Easter Day B

March 29, 2021

The Easter Day Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Mark 16:1-8 from the Lectionary Gospel; Isaiah 25:6-9 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 114 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 from the Lectionary Epistle.

Related Reformed confession: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 2 (Lord’s Day 1)

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Mark 16:1-8

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Isaiah 25:6-9

    Author: Stan Mast

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 114

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    [Note: The Year B Lectionary assigned Psalm 118 for both Passion Sunday and Easter.  I chose to post on that for Passion/Palm Sunday last week and the Easter evening Psalm for this week.  If you want to see last week’s post on Psalm 118, click here.]

    Psalm 114 is a curious choice for Easter Evening by the Revised Common Lectionary.  It is a short poem and one that is probably not overly familiar to a lot of churchgoing Christians.  It is primarily a metaphorical celebration of the Exodus from Egypt but it goes a bit further than just that event to note also the time God brought forth water from a rock for God’s thirsty people in the wilderness and the time the Jordan opened up so Israel could cross on dry ground into the Promised Land of Canaan.

    A couple things are striking about this psalm.  First, its metaphorical animating of parts of the creation.  Yes, the waters of the Red Sea and later of the Jordan literally parted to let the people cross on dry ground.  But Psalm 114 makes this parting out to be a kind of fleeing of the waters, as though those waters were so awed by the presence of God that they just gave way of their own accord.  But the poet here animates also mountains and hills, picturing them as leaping and convulsing in awe of God’s presence.  The end of the psalm suggests that the whole earth and not just seas and rivers, mountains and hills, ought to tremble before the powerful and majestic presence of its Creator.

    We tend to chalk up language like this in the psalms as only metaphorical.  A bit further on in the Psalter we will get psalms suggesting that the sun, moon, stars, wind, rain, and hail actively praise God.  Or the psalmists will command these seemingly inanimate parts of nature to sing praises to God.  Again, we see this as just poetry, as poetic license, as mere metaphor.  A rock can’t sing.  A hill can’t leap.  The moon is not a member of any choir.  But is this really just invoking a purely metaphorical image in the Psalter—not to be taken remotely literally—in all these places where different facets of creation are seen as actively praising God?  Or in God’s eyes and in God’s ears does the creation’s roaring and trembling and shining and storming really sound like praise?  Does God hear the crashing of ocean waves as applause?  Does God soak up the warbling melodies of a billion birds on planet earth as being as lovely as the finest Bach chorale?

    Maybe.  Or perhaps based on the witness of Scripture we should say “Probably.”  Let’s not be too hasty in cashing out how valuable the Creation’s just being the Creation is to the Creator God.  Perhaps it really is responsive to God’s power and majesty as Psalm 114 suggests.  In truth, I like thinking of Creation this way.  In past writings I have referred to it as The Ecology of Praise.  And to God, this is a treasured truth.

    The other thing that ought to strike us from Psalm 114 is more in the category of tragic irony.  Yes, yes, when Israel came out of Egypt they became God’s “sanctuary” as verse 1 says.  And if we take seriously the response of the created order to those majestic events as God led Israel along out of Egypt and then through the wilderness for 40 years, then we appropriately conclude that there really was a whole lot of majesty going on in and through all those events.

    But that’s just the thing: if only ISRAEL had been duly enough impressed to stay obedient to this majestic God who made seas, rivers, mountains, and hills reel in response!  I just mentioned the 40 years of wilderness wandering but it only took that long because God punished the people for their failure to be sufficiently impressed by God’s awesome power as to straighten up and fly right for more than a couple days in a row or something.  One could, therefore, walk away from Psalm 114 and marvel over the quirky fact that the Creation seemed to “get it” when it came to God’s majesty better than the imagebearers of God in Israel!  Again, are we so sure all that talk of the Creation reacting to God is a mere metaphor?  Sounds like the overall Creation did better than the crown of creation: human beings!

    But we are considering all of this in the context of Easter.  So how might Psalm 114 be an apt poem to associate with Christ’s resurrection?  A number of connections may be somewhat obvious.  First, Christ’s death (and the salvation it made possible) is now the New Israel’s (the Church’s) “Exodus” from sin once and for all.  The house of bondage that just is our fallen nature was left behind because of Christ’s sacrifice.  And that is the Good News of the Gospel indeed!

    Second, Creation also reacted to the events at the end of Holy Week: the earth trembled, rocks split, the skies darkened when Christ was crucified and when Christ died.  The Creation once again knew better than some of the people present around the cross that very day what was going on and what it portended for the whole cosmos.  And there was a large earthquake when Jesus exited the tomb as well.  All of this speaks to the majestic nature of this climax to salvation history.

    But the third connection to make to Easter and beyond ties in with the grim irony we noted a moment ago: if only Israel had been as impressed by God’s majesty as the supposedly inanimate Creation was.  That, however, loops back to us now.  Are we sufficiently awed by God as to dedicate all of our lives to God’s glory?  Do we “get it” when it comes to the glory of God’s salvation in Christ at least as well as—and hopefully far better than—the rest of Creation?

    That may not be a comfortable question to ask ourselves and yet so much hinges on the answer.  Psalm 114 calls on the whole creation to tremble in awe and wonder before God.  That would not be a bad posture for our lives just generally.

    Illustration Idea

    A rather liberal pastor who said he did not believe in the resurrection as a literal event once said that he thinks he is not the only one who does not really believe in Christ’s rising again.  As proof, he said that if he actually believed in Easter, he would be running through the streets daily telling everyone he meets about it.  And yet even more conservative Christians who profess a belief in the resurrection don’t spend their lives doing that kind of fervent witnessing.  And so, this pastor concluded, are those who reject him for his liberalism all that different in the end?

    He has a point.  We could counter it by saying that leading transformed lives and how that shows up in how Christians interact with all people and conduct themselves just generally at home and at school and at work is itself a witness to the power of Christ in us.  Of course, that does not always happen smoothly or as consistently as we might want either.

    But the point remains: do we live and act and talk and behave in ways that show we truly believe that we live in a world where a resurrection took place?  And if we can find areas of our lives that show no evidence of celebrating and leaning into that reality, what might we ask the Holy Spirit to help us do about that?

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Corinthians 15:1-11

    Author: Doug Bratt