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Wrestling with the Word, episode 45: All Saints Day, Year B (November 1, 2009) October 19, 2009

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All Saints Day

The Sundays of the church year move expectedly through the calendar months. We preach, we listen, we learn, we feel the guilt of our sins in God’s presence, and we know of the exhilaration that comes from God’s forgiveness. Some people feel highs from attending Christmas Eve worship or from Easter sunrise services. Others prefer the season of Lent when we realize that God’s Word became flesh to walk in our sandals and to die in our place. Nevertheless, this one day called All Saints Day hits many of us personally when we hear aloud the name of a loved who died since the last November 1. This year I will hear my Mother’s name among the others who died in the nursing home in 2009. Hearing the names during the service recalls and even stimulates the grief we knew earlier in the year and thought we were over. Along with other listeners, I will undoubtedly join in their sadness, their anger, their guilt, and their loneliness that will resurface for a time. Yet the lessons assigned for this day enable us to reinvest our pains into new life based on comfort, companionship, trust, forgiveness, hope, promise, and reunion.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 45: All Saints Day, Year B.

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Psalm 24
Used as part of the liturgy at a festival of the Lord, the psalm extols the glory of God in creation (vss. 1-2). Then in verses 3-6, like Psalm 15, those who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem ask about the worthiness required to enter the temple, to which the priest responds that those who have clean hands and a pure heart may enter and there receive the Lord’s blessings and vindication (righteousness). The final verses (7-10) provide the liturgical responses to the coming of the people and of the glory of the King, acclaimed as “the Lord of hosts.”

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Isaiah 25:6-9
On the coming Day of the Lord, God will hold a celebration of life for all peoples on his holy mountain, as the Lord once invited the elders of Israel to feast on Sinai.

Context
Chapters 24 through 27 comprise the “Apocalypse of Isaiah.” The chapters are probably later than any other material in the book. They reflect the apocalyptic view that a heavenly battle will occur (24:21-23), after which God will reign as king on the mountain where he will preside over the eschatological banquet.

Key Words
V. 5.  lekol-hā‘ammîm = “for all peoples”:  The banquet is a universal one which goes far beyond the people of Israel at meal on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:9-11) and at various meal-offerings on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (see Deut. 12:7; 14:26).

V. 7. ûbilla‘  hāhār hazzeh penê-hallôt hallôt ‘al-kol-hā‘ammîm = “And he will swallow on this mountain the surface of the covering that covers over all the people”:  While the expression is not used elsewhere, the noun form of lot appears to mean “secrecy, mystery,” and so is used to indicate the mystery surrounding death.

V. 8.  billa‘ hammāwet lānetsach = “he will swallow up death forever”:  The expression seems to be a twist on an old Canaanite poem in which Death (Mot) threatens to swallow up Ba`al and thus end the season of fertility and life.  The twist is actually twofold:  (1) Death will be the one swallowed up; (2) the swallowing will be the eschatological act of the last days rather than a seasonal end to fertility.

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Revelation 21:1-6a
Against the present reality of chaos, death, and mourning, God will make a new creation in which God’s presence with humanity will end all the horrors of the present.

Context
John the Seer had just reported the vision of the demise of Satan and of the judgment before the great white throne. Now the Seer begins his report of the final vision.

Key Words
V. 1.  “a new heaven and a new earth”:  See the vision in Isa. 65:17-22, along with Genesis 1:1.  The new represents the opposite of the old or present.

V. 1.  hē thalassa = “the sea”:  The sea is an image of the chaotic force that is opposed to God’s Reign.  In OT often portrayed as a sea monster (sometimes called Leviathan or Rahab); see Job 9:8; Psalm 74:12-14; Isaiah 27:1; 50:2; 51:9-10; Nahum 1:4; and often. In NT, see Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52 and parallels.

