Here is a sample bulletin from Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, in which services for the Three Days are bound together.
Maundy Thursday – April 18, 2019
Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another as he loves us. Write this commandment in our hearts, and give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 – Passover. Yahweh to Moses and Aaron: This month shall be the beginning of months for you. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 – What shall I give the Lord for his benefit to me? I will lift the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 – Paul’s Eucharistic theology: I passed on to you what I received: The words of institution.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. A new commandment I give you: Love one another.
First of all, on the Thursday before Easter we remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, in which he offered them bread and wine and saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Secondly, we remember him taking off his outer garment, kneeling downs and washing his disciples’ feet, saying, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” To be a Christian is to serve other with humility.
Finally, we remember Jesus’ words on this night, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning “command.” On this night, the night before his crucifixion, we remember Jesus’ command to eat bread and drink wine together, “Do this in remembrance of me,” to lead through humble service, and to love one another.
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them…
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Since the wedding of Cana we have been hearing, “my hour has not yet come.” Well, now we are told the hour has come.
The word “love“ appears seven times in John 13. “Love” is mentioned 39 times in John’s Gospel, more than the other three Gospels combined. One might be led to think this is an important theme.
Elisabeth Johnson, professor at the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Meiganga, Cameroon, points out that Jesus does not focus on Judas, but rather on his mission. He is a servant who talks about being glorified, and glorifying God. He exemplifies this glorification by taking on the role of the lowest servant/slave. This is the opposite of the glorification of the Roman cursus honorum, in which one ascended from slavery to divinity by a series of predetermined steps. This concept of divinity is a self-emptying movement of downward mobility from divinity to servanthood.
John wants us to know that when it came time to deliver his last sermon to his inner circle, Jesus talked about love and service at the center of things. “By this shall all people know you are my disciples…” Love is the defining mark of the church. What if love was the defining mark of your church? What could stop a church like that?
Merciful God, your Son was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to himself. Grant that we who have been born out of his wounded side may at all times find mercy in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 – Suffering servant: Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
Psalm 22 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
Hebrews 10:16-25 – Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins. By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. This is the covenant: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
John 18:1 – 19:42 – Jesus’ arrest, trail and crucifixion, all the way to his burial by Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus.
The Good Friday Liturgy
The Good Friday liturgy is on page 326 of the Evangelical Lutheran Worship pew edition and 634 of the ELW Leaders’ Desk Edition. There are no paraments for the Good Friday service. They were removed during the Maundy Thursday stripping of the altar. The altar is completely bare. Crosses that cannot be removed are veiled. The service begins and ends in silence.
The liturgy is simple, and similar to the Roman Catholic rite, only without communion. Hymns are sung without instruments or with minimal accompaniment.
- Prayer of the day
- Three readings
- Bidding prayer
- Procession of the cross, and
- The Solemn Reproaches
The pastor may be vested in just an alb, without stole, to symbolize the austerity of the service. The earlier Lutheran Book of Worship Manual on the Liturgy discouraged stoles and chasubles as “inappropriate.” (p. 321) Some congregations vest the pastor in a black cassock, With or without the surplice. Roman Catholic rubrics call for red. Some wear purple. So, the practice is all over the map in North American Lutheranism.
3:00 is the tradition time for the Good Friday service, but in societies where people have to work, the service is often done later. In Texas, Good Friday is a state holiday (one of eleven states).
The Solemn Reproaches
As you prepare for Good Friday, click here for Mark Mummert’s helpful blog post on The Solemn Reproaches for Good Friday.
In the Good Friday rite of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, one of the options during the Procession of the Cross is to sing the Solemn Reproaches. This ancient text, known also as the Improperia, first appeared in Good Friday or Holy Saturday rites of the ninth century. The text then slowly spread in use through the middle ages and then was finally added to the Roman rite in the fourteenth century. One of the great controversies with the ancient text is its anti-Semitic stance and usage. This known history makes the use of the text today very difficult. But, thankfully, the Evangelical Lutheran Worship text of the Reproaches has been revised for contemporary usage.
