Easter Sunday

April 11, 2004
See Also: 

Nance 2006
Sauter 2003

John Cobb on atonement
John Cobb on redemption
John Cobb on Jesus

Reading 2: 
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43
Reading 4: 
John 20:1-18

Acts 10: 34-43
Peter’s sermon to the household of Cornelius contains the core of the most ancient proclamation of the good news about Jesus, including Jesus’ earthly ministry as the one “anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power” by God, Jesus’ death by “hanging on a tree,” Jesus’ Resurrection appearances “not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses,” and the promise of the judgment of life and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. On Easter Day, when the liturgical and festival focus is so clearly on the Resurrection, it is helpful to have this lesson set the Resurrection event within the whole context of Jesus’ ministry, and the promise of new life for all people that is proclaimed in his name. We can note especially the relational themes in Peter’s preaching: Peter does not present the news about Jesus as a kind of bare historical fact, something that happened in a merely objective way that must be judged by objective criteria; instead, Peter presents the news about Jesus as something that is woven into his own life and has changed his life in significant ways. “We are witnesses” of all that Jesus did in his earthly ministry, Peter says, and, again, God chose them to be “witnesses” of the Resurrection appearances. The Risen One not only appeared to Peter and the others, but “ate and drank” with them in close relationship. Peter is not only reporting on the event, but was “commanded” to share the news. The truth of the proclamation of Jesus’ New Life is not something to be grasped by external or objective means alone, but can only be experienced in a quality of relationship that opens up a new living possibility in the hearer. Just as Peter has been creatively transformed by his experience of Jesus, so now Cornelius and his household are being creatively transformed by their experience of Peter—or, we might even say, by their experience of Peter’s experience of Jesus. The witness to Resurrection comes not only in reporting the fact, but in creating the relational field of force in which New Life can be experienced.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
This psalm is deeply connected with the Easter tradition, largely through verses 22-23. The “stone that the builders rejected” but which has “become the chief cornerstone” probably referred to the entire nation of Israel in the psalm’s original context; to Christians, of course, it became a reference to Jesus. That God can take what in the temporal world is mere wreckage, in Whitehead’s phrase, and yet bring from it the new possibility that is they keystone for a whole arc of new possibilities—this is indeed God’s doing, “and it is marvelous in our eyes.” The psalm’s song of vindication and triumph, expressed in the first person “I,” allows the congregants on Easter morning the opportunity to internalize and proclaim as their own the faith that God has “become my salvation” and “I shall not die, but I shall live” in the transforming power of God’s grace.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Paul here sets both life and death in a relational context: “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” This can be taken in a historical sense, as Paul himself seems to take it, referring to Adam as the “first parent” of the human race, and to the coming of Christ at “the end” when all things will be fulfilled in the reign of God. But “in Adam” and “in Christ” can also be taken as relational matrices, constellations of qualities or eternal objects that are inherited from our actual worlds and reenacted in our own experiences. The Resurrection of Jesus is the “first fruits,” the original appearance of New Life in the human context; having appeared in the human context, that quality of New Life is now available to be inherited and reenacted in other human lives, as they come into relationship with Jesus. To be raised in Christ is a future hope, but a hope that also works a transformational change in the here-and-now. Because we are in the relational matrix of Christ, we experience the potential of New Life in our immediate experiences; but at the same time we know that the New Life is not complete in us, and therefore we hope beyond this present life toward fulfillment in God. In Whiteheadian terms, we look ahead to our life experiences being taken up into the Consequent Nature of God, where they will be woven into God’s own feeling of the world as one, and from which God will offer new possibilities to the world. That is why we do not hope in Christ “for this life only,” but we hope for the completion of our lives in a relational life that is larger than our own.

John 20:1-18
The Gospel also stresses that the good news of Resurrection can only be grasped in a relational field that opens the possibility of New Life in the hearer. John’s account of how Mary Magdalene becomes the first person to see the Risen Jesus is a masterful turn of storytelling that takes us step-by-step, bit-by-bit, to the moment where relationship reveals New Life. Mary and the women first see that the stone is rolled away from the tomb, but they do not look in. Peter and the “other disciple” run to the tomb; the “other” looks in but does not go in; Peter goes in and sees the linen grave clothes but does not see Jesus. Only then does Mary look in the tomb, and she sees the angels sitting at the head and the foot of the shelf where Jesus’ body lay, but she does not see Jesus. It is only when Mary turns away from the tomb and faces the world again that she sees Jesus, but she does not recognize him and thinks he is the gardener. Then, in one of the most touching moments in the entire New Testament, Jesus calls Mary by name, and she recognizes him and realizes the truth that he is risen. It is in that moment of relationship, when Jesus calls her by name, and only in that moment of relationship that Mary is able to perceive the Resurrection. She can recognize the reality of the New Life in Jesus, because she feels it also echoed in herself: her own desperate grief at Jesus’ death and her almost frantic need to find his body are transformed instantly into joy and devotion when she says to Jesus, “Rabbouni!” She herself receives a gift of new vitality and new possibility for living, and in receiving that gift she is able to recognize its source in the New Life of Jesus standing before her. For Mary, the truth of the Resurrection is not to be argued, but is to be experienced in the new possibilities for living that come in relationship with Jesus as the Risen Christ. That same point is true for the process-relational interpreter and preacher. The Good News of Resurrection is not simply reportage on something that happened a long time ago to Jesus, or to Mary, or to Peter, or to Paul; the Good News of Resurrection is that we also experience New Life, the opening of possibilities for our creative transformation, in relationships that embody and enact the qualities of witness to Jesus. The Gospel of Easter is an invitation to hear ourselves being called by name, to recognize God’s aims and initiatives for our new lives, and to participate in our transformations by the creating grace of God.