Saturday, April 30, 2022

Sunday 8 May 2022 - Easter/Pascha 4

Theme                  The Lamb will be our shepherd 

Sentence             Shine forth from your throne upon the cherubim; restore us O God; show us the light of your face and we shall be saved (Psalm 80:1, 3) [NZPB, p. 597]

Collect                  We praise you, God,
                                That the light of Christ shines in our darkness
                                And is never overcome;
                                Show us the way we must go to eternal day;
          Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [NZPB, p. 598]      
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
                        John 10:22-30

In some ways this week's sermon writes itself: shepherding or pastoral care is a pervasive theme through all readings!

Resurrections apart from the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ were not common occurrences in the first century AD, but they did happen. In Acts 9:36-43 we are told about the death and resurrection of Tabitha. The way Luke tells the story, significant emphasis is put on Tabitha's worthy life as a kind of justification for her receiving this special blessing. 

Given that earlier in the chapter we have been told about Saul/Paul being soundly converted through a special intervention, a most undeserved intervention because of his persecution of Christians, we can scarcely develop a doctrine of salvation by good works from the story of Tabitha! Instead we look at the effects of the miracle (indeed, miracles through chapter 9): 'many believed in the Lord' (v. 42, see also vss. 31, 35). Tabitha was a person whose good deeds made her known to many. Her resurrection became news which spread widely and led to new conversions to the Lord.

Nevertheless a minor theme here is the work of Peter as a shepherd of the flock of Christ: he responds to need, he prays for the one in need, and he does a work of healing.

Our psalm is undoubtedly the most popular and well-known psalm of all, Psalm 23. It might be worth pondering why this psalm is the most popular of all. 

What is in this psalm which leads to its wide and warm reception? What sentiments are in the psalm which give it a timeless appeal? Likely our answers will include the way in which the psalm speaks of life which has its good days and bad, its green pastures and valleys of the shadow of death, sparks hope of better days to come, and offers a rich vision of overflowing provision for our needs. In passing we might note that the language used by the psalmist has a poetic quality so that the style of the poem captures our attention in every generation as much as the substance of its content. It is almost impossible to translate this poem badly!

Nevertheless we could speak to this psalm in a way which makes it 'all about us'! But it is about the Lord. We should not miss the central point of the psalm: the good life in the long run of life which is promised depends entirely on  who our shepherd is, the Lord.

As we approach our epistle reading, Revelation 7:9-17, it might be worth pausing to think about grieving in the congregation! Psalm 23 and this epistle reading are popular choices for funeral services. Could the very act of reading either or both passages connect with grief which is present in our service. A consoling acknowledgement that this might be so, could be worth making.

The vision in Revelation 7 is extraordinary. John the visionary sees a vast multitude, described prior to verse 9 as 

'one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel' (v. 4) 

and in v. 9 described as 

'a great multitude ... from all tribes and peoples and languages.' 

This is Revelation's way of describing the full extent of the people of God, Jews and Gentiles, Israel and the rest of the nations. Here the multitude has a special characteristic, 

'These are those who have come out of the great ordeal' (v. 14). 

Revelation is written out of  and into a context of intense opposition to Christians. Intense opposition to Christians is not the universal experience of Christians today, but it is the appalling experience of many Christians, including Christians in countries such as Syria and Iraq when long-standing Christian communities are being devastated.

Many things can be said from this inspiring vision, for example, about worship, response to opposition, the throne of God, and the christology of Revelation (here repeating a theme, God and the Lamb are worshipped together). Under the theme given above, special attention falls on verses 16 and 17: the Lamb is the shepherd of the suffering saints. With more than a few resonances with Psalm 23, these verses inspire hope. One day suffering will be no more, neither will there be sorrow. Instead life will be pleasant, nourished by 'springs of the water of life.'

John 10 begins with the famous claim of Jesus that 'I am the good shepherd.' 

