On the third day.

Signpost for Sunday 20 April 2014, Easter Sunday: Jer 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; Col 3:1-4 (Acts 10:34-43); Matt 28:1-10 (John 20:1-18)

Last year the lectionary gave us Luke’s version of Easter, this year we’ve got Matthew’s or maybe John’s, depending on who your vicar is.

Each gospel tells us a slightly different story. Mark (the first written version) has one “young man,” and no description of the risen Jesus at all; Luke has “two men in dazzling clothes, Matthew, one “angel of the Lord” and John claims “two angels.”

My favourite is John’s version. I love that bit where Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener (John 20:15), but the point is that, because all four gospels tell the story in a different way, there probably wasn’t one ‘true’ or even generally accepted Easter narrative in the decades following the crucifixion.

The early Christians, unlike us, weren’t worrying about whether Jesus actually wafted around like a ghost like or not. They didn’t have a King James Version (KJV), Standard Version (SV) or a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) to confuse them.

And just in case you were wondering about Matt 28:6, “He is not here, he has been raised.” Scholars tell us now that this NRSV translation is correct, not the KJV’s and RSV’s “he has risen”.

Although this week’s reading gives us Paul’s words to the Colossians, his letter to the Corinthians might be more helpful. Saul was a Pharisee so he believed in resurrection (unlike the Sadducees and most Jews of the day) even before his road to Damascus epiphany. But what’s Paul’s experience of the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth? He tells us that he believes it was no different from that of the disciples and others to whom Jesus ‘appeared’ (1 Cor 15:3-9). Acts 9:4-9 clearly states that only Saul saw Jesus; the people travelling with him heard the voice but saw nothing. What does that say about the raising of a dead body?

It says one thing for me. My guess is that most us can relate to Paul’s experience of Jesus’ after-death appearance more easily than we can to the literal interpretation of any of the gospel accounts of Easter Day.

Easter Day does, though, mark the beginning of a new way of seeing everything – that much is clear. Because of it we still read and hear stories about Yeshua and the things he said and did. Those are things we can try as best we can to live by and when we do that, many of us feel ourselves to be unconditionally loved, we try harder to love our neighbours; our lives are often changed.

How should we celebrate this Easter Sunday then? There’s a hint in the first reading (Jer 31:4) “… take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.” Not a bad way to spend the day.

Paul

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