V. 2.  “the holy city,… Jerusalem”:  Recall the eschatological reference at Isa. 52:1 where Zion is commanded to put on power and glory; the context there is the coming salvation of the exiles from Babylon. See also Neh. 11:1, 18.

V. 2.  “a bride adorned for her husband”:  see 19:7. See Isa. 61:10 where an individual represents the community redeemed by the Lord and dresses for the occasion. On the image of marriage between Yahweh and Israel, see Hos. 1:1-3; 2:15; 3:1ff.; also Ezek. 20; Isa. 54:5-8. On marriage as an image for Christ and the church, see 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:31-32, and here.

V. 3.  hē skēnē  tou theou … kai skēnōsei met’ autōn = “the dwelling/tent of God … and he will dwell with them”:  skēnē is used for the tabernacle which God instructed Moses to build in order to be present with the people (Exod. 26–27); on the whole expression see Exod. 29:45. On God’s presence among the people, see also Lev. 26:11-12; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 37:27. On God’s dwelling place in heaven, see Deut. 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49.

V. 4.  “mourning … crying … pain”:  See prophecies about the eschaton at Isa. 35:10 = 51:11; esp. 65:17, 19 in the new creation. Recall the beatitudes of the kingdom that Jesus taught (Matt. 5:1-12; Luke 6:21-23).

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John 11:32-44
Deeply moved by the death of his friend Lazarus of Bethany and the painful sadness it caused the family, Jesus raises him from the dead and restores him to his family and community.

Context
The pericope is preceded by the report from Mary and Martha that Lazarus, their brother, was seriously ill. Jesus indicated that his illness is not unto death but for the glory of God (11:4).

Key Words
Vss. 33, 35, 38. enebrimēsato tō pneumatic kai etaraxen heauton … edakrysen ho ’Iēsous … ’Iēsous oun palin embrimōmenos = “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply troubled … Jesus began to weep … Then Jesus, again deeply moved, …”: The verb translated “disturbed” and “troubled” appears elsewhere in a different spirit. At Mark 14:5 it means “reproach” by those who witnessed the use of expensive myrrh for anointing Jesus. In the synoptics, the word for Jesus’ compassion is splangknizomai, used for his response to the leper at Mark 1:41 and for the hungry, the sick and the helpless at Mark 6:34; 8:2; Matt. 9:36; 14:14. At Luke 7:13 the same word describes Jesus’ compassion on the widow whose son had died and whom he instructs “Do not weep!” (There, in the previous chapter, Jesus had taught the crowds, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” [Luke 6:21]).

V. 41. pater, eucharistō soi hoti ēkousas mou = “Father, I thank you that you have heard me”: The expression of thanksgiving following a cry for help is characteristic of psalms of lament and thanksgiving (see, e.g., Ps. 30).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 16: The Resurrection of our Lord, Year B (April 12, 2009) March 23, 2009

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The Resurrection of our Lord

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! The words express the way Christians greet one another on this Easter Day. However, much more than a greeting, the words define our faith and what it means to be Christians. Paul wrote, “… if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Everything depends on the truth of what God accomplished this day. At the heart of the matter is the trustworthiness of God and God’s ability to accomplish whatever God promises. In the resurrection of Jesus and in God’s word of promise that we will join Christ and one another, we find comfort and a future with hope. That joining begins even here and now as we eat and drink together in Jesus’ presence as a community of faith. This community consists of all people who believe in Jesus, confess his name, and go into the world as witnesses to what God has done.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 16: The Resurrection of our Lord, Year B.

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Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Use in Judaism
This psalm is the last of six Hallel psalms (113-118) used as part of the liturgy for autumn feasts and Passover (see Mark 14:26: “and when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives”).