Our reading, John 10:22-30 initially appears to have 'moved on' from the theme of 'shepherd' as Jesus is relentlessly pursued on the question of whether he is the Messiah or not. In passing we might recall interconnections in the Old Testament re 'shepherd' (or shepherd-king) and 'messiah' (i.e. the Lord's coming anointed one). Jesus' response takes his questioners back to the matter of his being the good shepherd, v. 26. They do not believe (in him) because they do not belong to his sheep. An implication here is that they would believe in him if they were one of his sheep, that is, if they recognised or could see his value to them as their shepherd, they would see further into who he really is.

Jesus then says a few things about the character of the sheep who belong to him: they listen (rather than question) and follow the one who knows them - a knowing which is the knowledge of a caring, loving guide for their lives who (as Jesus goes onto say) will protect them and keep them in his flock.

Then, perhaps unexpectedly, Jesus moves from talking about his role as shepherd to making a theological claim which turns the world of theology upside down: 'The Father and I are one' (v. 30).

John's whole Gospel turns on this claim, on this great insight into who Jesus really is. Jesus is more than a servant (sent by the Father), more than a son (who does the Father's will), more than a prophet (who speaks words given by the Father), more than a teacher ... The servant is one with the Master, the son is one with the Father, the prophet is one with the source of his words, the teacher is one with the origin of his teaching. 'The Father and I are one.'

The Messiah or Christ, in Johannine understanding, is not a subordinate or subservient role in the great plan of salvation. The Messiah comes from God as God; God comes to us as the Christ, the Son of God. Christian theology from henceforth will engage with the paradox of the servant/son who is both subordinate to God and one with God the Father. The Christian movement will part dramatically from its earthly mother, Judaism.

In the season of Easter, this gospel passage invites us to reflect on an implication of the resurrection: when we talk about God raising Jesus from the dead, we are also talking about God being God for whom death cannot be a greater power. In a sense, what John 10:30 means is that the resurrection must take place, for God is not God if subject to a greater power.

In turn, the Godness of God which is confirmed through the resurrection validates the promise Jesus the good shepherd makes here about his sheep not being snatched away: neither shepherd nor sheep are subject to another power, together they form the imperishable flock of God.

Footnote: John 10:29 is a little tricky. Should it read, as the NRSV main text has it:

What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand.

Or, should it read (with different ancient authorities), what it has as a footnote,

My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father's hand.

This equals what the REB makes its main text! 

The latter smoothes out a difficulty in the former, which on a basic principle of textual criticism means the former (as the more difficult reading) is more likely to be original. But the original is very difficult to understand (What is the "what"/"it" which the Father has given Jesus?). Is it at all possible that the original writer has made a mistake and the correction is actually what he intended to say? The latter version is nicely consistent with what is (indisputedly) written in verse 28!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Sunday 1 May 2022 - Pascha/Easter 3

Theme                  Breakfasting with Jesus            

Sentence            Jesus showed himself to his disciples and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. Alleluia! (Acts 1:3)        [NZPB, p. 594]          

Collect                  God of peace,
                                By the blood of the eternal covenant;
                                You brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,
                                That great shepherd of the sheep;
                                Make us perfect in every good work,
                                And work in us that which is pleasing and good;
                                Through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen. [NZPB, p. 597]        

                                Acts 9:1-6
                                Psalm 30                                 
      Revelation 5:11-14
                                John 21:1-19


General observation about post-resurrection readings in the gospels: between Matthew, Luke and John a form of apology or defence of the resurrection faith is presented. Matthew's narrative in ch. 28 rebuts the charge that the tomb was empty because the disciples stole the body of Jesus. Luke's narrative in ch. 24 twice makes the case that the risen Jesus was a physical person to the extent that he ate and drank with disciples. John's narrative in ch. 20 makes the case that a believer who has not directly experienced the risen Jesus is no less privileged than the believer who has had that experience. In ch. 21 John also presents Jesus in 'physical' mode, but more making breakfast than eating it! John may also be defending a strand of Christianity ('Johannine Christianity') as valid alongside the strand associated with Simon Peter.