The structure of the text is simple: each reproach begins with an expansion on Micah 6:3: “O my people, [O my church,] what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!” Then, each reproach continues with a new biblical claim, not unlike that of Micah 6:4; “I brought you up from the land of Egypt…” Finally, each reproach concludes “…but you have prepared a cross for your savior.” The assembly responds to each reproach with a petition for mercy; in the ELW text the response is the Trisagion (the “thrice holy”) of the eastern church: “Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.”
The biblical claims are a tour de force of scriptural allusions, from both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament:
- I led you out of slavery into freedom;
- I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud and fire;
- I made you branches of the vine and never left your side;
- I gave you the kingdom and crowned you with eternal life;
- I washed your feet as a sign of my love;
- I raised you from death and prepared for you a tree of life;
The next to last reproach in the ELW text merits the most attention.
O my people, O my church, what more could I have done for you?
I grafted you into my people Israel,
but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt,
and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.
Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal,
have mercy on us.
This additional reproach in the classically anti-Semitic text calls the church to repentance of all earlier versions. Further, when sung in the Good Friday liturgy in which the Passion from John’s gospel could be heard as an indictment of the Jewish nation, this reproach, along with the newly reworked Bidding Prayer in the ELW Good Friday rite will helps considerably.
Various musical settings of the Solemn Reproaches exist that allow for the reproach to be sung by a cantor and the response by the assembly. Several settings, including one that Mark composed, are included in the Music Sourcebook for Lent and the Three Days from Augsburg Fortress.
One last word: these Reproaches find themselves in a rite that is widely unknown among ELCA congregations. Churches do lots of different things on Good Friday — tenebre, three hours with the “seven last words,” cantatas, even requiems (which Mark does not recommend). Mark strongly recommends the Good Friday rite as it is in ELW.
Good Friday: Hung from a Tree
According to James Cone, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Martin Luther King was a young, 27-year-old pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama when 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till was lynched in Mississippi, for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Till was visiting from Chicago. Roy Bryant and Roy’s half-brother J. W. Milam abducted him, then beat and mutilated the teenager. They were acquitted. Later, protected by double jeopardy, they admitted to killing the boy.
Emmitt Till’s lynching was the most recent in a long line of lynchings used to control and strike fear in the black population since the Civil War outlawed slavery. Lynchings were announced in the newspaper in advance, and sometimes attended by thousands of people. Hot dogs were sold, and postcards were made next to the mutilated and burned body hanging from the tree. Victims were frequently tortured prior to being shot or burned. Convictions were rare. Reports after the fact said the lynchings were perpetrated by “persons unknown.” One could be lynched for making eye-contact with a white person.
Roy Wilkins, the executive head of the NAACP, spoke for many: “It would appear from this lynching that the State of Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children.” [Cone, James H. (2011-09-01). The Cross and the Lynching Tree (p. 66). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.]
After the Civil War, up to the lynching of Emmit Till, thousands of black men and boys were lynched, causing some to comment that life was worse for blacks than during the slave era. Some white Christians spoke out against such atrocities, but it was unsafe to do so. Some collaborated, and the rest were merely silent in the face of such evil. Silence, of course, implies consent. The innocent were hung from a tree at the hands of those in power.
This is astounding: that few could see Christ in the face of the black man, or boy, hanging from a tree. The utter inability to identify the lynched with the crucified is an indictment on white Christianity.
To be a people of the cross means seeing the cross not merely in the past, but in the present as well. In the cross of Christ, God sides definitively with the despised, dispossessed, disenfranchised and powerless of the world – those deprived of their lives. Who are these people today?
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
It should come as no surprise that the African American community came to identify with the suffering servant, the crucified one, as had so many oppressed people throughout history. Can the rich and powerful understand the cross? Can they perceive the kingdom of God? Perhaps, Jesus said, insomuch as a camel can go through the eye of a needle.
