruits of those who have died."  This
promises to all who mourn that we too shall share in Christ's life beyond

Thirdly, the humanity of Jesus which ended in his death made God's
initiative in the resurrection both necessary and possible.  Because of
this, our humanity is not a tragedy ending in disaster.  Frail and
imperfect though we are, divine grace has much more in store for us.

Fourthly, human sin, of which Adam was the metaphoric example, and death,
the natural result of our sinfulness, have been overcome by the
resurrection of Christ.  But Paul does not proclaim a universal
resurrection.  He speaks only about life beyond death for those who are "in
Fifthly, when Christ returns, he will reign with gracious love over all
that is opposed to God and God's reign of (vss.24-26).  He will subdue
every one and everything that challenges God's authority and power,
including death.  Thus, the resurrection of Christ was an eschatological
event in anticipation of the final winding up of history when Christ

Finally, in this passage at least, Paul does not claim equality with God
for Christ (vs.28 cf. Phil.2:6), nor does he convey any sense of a trinity
of three persons in the unified godhead.  Instead Paul believed that in the
final d‚nou‚ment God's vision for creation Jesus Christ too will be subject
to divine sovereignty. 

JOHN 20:1-18   In John's Gospel, women play an unusually large part in the
story.  This could indicate that either the community for whom John wrote
was led by a woman or the author of the Gospel herself may have been a
woman, a disciple or even the spouse of John, "the Beloved Disciple."  It
could even be speculated that the author behind this pericope and possibly
the whole gospel was Mary Magdalene.  Note too that the Second Letter of
John is addressed, "To the elect lady and her children" (2 John 1).  Of
course, this is beyond proof.

We may well marvel that Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the
resurrection.  Unlike the other gospel narratives, John had her come alone
to the garden tomb.  That would have been most unusual, for a woman would
not likely wander out alone "while it was still dark."
Mary's first reaction to seeing the stone removed from the entrance to the
tomb was utter disbelief, most likely mixed with a great deal of fear.
Because the tomb was open, she immediately concluded that someone had taken
his body from the tomb.  She later reiterated this assumption when she
mistook Jesus for the gardener (vs. 15).  It was a natural reaction
considering the environment in which she had seen the crucifixion take
place.  Normally, the bodies of those who had been crucified were dumped in
a pit and left for dogs and vultures to devour or covered with lime to
reduce the odor of decomposition.  Only the most wealthy or prestigious
would have been buried in a sepulchre. 

Mary immediately ran to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple, probably John,
what she had seen.  The two disciples ran to the tomb, but John got there
first.  He did not go into the tomb, but "bent down to look in." (v.5)
Therein is a problem.
In all examples of lst century sepulchres yet discovered, it would be
virtually impossible to do what the Gospel says the Beloved Disciple did.
Normally tombs were hewn out of a soft, limestone rock-face.  In some
instances, they were below ground level with several steps and a long
channel leading down into them.  Even above ground, the entrance into the
tomb would have been rather small so that a circular stone lodged in a
narrow, inclined track could be rolled across it.  A stone like this, about
three feet diameter, stands on display near the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.
Beyond the entrance, there could be one or two chambers large enough for
several people to stand erect.  The second chamber, farthest from the
entrance, would have been the burial chamber with niches carved into the
rock where bodies were laid.  These niches could be slightly inclined so
that body fluids could drain into a small depression beyond the feet of the
laid out body.  In the outer chamber mourners could assemble when bringing
spices to counter the odors of decomposition.  It would appear that the
author of the Gospel was not familiar with the burial customs of Jerusalem.
On the other hand, the Beloved Disciple is given credit for believing,
whereas Peter is credited only with seeing the burial linen.  These latter
artifacts were necessary to contain the body during decomposition and to
hold the spices and unguents.  After decomposition was complete, the
remaining bones would be gathered and placed in a small urn or stone box.
An ossuary of this type with the name of Caiaphas scratched on the side was
discovered during an archeological dig in Jerusalem in 1991.  More
recently, a very controversial ossuary scratched with the name of James,
son of Joseph and brother of Jesus, on it in Aramaic has come to light in a
collection in Tel Aviv.  A scholarly dispute about its authenticity still

Note, however, that Peter's and John's believing did not include
understanding (vs.9).  Ours is not merely a matter of faith; it also has
intellectual content.  John has more of this rational, theological
perspective than the other Gospels.   Frequently, he wrote of Jesus telling
the disciples that they would only fully understand what he taught them
after the resurrection.  In this way, John indicated that the meaning of
the life, death and resurrection would become matters for persistent
reflection.  Indeed, had reflection about the resurrection not occurred, it
is doubtful that we ever would have heard of Jesus.  The NT provides
virtually the only accounts of the resurrection except for brief dubious
references in contemporary 1st century CE literature.