Acts 9:1-6

Paul (then known as Saul) encounters the risen Christ in a manner unusual for the telling of the history of Jesus through Luke-Acts. After the ascension (i.e. cessation of appearances of the risen Jesus Christ as 'earth-bound' experiences), the risen Christ appears to Paul. According to the narrative, Paul does not necessarily 'see' an 'appearance' of the risen Jesus: we are told he experiences a 'light from heaven' and hears the voice of Jesus, a voice also heard by his companions. Nevertheless in his own account, 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul describes this event as an 'appearance', using the same word to described the appearances before the ascension to the apostles and other disciples.

Many things can be said about this passage; for instance, there is a body of literature on the extent to which in this appearance Paul also received the whole revelation of the gospel which drove forward his subsequent preaching and writing, including his conviction that the gospel was for Gentile as well as Jew. Here we note two points.

First, the murderous intent of Saul/Paul against 'disciples of the Lord' is described by Jesus as persecution of himself (compare 9:1-2 with 9:5, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.') This could be an implied theology of the body of Christ: the church is the body of Christ on earth, to persecute the church is to persecute Christ. It could also be an insight into Saul/Paul's psychological state: he was outwardly raging against disciples, but the anger within was actually an anger focused on Christ (e.g. as a disruptive figure who was disturbing the settled state of Judaism).

Secondly, the transformation of Paul, from bloodthirsty crusader against disciples to humbly obedient disciple  is a paradigm of conversion. 

Psalm 30

Sticking with Paul, in his great discourse on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, one of the puzzling statements he makes is this (v. 4): 'that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.' Ever since Christians have wondered, where in the Old Testament do we find 'scriptures' which look ahead either generally to the resurrection or specifically to resurrection 'on the third day'. One possibility for the latter is Hosea 6:2. Our psalm today is chosen as a text which speaks generally to the possibility of resurrection. The psalmist (David?) speaks of a transformation from death to life, from weeping to joy, and from mourning to dancing.

Since David did not himself write this as a resurrected person, he must originally have been speaking of the situation in his life when all looked bleak and dark but God led him to a better place.

One aspect of resurrection which applies to us in this life is that we see God at work in raising Jesus from the dead as the God who is able to 'raise' us up from difficult situations.

Revelation 5:11-14

This portion of the great vision of the open heaven in Revelation 4-5 takes us to the slain but conquering Lamb, that is, to the risen Lord Jesus Christ (see also Revelation 1:13-20). Captured for us is the most appropriate and timeless response to the risen Jesus: worship!

The Lamb is 'worthy' of worship, on heaven and on earth, because he was 'slain/slaughtered' for us (we might go back to John's Gospel, 1:29, 36; also to 1 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Peter 1:18-19 for a range of insights into Christ as the Lamb slain for us). But we worship no dead Lamb. The Lamb has conquered (sin and death) and exists forever with God on the divine throne, together 'the one seated on the throne' and 'the Lamb' constitute for Revelation's vision one object of worship.

John 21:1-19

This story is full of 'angles'. A good commentary will help with possible solutions to the puzzle of significance of the number "153".*

Here I simply observe that the story begins with: 

one point being pressed (the reality of the resurrection as a real time event with many witnesses to subsequent appearances of the risen Jesus, appearances not confined to Jerusalem and its surrounds); 

moves through another point (the forgiveness and restoration of the thrice-denying-Jesus Peter with a thrice-affirming-commission); 

and ends just before a further point is pressed home about discipleship (21:20-23). This last point is that discipleship takes varied but equally valid forms.

In other words, in keeping with the feel of John 21, that it is an 'epilogue' or 'afterword' to the main part of the gospel, some loose ends are tied up here. The gospel ends perfectly well with 20:30-31. The addition of John 21 (it need not matter for the present purpose whether by the author's hand or by the hand of a later editor) suggests a community which engaged with this gospel and raised some important questions. Now they are answered.

That might be a clue to how we preach from this passage on Easter 3. What are our pressing questions about the resurrection or about how we are to live for Christ as people of the resurrection? What answers would Jesus himself give, as he himself answered the questions being answered here? 