I was a 36-year-old pastor in Conroe, Texas in the summer of 1998 when James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas by three men, two of whom were white supremacists. He was dragged three miles behind a pickup truck on an asphalt road. He died when his body hit the edge of a culvert, severing his arm and head. They drove another mile, then deposited his torso in front of an African American cemetery. Of the three perpetrators, one died by lethal injection, one is on death row, and the other has life in prison. But locals were strangely quiet about the event. Jasper is in our synod.
How are people taught to devalue human life in this way? Or, how is it that we are taught to devalue some lives more than others?
When white police officers can shoot unarmed black men who are running from them, and not get convicted, even when the entire episode is caught on camera, how much different is this than a lynching? Do we have the courage to proclaim the cross today, in our context?
Jesus is crucified every day. Can we see the miscarriages of justice in our day, or do we remain silent? Sandra Bland was stopped for failing to signal. Because she refused to put out her cigarette, she was dragged her from her car, thrown to the ground and handcuffed. She was found later, hung in her jail cell. Her death was ruled a suicide.
A few months earlier Freddie Gray was killed in Baltimore after being arrested for carrying a switchblade. The previous year Eric Garner was killed after being put in a choke hold. Michael Brown, Jr. was shot to death by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. No charges were filed. 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death in seconds for brandishing a toy gun in a park.
This is just a small sample of dozens of such incidents. Over 100 unarmed black people were shot in 2015. How shall we respond? Do we have eyes to see the cross in these events? Are we willing to speak up when we see others become victims of injustice? As followers of the Crucified One, do we have any choice?
For the loved ones who grieve these senseless deaths, it seems little can console. Suffering poses a test of faith. Emmitt Till’s mother found hope beyond tragedy in the Crucified One. The innocent one hanging from a cross, who died and rose again, whose name we know and whose stories we tell 2,000 years later, turned “defeat into triumph, ugliness into beauty, despair into hope, the cross into the resurrection.” [Cone, James H. (2011-09-01). The Cross and the Lynching Tree (p. 69). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.]
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
2 Cor 4:8-10
Cone points that out Barth, Tillich, and Niebuhr, white theologians who spoke frequently about the cross, had little to nothing to say about the manifestation of the cross in contemporary American society: lynchings. How could they have missed this?
Not every white religious leader missed the point. German Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, for defying the Third Reich’s racist policies. “When Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, revised and unabridged ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1959, p. 99.)
The cross is more than a nifty logo for religious folks to hang around their necks. It is a stunning statement of power through weakness. The cross is the defining heart of the Christian faith. It represents God’s love for humanity, all of humanity, even the outcast and downcast. The cross is God’s definitive statement in favor of the poor and powerless of the world, who are so often cast into the trash by the rich and powerful.
It is not enough to place the cross in the context of the Roman Empire. We must see it in the context of our empire today. It is the Christian impulse to seek out the least, the last and the lost in our world today. It is our impulse to shed light on evil in our world today.
Are you suffering today? Christ is with you. He suffered unfairly as well. Know that you are loved with an everlasting love. Are those around you suffering? Let us receive new eyes, to see the cross in our context.
Eternal giver of life and light, this holy night shines with the radiance of the risen Christ. Renew your church with the Spirit given us in baptism, that we may worship you in sincerity and truth and may shine as a light in the world, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Hebrew Bible Readings:
- Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a– Creation.
Response:Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26
- Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13– Flood.
- Genesis 22:1-18 – Testing of Abraham.
- Exodus 14:10-31;15:20-21 – Deliverance at the Red Sea.
Response:Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18
- Isaiah 55:1-11– Ho! Salvation offered freely to all.
- Proverbs 8:1-8; 19-21; 9:4b-6or Baruch 3:9-15, 32 – 4:4– The wisdom of God.
Response: Psalm 19
- Ezekiel 36:24-28– A new heart and a new spirit.