Mary did not leave the vicinity of the tomb when the other two disciples
went home.  As the story continues, she had a vision of two angels sitting
where the body had lain.  She could well have hallucinated, but this is
more a symbolic detail than an actual event.  The presence of angels served
to introduce John's conviction that the resurrection had been the divinely

When Jesus revealed himself to Mary, but she did not recognize him.
Supposing he was the gardener, she asked what he had done with the body.
When Jesus spoke to her, she responded immediately and attempted to cling
to him.  He forbade her, but the words are formulaic.  They sound like a
doctrinal statement of later origin, possibly reflecting the ascension
tradition of Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9.  It appears to project the idea that
the nature of the resurrection body of Christ was categorically different
from his mortal body.  More authentic and in keeping with the feminine
emphasis of the whole narrative is the commission Jesus gave her: She was
to tell the "brothers" - note the masculine gender.  She was to be the
first witness to his resurrection.

%%%%%%  Alternate Readings %%%%%

ISAIAH 65:17-25   Isaiah of the Exile, or some of his students, sings
what is an eschatological song that through the NT and especially in
Revelation  21.  When composed, the prophecy undoubtedly  referred to the
return of the exiles from Babylon and the renewal of a golden age of peace
and prosperity, a veritable return to Eden.  There never was such a time in
Israel's history.  As Jesus is quoted in Matthew 6:29, even Solomon in all
his glory was not arrayed like this.  Yet it was the dream of every
generation, then and now, that endured the violence and privation of exile. 

Is it significant that the resurrection occurred in a garden and that this
passage depicts a similar idyllic scene?  In Jerusalem still tourists are
taken to the Garden Tomb set in the midst of very beautiful garden giving
the visitor a sense of peace and permanence only the natural world can
provide.  It provides a worshipful atmosphere where individuals and small
groups may ponder the miracle of the resurrection.  There is no way of
knowing how authentic it is as the actual site of the resurrection.
Meditating there, one cannot but recall that this oracle by Deutero-Isaiah
may have influenced the narrative of John 20:1-18.

LUKE 24:1-12   Luke's narrative is much plainer and more matter-of-fact
than John's.  It does contain some significant differences.  In this
version Mary Magdalene has the company of several other women - Joanna and 
Mary the mother of James are the only ones named.  Joanna had been
previously identified as the wife of Herod's steward, Chuza (Luke 8:3).
Mary the  mother of James, is usually identified as the mother of James the
Younger and Joses (Mark 15:40), but she could also have been the wife of
Clopas (John 19:25).  All of this group were apparently women of means  who
accompanied Jesus and the male disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem and
helped to finance the company. 

Finding the stones rolled away from the tomb "perplexed" this group of
women.  Whereas Matthew reports that they saw an angel and Mark reports
that it was a young man, Luke tells of the women meeting up with two men in
dazzling clothes.  Whatever their actual observation, the message the women
received was the same: "He is not here, but has risen."  (Or "has been
raised.")  The messenger(s) also reminded them of what Jesus had said
previously about being handed over to evil men to be crucified and on the
third day rise again."

The women remembered and immediately went to tell the disciples, who did
not believe.  Peter rushed to the tomb to see for himself.  Perhaps
frightened, perhaps hopeful, by the strange news, he just went home amazed.
But home did not mean Galilee.  Was it Bethany or the upper room where the
Lord's supper had been celebrated?  The next pericope about the two whom
Jesus met on the road to Emmaus tells of Jesus appearing to Peter (24:34).
This framing of the resurrection appearances gives to Peter the same
primacy that we also find in the appendix to the Fourth Gospel ( John 21).

copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.

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