Broadly speaking the questions being answered here are still our questions today:
- Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen? John answers "Yes!"
- Will God forgive me and restore me to divine communion, ever when I have denied my Lord and let him down badly and repeatedly? John answers "Yes!"
- What does it mean to follow Jesus? John answers "All disciples follow Jesus wherever he leads them, whether to peaceful death in old age or to martyrdom."

Nevertheless, another way to approach this portion of Scripture is to note the emphasis on feeding:

- there is a breakfast and Jesus will feed the disciples at it;
- there is a conversation with Simon Peter which involves challenging Peter in his love for Jesus to do what Jesus wants which is to nurture and to nourish the church (the lambs and sheep of Jesus).

Jesus feeds the disciples; the disciples are to feed other disciples. (See also a comment in the section below about the number 153).

The net was not torn (v. 11)

In a chapter on fishing and following Jesus, our minds are taken to Jesus' commission to the first disciples that they will become fishers of people. Jesus' expectation is that his movement will grow. Here the unbroken net speaks of a promise of Jesus that no matter how large his movement grows, it will cope with growth.

*The number 153:
- it is a perfect number, i.e. a number of the form, 1 + 2 + 3 + ... + n. In this case, 1+ 2 + 3 + ... + 17. (Also known as a "triangular" number.)
- it is the sum of 3 squared plus 12 squared: 9 + 144 = 53.
- the square root of 153 is 12.37 which is the number of lunar months in a calendar year [so I read recently!].

Thus, it is possible, that John focuses on this intriguing number because it speaks to the mathematically inclined Greek reader of harmony and order in the universe, in the creation of the Creator (cf. John 1:1ff). 

Another possibility, once observed by the ancient scholar Jerome, is that 153 is the then known number of fish species in the world, to 153 speaks of the inclusion in the net of the whole world of people. This has been challenged, however, because some in the ancient world thought the number was 157, and that Jerome misunderstood his source on the number 153.

More promising in my own view, because it relates 153 to a major theme in the passage, the theme of feeding, is this: if 153 is the triangular number of 17, then where do we find 17 in John's Gospel? A possible answer is John 6:13 (my bold):

So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.

12 + 5 = 17.

Are the 153 fish a thematic connection to the feeding of the five thousand and thus to the great sermon by Jesus on the Bread of Life in John 6?

If so, then the disciples are to feed other disciples, making Jesus the Bread of Life available to them.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Sunday 24 April 2022 - Pascha/Easter 2 (Thomas Sunday)

 Theme                  When Jesus appeared to his disciples    

Sentence             Let us give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Alleluia! (Colossians 1:12) [NZPB, 595]

Collect                  Jesus, we believe you; all we heard is true.
                                You break the bread; we recognise you,
                                You are the fire that burns within us;
                                Use us to light the world,
                                Through the power of your Spirit. Amen.

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29
Revelation 1:4-8
                        John 20:19-31

The theme for the day and the season is clear, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each passage speaks to and about this theme. 

If last Sunday was 'the day' of resurrection, a day to reflect on the momentous discovery of the empty tomb and the initial reactions to that, then this Sunday is a day to reflect further (or deeper) on the resurrection. We might, as one instance, reflect on what the resurrection means for individual believers (what inspires us, what challenges us). For another instance we might reflect on where the resurrected Jesus is today (e.g. the body of Christ on earth, the church).

But John's Gospel passage opens a wide open door to several possible sub-themes under the general theme of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Doubting Thomas, John 20:24-29. We do not need to doubt the resurrection. Jesus was raised from the dead and presented himself for proof to his disciples, including doubting Thomas. 

Doubting Thomas accepted what his eyes (if not his hands) told him: Jesus had been raised from the dead. 

Will we trust Thomas and accept the Lord's word to him, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

2. Apostolic Commission, John 20:21 (or 20:21-23). "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 

With these words the Lord commissions his disciples for their work in the world. This work is a straight-line continuation of Christ's own mission: they will serve as he has served; they will go where he has gone. 

Simply as a post-resurrection commission this is both different (in words used) to the post-resurrection commissions in Matthew 28:20 and Luke 24:44-49 = Acts 1:1-8 and similar (in meaning) to the same commissions. 