Response:Psalm 42 and 43
- Ezekiel 37:1-14– The valley of the dry bones.
- Zephaniah 3:14-20– The gathering of God’s people.
- Jonah 1:1-2:1– The deliverance of Jonah.
Response:Jonah 2:2-3 [4-6] 7-9
- Isaiah 61:1-4, 9-11– Clothed in the garments of salvation.
Response: Deuteronomy 32:1-4, 7, 36a, 43a
- Daniel 3:1-29– Deliverance from the fiery furnace.
Response: Song of the Three, vv. 35-65 (apocryphal)
Romans 6:3-11 – We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
John 20:1-18 – Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to Mary Magdalene
RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD – April 21, 2019
God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon: We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…
Isaiah 65:17-25 – I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – God’s steadfast love endures forever.
I Corinthians 15:19-26 – Paul’s discourse on the resurrection. Death as the final enemy.
Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon: We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…
John 20:1-18 – Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to Mary Magdalene
Luke 24:1-12 – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women with them find the stone rolled away, encounter an angel, and run to tell the apostles.
Looking Ahead Through Easter
Easter is April 21, 2019. The great 50 days of Easter takes us to Pentecost on June 9, 2019. A week of weeks.
- April 21, 2019– RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD: Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon: We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…
- April 28, 2019– Easter 2C: Acts 5:27-32 – Peter to the high priest: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’
- May 5, 2019– Easter 3C: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) – Saul’s light from heaven. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
- May 12, 2019– Easter 4C: Acts 9:36-43 – The resuscitation of Tabitha in Joppa (Peter).
- May 19, 2019– Easter 5C: Acts 11:1-18 – Peter’s report to the church at Jerusalem on why he ate with the uncircumcised. His vision.
- May 26, 2019– Easter 6C: Acts 16:9-15 – The gospel enters Europe. Paul has a vision during the night: A man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’
- Thursday, May 30, 2019 or Sunday, June 2, 2019– ASCENSION OF OUR LORD: Acts 1:1-11– As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Note: This is also Mother’s Day in 2016.
- June 9, 2019– PENTECOST: Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost. Roaring wind and tongues of flame.
Easter Gospels at-a-glance
- April 21, 2019– RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD: The women at the tomb find the stone rolled away
- April 28, 2019– Easter 2C: Doubting Thomas. Revelation: He will come on the clouds.
- May 5, 2019– Easter 3C: Breakfast with Jesus on the beach. Be fishers and shepherds.
- May 12, 2019– Easter 4C: Good Shepherd Sunday.
- May 19, 2019– Easter 5C: New Commandment. Love as the mark of the church.
- May 26, 2019– Easter 6C: John’s vision of the Holy City Jerusalem. Jesus’ vision of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, who will teach us everything.
- Thursday, May 30, 2019 or Sunday, June 2, 2019– ASCENSION OF OUR LORD: While he was blessing them [at Bethany], he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
- June 9, 2019– PENTECOST: John 14. In my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.
Note: The Gulf Coast Synod Assembly is May 17-18, 2019.
A Brief Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, volume 2 of the Gospel of Luke
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
– Acts 1:8
Acts 1:8 is Luke’s exordium, his theme verse if you will. Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the earth: this is the outline of the rest of Acts.
- Acts 1-9 Jerusalem
- Acts 9-12 Judea and Samaria
- Acts 12-28 The ends of the earth
Luke wrote Acts (Acts 1:1-2. Luke 1:1-4). The author never identifies himself, but following tradition, let us call him Luke. Acts is a 28-chapter volume 2 of Luke’s gospel. “The story in Acts is essential in understanding who Jesus of Nazareth was, and what he means,” said Dr. Ed Krentz as he lectured us in Houston, Brenham and New Orleans in 2009. He encouraged us to use Acts for the second reading during this Lukan year.
