Liberating Gospels (April 17)

Uniform Lesson for April 17, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Matthew 28:1-10

Having arrived at this Easter Sunday by way of the Passover, we may be able to hear and experience some new implications for our opening liturgy: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” The “he” in this case is not just Jesus, but Jesus recognized as the paschal lamb. His rising marks not only the beginning of a new liberation for individuals from the powers of death, but the inauguration of a new liberation for congregations and communities and, indeed, the entire cosmos from the ways social structures are sometimes in league with the powers of death. As this “first day of the week is dawning” (v. 1) for the women gathered at the tomb, so a new age dawns on the whole of creation. While these women may not join in singing and dancing of Miriam and her sisters by the banks of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20), a dance surely begins here which continues to this day.

Beyond individual resurrection

It’s hard to domesticate the Passover. Its food and liturgy and purpose are too grounded in an event that was communal and political and revolutionary in nature: God heard the cries of Israel and freed them from captivity. You cannot gather around a table set for seder without then trusting that the world and its powers have been changed, and will continue to be changed, until the tikkun olam, the healing of the cosmos, is complete.

Far too often, the Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter can be reduced to the good news of individual resurrection and our liberation from any fears regarding life after death. This is good news, and especially good news for those this Easter who come to church mourning the death of a loved one or anticipating the death of a loved one. The cry, “He is risen, He is risen indeed!” is a cry of liberation for all of us who harbor fear regarding the brevity of life and the frailty of flesh. It is not only right but necessary that we mark Easter with such songs as: “Jesus died, our souls to save … where your victory, O grave” (Glory to God, #245).

But listen to some other Easter hymns. “Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness! God has brought forth Israel into joy from sadness” (Glory to God, #234). “Here the true Paschal Lamb we see, whom God so freely gave us. He died on the accursed tree so strong his love to save us. See, his blood now marks our door: faith points to it; death passes o’er, and Satan cannot harm us” (Glory to God, #237). “Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age, till earth and sky and ocean ring with joy, with justice, love, and praise” (Glory to God, #246). This is big and liberating news indeed.

Toward a new age

There are indications in our text that Jesus’ resurrection is about something more than one body being raised from the dead. Matthew makes clear that a new/first day is dawning (v. 1). This leads many liturgists to mark this as the “eighth day of creation,” when God begins something new. There is an earthquake in the story, which not only causes the stone to roll back (v. 2) but indicates a shifting of tectonic plates and systems analogous to the waters of chaos being divided. The appearance of “lightning,” and clothing “white as snow”
(v. 3) point toward signs and wonders similar to those that accompanied Israel on its way out of Egypt, pointing toward a new era of liberation for all the creatures of this world. “Now let the heavens be joyful; let earth its song begin; the round world keep high triumph and all that is therein” (Glory to God, #233). Maybe Easter’s not easy to domesticate after all.

Goes before us

As those who arise from the seder meal know that God’s act of healing and liberation is yet unfolding, so those who go out from the Easter gathering should know that they are called to fearlessly follow Jesus as he goes to Galilee to commission them for a liberation on “heaven and earth,” for “all the nations,” “to the end of the age” (vv. 18-20). This Easter Sunday, as the lilies appear, the trumpets sound, and the reverberations of the “Hallelujah” chorus fill our sanctuaries, let us remember that Jesus is the first fruit of a new creation that works toward the freedom and liberation of all. “My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn” (Glory to God, #100).

For discussion:

How is Easter a new Passover?


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