In particular we might usefully observe that Acts in relation to Luke's Gospel is the disciples doing what Jesus did as they continue and expand the mission of Jesus.

The resurrection, in this perspective, is a validation of who Jesus is, the Son of God. 

But the resurrection does not mean the Son of God remains visible in the world: the risen Jesus does not 'hang around'. Rather the resurrection is the conclusion of Christ's physical presence on earth as Jesus of Nazareth. From now on he will be physically present in the world through his disciples.

For us, the resurrection celebrations lead to the resurrection challenge: to go as, and where Jesus sends us.

3. Johannine Pentecost, John 20:21-23

In Luke 24:44-49 = Acts 1:1-8, the commission to preach the gospel throughout the world is accompanied by the promise of the Holy Spirit's power. 

Here also, as John presents this first resurrection day appearance of the Lord to his gathered disciples, the commission of Christ is accompanied by talk of the Holy Spirit. 

On this occasion there is no promise of a future coming of the Holy Spirit but the direct gifting of the Holy Spirit as Jesus 'breathes' on them and states,

"Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (verses 22-23).

Some commentators call this the Johannine Pentecost!

We could tie ourselves in knots trying to reconcile what John offers here with Luke's account of the promise and then actuality of Pentecost (e.g. is it a separate occasion, the same occasion told in a different way, were both Luke and John attempting to create a narrative explanation of the experienced power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers?

The meaning of this occasion is clear: the risen Jesus will not remain but the disciples will; they will do what Jesus has been doing; the power to fulfill Christ's commission will be the very power of the Father and of the Son: the Holy Spirit (as already taught by Jesus, John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15).

The resurrection releases the power of God, the Holy Spirit, into the lives of those willing to be sent as the Father sent the Son. If we want the power we need to obey; if we obey we will receive the power!

Acts 5:27-32

Peter and the apostles have been brought before "the council" and "the high priest" himself is questioning them, as well he might do as the preceding passage has told us of the rising popularity of the apostles as they preach and heal, of their being imprisoned by the high priest but then released from prison by angelic intervention.

They are told off by the high priest because they had been instructed "not to teach in this name." Peter and the apostles give an answer which ever since has driven forward courageous Christian witness,

"We must obey God rather than any human authority."

The concise testimony then given by Peter and the apostles nails the resurrection of Jesus as decisive for their bold "rebellion" against the authority standing before them.

"The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree."

If Jesus had died on the cross ("tree" here recalls Deuteronomy 21:22-33) without further ado, then the authority of the high priest and his council would have been unquestioned. But there was further ado, God "raised up Jesus." Logically, the authority of this God is greater than the authority of the humans who had condemned Jesus to death.

This testimony (as elsewhere in the New Testament) connects "resurrection" with "exaltation." God does not merely bring Jesus back to life, God exalts him to the highest place "at his right hand." Thus Jesus is vindicated, his death has not been an irrevocable curse because it is transformed into a blessing ("that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.")

Psalm 118:14-29

This is a mighty song of praise, worth singing in response to the mighty work of God in raising Jesus from the dead and exalting him to God's right hand (see Acts 5:27-32).

But it is also a passage with some key Christian understandings about who Jesus was and is, and what God has done in and through him, most importantly the notion that Christ was "the stone the builders rejected" now "become the chief cornerstone." (See Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10,11; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4-7).

Revelation 1:4-8

Although most of Revelation is visions full of dark portents and challenging insights into the present and future course of the battle between God's holy goodness and evil's dastardly machinations and thus we think of this book as an "apocalypse" (or "disclosure"), these verses read like John is writing a letter to churches in true Pauline style!

We won't stop on this particular Sunday of Pascha to study each detail (and thus, potentially be gloriously sidetracked into wondering why God is described in temporal terms (v. 4) and the Holy Spirit is described in terms of "seven spirits" (v.4).) 