Luke claims to be a traveling companion of the apostle Paul on the journey in which they get shipwrecked. Luke speaks of Paul and his team as “they” until Acts 27:1, when all of a sudden, he starts speaking in the first person (“we”). So, we assume that’s when Paul’s entourage picks up Luke. Someone by the name of Luke is mentioned several times in the Bible: Col. 4:14, 2 Tim 4:11, Philemon 24.
Luke is the only one who coordinates the gospel with secular history. Luke is the only gospel that mentions any Roman Emperors. Without Luke we couldn’t date anything. Luke mentions:
- Caesar Augustus
- Claudius (Acts 18)
The title is The Acts of the Apostles, but it might just as well be the Acts of Peter and Paul. Peter figures large in the first eight chapters, then a little bit after Paul’s conversion (chapter 9). Chapter 13 to the end of Acts, chapter 28, well over half the book, is devoted entirely to Paul’s missionary journeys.
When Stephen was being stoned (Acts 6 and 7), those who stoned him laid their coats at the feet of someone named Saul. Saul approved of the stoning (Acts 7:58, 8:1).
Saul’s conversion happens in Acts 9:1-19a (our text May 5, 2019). It is Luke that tells us that Saul was from Tarsus (Acts 9:11, 30; 21:39; 22:3). Paul never mentions it in any of his letters that we have. Tarsus is the capital of Cilicia, the eastern most region in southern Turkey, abutting Syria. It is where Antony first met Cleopatra 33 years before the birth of Christ. The Romans governed Tarsus in Paul’s day, and as a legacy left a system of roads that facilitated Paul’s travels. The overland route through Asia (modern day Turkey) could be followed even when sea travel was impossible. The trade route went from Troas to Pergamum (the capital of Asia), on to Sardis, through Galatia to Tarsus. Tarsus was therefore linked with the main roads westward, and therefore to the great Roman centers of Ephesus and Corinth, as well as Syrian Antioch and Jerusalem to the east and south. [Paul, The Mind of the Apostle, A.N. Wilson] The ancient writers speak of the Tarseans as pirates, seafarers and worshippers of Mithras. This accounts for Paul’s comfortability with travel, and sea travel in particular.
According to archeological evidence, Mithras worship was practiced in Tarsus until the fall of the Roman empire 450 years hence. A characteristic of Mithras worship was that worshippers would drink the blood of the sacrificed bull, or a cup of wine as a symbol of that blood. (It is easy to imagine how Paul’s Eucharistic theology emerges.) They would bathe in the blood, and it was believed that you would inherit the strength and life force of the bull. A child growing up in Tarsus would be impressed by this. Even a Jewish child. Paul is a citizen of the Roman empire according to Luke. He writes with a vigorous and distinctive style of Greek prose. This is not his second language. In other words, he is a Greek-speaking Jew, a second class of Jew according to the Hebrew speaking Jews from which Jesus came. And Paul was not a peasant. Any history of Greek prose which omitted Paul would be incomplete. He speaks in Greek. He thinks in Greek. And as a Greek speaker he was a citizen of the world, part of a universe much larger than that of Jesus and his disciples. In Paul’s day, Roman citizenship could be purchased for 200 drachmae (two-years wages for a laborer). Luke tells us that Paul was a tentmaker. Tents were for the wealthy. Mostly for Roman troops.
Acts in the Revised Common Lectionary
Acts doesn’t fare well in the Revised Common Lectionary. The only time we read from Acts is in the Easter season (including the Day of Pentecost). We read from Acts 1 only on Ascension Sunday/Easter 7. We read from Acts 2 only on Pentecost, and Easter 2A-4A. We have readings from Acts 3-5 in Easter B and C. Lutherans never read from Acts 6, 12-15, 18, or 20-28 in worship. The only time we read from Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 13-28) is Easter 6A, Baptism B and Easter 6-7C.