Form: Individual Song of Thanksgiving
The psalm is one of praise and thanksgiving to God after deliverance from a life-threatening situation. The tone of thanksgiving sounds clearly right at the outset. That both a lament and the Lord’s answer has preceded the thanksgiving is stated at v. 5. The answer from the Lord appears again in our verses at v. 21. The description of the distress that pits the “nations” against Israel is understandable from the perspective of Passover but it runs counter to the other lessons for this day (see vv. 10-13). The attention of the verses selected for us is focused on the celebration of thanksgiving following the deliverance (vv. 14-29). Of particular significance for Easter are the words of vs. 17: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” Then, of course, is the resounding announcement, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Use in New Testament
V. 6. “With the Lord on/at my side, I will not be afraid. What can mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
V. 18. “The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death” (2 Cor. 6:9)
Vss. 22-23. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes…” (Matt. 21:42//Mark 12:10-11//Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11-12; 1 Peter 2:7)
V. 24. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Rev 19:7)
VV. 25-27. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 21:9//Mark 11:9-10//Luke 19:38//John 12:13; also Matt. 23:39//Luke 13:35)

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Isaiah 25:6-9
Against all the hunger, suffering, death, and mourning of the present age, God promises in the kingdom to come a banquet and the end of death itself, in response to which the people of God rejoice.

Context
The so-called Apocalypse of Isaiah begins at 24:1 and continues through chapter 27. Because of the apocalyptic themes, it appears to be the latest section of the Book of Isaiah. The heavenly battle occurs in 24:21-23, and the victory of YHWH over the heavenly and earthly foes leads to the Lord’s enthronement on Mount Zion. Such a sequence of victory–reign–feast is common in the mythology of the Babylonians and the Canaanites.

Key Words
V. 6. we‘āsā YHWH tsebā’ōt lekol-hā‘ammîm bāhār hazzeh mištēh = “And on this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast”: In the Canaanite religion Mount Zaphon was the place of the banquet for 70 gods and goddesses that celebrated the victory of Baal over the chaos of the Sea. The mountain of God’s holiness serves as the scene for banquets throughout Israel’s history. Mount Sinai/Horeb is the scene where Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the 70 elders of Israel “ate and drank” (Exod. 24:9-11). Mount Zion, the home of the temple, is the place where the people of Israel offered sacrifices and “ate and drank” together (Deut.12:18; Ps. 22:26; 116:13, 17). The banquet of the Day of the Lord will be open not only to Israel but also to “all peoples.”

V. 7. billa‘ hammāvet lānetsach = “he will swallow up death forever”: In the Canaanite poetry, Death (the god Mot) “swallows up” the fertility god Baal. In this prophecy, the Lord will have Death for dinner—as the entree.

V. 8. kî YHWH dibbēr = “for the Lord has spoken”: The words of this promise can be believed because the word of the accomplishes what it promises.

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Acts 10:34-43
Since God shows no partiality, God sent Peter—one of those who ate and drank with Jesus after his resurrection–to announce to Gentiles that God’s acts in Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching, healing right up to his death and resurrection—result in forgiveness of sins for everyone who believes in him.

Context
God had brought together two quite different men for the purpose of spreading the good news about Jesus. Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Cohort. Peter was a Galilean fisherman who spent the previous years as a disciple and apostle of Jesus. God spoke to each of them in visions. In addressing Cornelius, the angel of God told the man about Peter who was staying in Joppa. In a vision to Peter, God taught the apostle that the line between clean and unclean has been erased. That led to Peter’s trip to Caesarea where he preached the sermon to Cornelius and his household. Thus begins the witnessing to the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 10:1—28:28)

Key Words
V. 35 all’ en panti ethnei ho phoboumenos auton kai ergazomenos diaiosynēn dektos autō estin = “but in every nation anyone who fears him (God) and works righteousness is acceptable to him”: The universal nature of Peter’s sermon occurs also at v. 36 “Jesus Christ—he is the Lord of all”; v. 38 “healing all that were oppressed by the devil”; v. 39 “we are witnesses to all”; v. 42 “judge of the living and the dead”; v. 43 “everyone who believes in him.”