Rather, we will focus on Jesus Christ, described in v. 5 as 
- "the faithful witness" (that is, a model of what Christians will need to be in the face of the onslaught of evil depicted in the pages that follow);
- "the firstborn of the dead" (that is, the forerunner for all martyrs for the faith: death at the hands of persecutors will not be the end of life);
- "and the ruler of the kings of the earth" (that is, the true king of kings who eventually will triumph over all human kings, including the Roman emperor).

When John goes on to offer a song of praise to Jesus Christ, v. 5b-6, he also notes to his readers the effect of Jesus' death and resurrection: they (and we) are loved, freed from our sins, made to be a kingdom of priests serving God.

Verse 7 then presupposes the resurrection because one who has died and not been resurrected is unable to come again to earth. 

In verse 7 John combines (or cites from previous Christian combining) Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10-12 to offer a vision of Jesus Christ the coming judge of all the earth, whose appearance will be particularly challenging for those responsible for his death.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Sunday 17 April 2022 - Pascha [Easter]

Theme                  When Jesus was raised to life    

Sentence             Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed. To him be the glory and dominion for ever and ever. Alleluia! (Luke 24:34; Revelation 1:6) [NZPB, 592].

Collect                  Jesus Christ our Saviour,
                                You have delivered us
                                From death and sin
                                You have brought with the dawn
                                A new beginning and an empty tomb;
                                Grant us strength and humility
                                To enter into life. Amen. [NZPB, 592]     

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
                        Luke 24:1-12


There are variations in the lectionary. I am going with the gospel reading from Luke because Luke is the gospel for this year.

At the foot of the post are some general remarks about the resurrection narratives in the New Testament which I have published on my main blog, Anglican Down Under.

Our readings for today are coherently focused on the single topic of resurrection, God raising Jesus from the dead. The 'line' we could take in our sermon is varied.
- An apologetic meeting of possible doubts in the minds of the congregation?
- An account of the immense miracle constituted by raising someone from the dead?
- The vindication of all Jesus claimed in his teaching and deeds?
- The difference Jesus makes to life - to our lives - because he conquered death?
- The new world order created by resurrection life invading the normal world order?

Acts 10:34-43

This is a masterly summary of the gospel which repays careful study beyond the specific attention it gives to the resurrection. Here we might be especially interested in verse 40, which makes a distinction between God raising Jesus from the dead and allowing him to appear, and verse 41, which nails an often observed fact about the appearances, that they were made to those who already knew Jesus (a famous exception being Saul/Paul) and not to the public at large.

The distinction in verse 40 means that the act of raising Jesus from the dead is a specific action by God, a consequence of which are appearances of the risen Jesus. Contrary to some ways of explaining the resurrection, the resurrection of Christ did not consist of a set of appearances to people, a not unknown occurrence after death in which grieving people experience the presence of a loved one. The resurrection was first an action by God. Jesus died and was buried but "on the third day" something happened to his body which can described only in terms of being "raised." The four gospels unitedly attest to the logical consequence of being raised from the dead: the tomb was emptied of Jesus' body. The theme of a bodily raising of Jesus continues in the second part of verse 40 as Peter describes eating and drinking with Jesus "after he rose from the dead."

It is important to note the word used in verse 41 to describe the people to whom Jesus appeared: "witnesses." Jesus did not appear, so to speak, to comfort distraught followers, or as a kind of divine party trick. He appeared so that those who experienced him as their risen Lord and Saviour might testify to him. So Peter continues in verse 42, "He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead."

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

We have already used this psalm on Palm Sunday (principally verses 26-29). Here we repeat its reading in our service because it speaks to the triumph of God over death in raising his Son: verses 17, 18, 22 in particular. In the reality of Jesus' life and death there is variance from the psalm: Jesus was given over to death. But his death was not permanent, he has not been given over to the state of death in perpetuity. With the psalmist Jesus could say, verses 17-18,

"I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death."

Our response on this Pascha would then be verse 24:

"This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it."

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

It is not just that Christ has been raised from the dead (as a kind of "stand alone" miracle). A new possibility for humanity has begun, "the resurrection from the dead." Christ's resurrection is a "first fruits" of this  new dimension to life. Our hope for our own resurrection lies completely within Christ's resurrection.