This year (C), with all our jumping around (Acts 10, 5, 9, 11, 16, 1, 2), we only read once from Pauls’ journeys, Easter 6C, May 1, 2016: The gospel enters Europe. Paul has a vision during the night: A man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’
Easter: Acts 10:34-43
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He 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. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
God shows no partiality.
Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. God does not make distinctions between Jews, Muslims or Christians. God does not show partiality to one race or another. Rich or poor. Male or female. Anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable Peter says. Gentiles who believed in God were called God-fearers.
After John’s baptism, this Jesus went about doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil. Nevertheless, they put him to death by hanging him from a tree.
Peter’s message in Acts 10 (Easter) and Acts 5 (the Sunday after Easter) is the same as the message in his Pentecostal Sermon (Acts 2): This Jesus was put to death by hanging him on a tree, but God “exalted” him on God’s right hand. Of this we are witnesses.
Hanging from a tree was considered a curse in Jewish tradition. Jesus had aligned himself with the outcasts, by eating and drinking with them. He was executed as a powerless man.
But God raised him from the dead, and called us to preach forgiveness in his name. Have you fallen short of the justice to which God calls you? Have you failed in your self-powered efforts at righteousness? Forgiveness is free. All who call upon the Lord receive full pardon and forgiveness for their sins.
That forgiveness frees us to move forward into grace. The knowledge of the resurrection frees us from fear of death, fear of the powers that threaten to destroy us. We are free to move into the new world with joy.
Paul proclaimed the same message. Have this mind that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name. Exaltation comes from humiliation. Life comes from death.
We are invited to see death not as the end, but as the beginning. We are given a glimpse of what we cannot see with our mortal eyes: that there is more to life than meets the eyes.
But death and resurrection isn’t just for the afterlife. It is to be lived now. In Acts, Christianity is called The Way (8:2, 9:25, 18:25, 18:26, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22). It is not a belief system alone, but a way of life, a way of being in the world. The cross, the resurrection, grace, forgiveness, empower us to live as new creations. We die to ourselves, so that we can arise to new life in Christ, now.
So, what grave clothes will you be leaving behind?
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
—1 Peter 1:3
If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more
human qualities. Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted on to Christ’s life, his cross and resurrection. That is a person’s measure.
—Archbishop Oscar Romero, March 4, 1979
Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Paul’s understanding of the resurrection: Earlier this year, February 10, 2019, we had a couple of weeks of readings from 1 Corinthians 15. At that point I shared some perspectives on Paul’s understanding of resurrection, with the help of James Tabor. Paul does not understand resurrection as we often do in today’s society.
The Isenheim Altarpiece: David Lyle Jeffrey invites us to a Holy Week meditation on the Isenheim altarpiece, the largest work of the late Medieval painter, Matthias Grünewald. The artist painted it for the monastery of Saint Anthony in Isenheim, located outside a town known for caring for the sick. The monks cared for those with the Plague and various skin diseases.
(Note: Our Gulf Coast friends, Vonda and Jim Drees, direct the Grünewald Guild, 14 miles northwest of Leavenworth, Washington, on the Wenatchee River in the Plain Valley. Go visit for snowcapped peaks, rushing waters, golden meadows, art and faith.)
The wings of the Isenheim altarpiece are closed for most the year, showing a stunning crucifixion scene. The crucified Christ is covered with plague-like sores. This demonstrated to patients that Jesus not only understood, but shared their afflictions. The realism of Grünewald’s depictions of these diseases is unique in this period, and instructive.
To the left is Mary Magdalene on her knees, with an alabaster jar. Unfortunately, Mary comes to be mistakenly associated with the “sinful woman” with the alabaster jar of ointment in Luke 7:37. The apostle John comforts Mary. A surrealistic John the Baptist with a surrealistically large finger points to Jesus.
On Easter, an a few other holy days, the doors open at the center, and an equally amazing resurrection scene is revealed. Jeffrey calls it, “ perhaps the most stunning representation of the resurrection in all Christian art…”
On the right panel is a transfigured and ascending risen Christ, with Roman soldiers at his feet and rising sun behind his head. It is a new day dawning, a turning point in history as Jaroslav Pelican put it.
Women, The First Preachers of the Resurrection: Luke 24:1-12
I read Luke 24 as one who strongly believes that the women went to the tomb before dawn to anoint the corpse and found instead an empty tomb. It is the one constant in the varied accounts.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Luke narrates four events after Jesus’s death: his burial (23:50–56); the empty tomb (24:1–11); and two postresurrection appearances to his followers, first to Cleopas and his companion (24:13–35) and finally to the Eleven (24:36–53).
- Burial (Palm/Passion C)
- Empty tomb (Easter 3C)
- Appearance on Road to Emmaus (Easter 3A and 3B, Easter evening C)
- Appearance to the eleven (Ascension A, B and C)
All of the postmortem texts appear in the Revised Common Lectionary, although they are spread out over three years and range from Palm/Passion Sunday for the burial, to Ascension day for the appearance to the eleven. (The Narrative Lectionary, Year 3, includes the first three of these events consecutively, on Good Friday, Easter, and Easter 2, but excludes the fourth entirely.) Curiously, we do not read Luke’s unique Road to Emmaus account on a Sunday morning in RCL Year C.
Who are the women at the tomb? They vary from gospel to gospel. Marilyn Salmon at United Seminary in St. Paul points out that this story appears in all four gospels, and in each gospel, Mary Magdalene is present. While the stories vary, there is consensus about this. And there is also another Mary in each gospel, one of the seven in the New Testament. Matthew includes “the other Mary” (28:1). Mark adds “Mary the mother of James and Salome” (16:1). Luke includes Mary mother of James (24:10). In addition to these Marys, there are “other women.” Who are they? Luke told us in the previous chapter, just a few verses ago (23:55-56), that they had followed him all the way to Jerusalem from Galilee:
The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
These are the same women that were with Jesus in his ministry in Galilee. Women play a vital role in Jesus‘ story in the Gospel of Luke. Elizabeth, Mary his mother, Anna, Joanna, Susanna, Mary Magdalene, the women who funded Jesus’ ministry, the five other Marys, and so on. The women follow Jesus in Luke, literally from Galilee. They are followers, disciples.
How many “other women” are there? We are not told. However, earlier in his gospel (8:2b-3), Luke told us that there were “many” women who were with Jesus and the twelve:
… Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Perhaps two. Perhaps 20. The women find an empty tomb and are understandably “perplexed,” perhaps as Mary was “perplexed” when the angel appeared to her as a young, pregnant teenager three decades earlier.
Two angels appear to them, saying, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here for he has risen.” And then the angels tell the women to remember what Jesus told them, back when they were “in Galilee,” that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinful men, be crucified and on the third day rise.
They immediately go to tell the eleven, but the eleven do not believe. It seemed to them an “idle tale.” This is a sexist slur. Even today we still hear phrases like “an old wives tale” to discount the veracity and testimony of women. Luke is not critiquing the women. Luke is critiquing the disciples.
It was women who accompanied Jesus in his ministry. It is women who helped to fund his ministry. It is women who stood by Jesus even when Judas betrayed and Peter denied. It was women who stayed with Jesus at the foot of the cross, in his most difficult hour, until he breathed his last breath. And it was women on Easter morning, who proclaimed the good news of the resurrection. Sadly, it would be women upon whom an institutionalized church would turn, to marginalize, and exclude, within only a few generations.
Jürgen Moltmann has famously said,
Without women preachers, we would have no knowledge of the resurrection.
Perhaps we are like the women at the tomb, announcing the resurrection to an unbelieving world, that often sees the story as an “idle tale.” We announce a new day dawning, a turning point in history that frees us to love unconditionally, live hopefully and give generously. We are privileged to share a foolish story that suggests that death does not have the final word. To announce what the angel said to a young, expecting Mary:
For nothing will be impossible with God.