Resurrection here is a victory over the powers that oppose God, and in particular the power of death which is the "last enemy to be destroyed." From this vantage point we see that resurrection is not an unusual or weird occasion (as some might try to paint it). Rather if God is God, the Great Power over all lesser powers, then death cannot, must not and will not have the last word on life. God is greater than death and the resurrection is both evidence for God's power and the result of God's power at work in Christ.

Luke 24:1-12

One of the interesting things about the resurrection narratives is the risky way they are told! 

Mark 16:1-8 (the likely original ending of that gospel) leaves us thinking that the first witnesses of the empty tomb told no one about it (when obviously they did). 

Matthew both admits and then rejects an explanation for the empty tomb that the disciples stole the body. 

All four accounts offer women as the first witnesses to the resurrection (in those days, it is thought, they were deemed to be counted as unreliable as witnesses)

Here Luke shares some of this riskiness but puts in his own oddity when he declares that the apostles didn't believe the women (verse 11) then straightaway has Peter running off to the tomb as though he did believe them! 

A possible explanation for the interesting ways in which the resurrection stories are conveyed to us is that the gospel writers understood that their readers had their own doubts and so they tried both to encourage them ("Look, the apostles doubted too!") and persuade them otherwise ("Look, Jesus did rise from the dead, lots of people attest to that!").

At this stage in the way Luke develops his account of Jesus' resurrection, the emphasis is on the empty tomb and the witnesses to that - angels, women, Peter.

Only from verse 13 onwards, in the story of the two disciples going to Emmaus, will Luke tell his readers about the risen Jesus himself appearing to his followers. Eventually, in verse 33, we find that the doubts of the eleven have been met through an appearance to Simon (and in verse 36 Jesus will appear to the gathered throng, including eating with them). In this way Luke anticipates the distinction we noted above in Acts 10:40: the raising of the dead Jesus is one event, and the appearances of the risen Jesus Christ is another.

General Remarks about the Resurrection Narratives: drawn from a post some years ago on Anglican Down Under

Meanwhile this is the season once again to reflect on the sacred mysteries of Holy Week and Pascha. I suggest we work backwards from the Resurrection. If Jesus had died on the cross and that was the end of his life, what would his legacy have been? Not much, I suggest. A paragraph, perhaps, in the history of impact-making rabbis of Israel under the Romans, mentioning some notable healings and memorable insights into the rule of God in the world. Maybe today scholars of Judaism would produce a monograph or two on ancient magicians among the rabbis, notably Jeshua ben Joseph. Perhaps there would be a brief headline making news item that the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran had been identified by an unusually radical scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls as that same Jeshua ben Joseph.

It is the resurrection which makes the difference here, which sets the Jesus movement on a trajectory which will see Christianity separate from Judaism and which drives the leaders of that movement to see in Jesus things which were not obvious to them when they walked the dusty roads of Palestine with him. We read the gospels historically forwards from Jesus' beginnings to his end because that is the way the narrative is told, but theologically we should begin with the resurrection and read backwards. What was it about the resurrection which led to the telling of the story of Jesus in the way that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John  and, also, Paul told it?

That is why, to offer a first reflection this Holy Week, the question of the witness to the resurrection is vital to Christianity. Deny the resurrection and everything about our claims to truth falls over. Personally I find the variations between the gospels, 1 Corinthians 15 and, say, Acts 10:34-43 puzzling. Why isn't the account of that collective written witness, bound in the one New Testament, more consistent? 

Modern skeptics have driven a horse and cart full of doubts through the lack of consistency (even, some might say, inconsistency). Yet closer inspection yields more consistency than some are prepared to allow. At the bedrock of each gospel narrative is the empty tomb. These narratives are consistent on the fact that the crucified body of Jesus was placed in the tomb, on the third day the tomb was empty, and thereafter the risen (i.e. raised up from the tomb) Jesus appeared to people.

This, further, is consistent with two accounts which do not explicitly mention the emptiness of the tomb, Acts 10:34-43 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. What is 'raised on the third day' phrasing in these passages about but an act of raising from the dead, a raising of the physical body of Jesus which leaves the tomb empty. (I suggest we can talk in this way and still have a debate about what kind of "body" the earthly body of Jesus was transformed to, in the act of resurrection, noting that the resurrection accounts attest to a new body of Jesus which is different to the former body, e.g. appearing at will in an otherwise locked room). 

Acts 10:40 beautifully distinguishes between the raising and the subsequent appearances, 

'God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear.

So also 1 Corinthians 15:4-5, 

'he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve'. 

If the tomb was not empty why mention the act of raising from the dead and not proceed straight to the accounts of the appearances of Jesus?

Running these accounts together, with all their variations, I suggest we can account for the variations in a couple of ways. 

First and foremost, we get the impression that Jesus appeared on a number of occasions to a range of witnesses. 

Between the four gospel writers and Paul's 'tradition' account in 1 Corinthians 15 we receive a set of accounts with heavy selection at work. Paul's tradition is focused on the appearances to the leadership of the Jesus movement, with the exception of the appearance to 'more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time'. 

The four gospels uniformly emphasise the immediate witnesses to the resurrection, women. Matthew, Mark and Luke (distinct from Acts 1) move quickly from the immediate experience of the risen Jesus to his departure (albeit somewhat implicitly in Mark). 

Only Acts 1 and John 21 imply a period of more than a few days or weeks in which Jesus remained with his disciples. Together these witnesses to the variety of Jesus' appearances do not provide anything like a coherent account of the history of Jesus between resurrection and ascension. That, perhaps, leads us to a second reason for the variations between accounts.

Secondly, we get the impression that the gospel writers in their gospels are focused on providing for their readers an account of the ordinary human life of Jesus, prior to death. 

The continuing presence of the risen Jesus via the Holy Spirit in the movement perhaps made unnecessary a prolonged account of the period between resurrection and ascension. (Luke, in his 'sequel' to the life of Jesus unveils in Acts many ways in which the risen Jesus post-ascension continues to engage with the movement). What their accounts needed was a wrap up and what we find is that the accounts of the resurrection are overlaid with conclusions to the gospels as a whole (or, in the case of Mark 16:1-8, we might say, denuded of a conclusion via intentional abruptness in the closing of the account - a kind of anti-conclusion).

Thus Matthew draws us rapidly to the Great Commission and Luke does so similarly, but in a challenging manner because in Luke 24 he almost conveys the impression that a long day (of about 25 hours?) elapses from raising to commissioning-and-ascending whereas Acts 1 is explicit that the period was 40 days. (Luke also manages the most flagrant rewriting of gospel tradition when he converts Mark's "you will see him in Galilee" into "as he said in Galilee", Mark 16:7//Luke 24:6, in the cause of emphasising the resurrected Jesus in Jerusalem and its immediate environs).

John works in a different manner, having proposed through his gospel that everything is going on all at once ("my hour"): death and departure, cross and glory, descent and ascent. Thus his Pentecost occurs on the day of Resurrection but there is a epilogue or two as a week elapses before the appearance to Thomas and then further time before the appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. But like his evangelical colleagues, John is all through the 'resurrection' time wrapping up his gospel: so there is a closing word to skeptics among the believers via the encounter with Thomas, then there is a word, via John 21, to Christian groups divided over leadership of the church as the first century comes to a close.

In the end, then, I am arguing that the accounts of the resurrection, between the gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians have a coherency when we dig beneath the varied ways of wrapping up the narratives of Jesus' earthly life, acknowledge the basic facts which are shared (principally the emptiness of the tomb and the sheer multiplicity of appearances), and allow that different things mattered to different writers.

We need not doubt that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. That is the witness of the apostles. But what was the impact of the resurrection on understanding who Jesus was prior to death and who Jesus is after resurrection? Jesus rising from the dead in the midst of ancient Judaism in Israel in the first century AD was like a fox in a chicken coop. A certain theological mayhem ensued. The epistles effectively tell us about the mayhem and that it was a good kind of mayhem!