V. 43. toutō pantes hoi prophētai martyrousin aphesin hamartiōn labein dia tou onomatos autou panta ton pisteuonta eis auton = “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives the forgiveness of sins through his name”: Peter demonstrates that God has been in the forgiveness business for the people of Israel through the preaching of the prophets. In actuality, “forgiveness” is relatively rare in prophetic preaching. Passages like Isa. 33:24; Jer. 31:34; 36:3; Amos 7:2 are powerful simply because they are not common. However, in the Mosaic law, a major part of the sacrificial system is designed for the forgiveness of sins, and in the psalms “forgiveness” appears frequently as a statement of what God has done or is petitioned to do. The major point in this verse, however, is that the forgiveness of God that had been given to the people of Israel now extends to “everyone who believes in him.”

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1 Corinthians 15:1-11
God (through the Risen Christ, the Spirit, the apostles) delivered to Paul the content of the Christian faith, the message about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this is the tradition that Paul transmits to the Christians in Corinth and to us.

Context
Paul moves rather abruptly from the discussion about prophecy and speaking in tongues in chapter 14 to a profound discussion of the resurrection from the dead. These verses provide the background for the following presentation on the resurrection of the dead as essential to the faith.

Key Words
V. 1. parelabete = “you received”: The verb tense indicates they received this message over a period of time. In v. 3 Paul indicates that he himself received the gospel tradition but not its source; at 11:23 he reports that he received from the Risen Lord the tradition of the Lord’s Supper.

V. 3. apethanen huper tōn hamartiōn hēmōn = “he died for our sins”: reference to the Suffering Servant at Isa. 53:5, 8 (LXX).

V. 4. tē hēmera tē tritē kata tas graphas = “on the third day according to the scriptures”: The expression is identical to Hos. 6:2, the only reference in the OT to a resurrection from the dead on the third day.

V. 5. ōphthē = “he appeared”: The term is used for post-resurrection appearances; cf. Luke 24:34 (to Simon); Acts 9:17 (to Paul); 13:31 (to the apostles who became witnesses); 26:16 (to Paul).

V. 8. tō ektrōmati = “as to a miscarriage”: The word in LXX refers to a premature birth (Num.12:12; Job 3:16; Eccles. 6:3).

V. 10. chariti de theou eimi ho eimi = “But by the grace of God, I am what I am”: God’s grace defines Paul and assigns him the commission to preach what he had received, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The expression is similar to but not identical to God’s definition of self to Moses, “I am who I am” (egō eimi ho ōn) at Exod. 3:14.

V. 11. houtōs episteusate = “you believed”: aorist tense, that is, a spontaneous act.

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Mark 16:1-8
In confronting us, the Risen Christ calls us to respond to the miracle of his resurrection with fear and trembling, even ecstasy.
OR
Jesus affirms his divine authority by fulfilling the promise he had made earlier, namely, his resurrection and his reunion with the disciples in Galilee.

Context
The story of the crucifixion of Christ (15:21-39) is followed by the request of Joseph of Arimathea for the body of Jesus so that proper burial could occur in Joseph’s tomb (15:42-47). Singled out as knowledgeable about the location of Jesus’ body are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses.

The details of the Easter story are sufficiently different in each of the four Gospels that it impossible to determine exactly what occurred. Each account is an expression of faith rather than a historical record, and so each account takes on the living faith of the evangelist and/or the community in which the evangelist lived. What stands out as consistent, however, is Mary Magdalene, the empty tomb, and the time as Sunday morning.

Key Words
V. 1. hēgorasan arōmata hina elthousai aleipsōsin = “bought spices so that they would go to anoint him”: Their mission was not possible because the tomb was already empty, but the unnamed woman in the home of Simon the leper had already anointed Jesus’ body for burying (14:3-9).

Vss. 1- 2. Kai diagenomenou tou sabbatoukai lian prōi tē mia tōn sabbatōn = “And when the sabbath was over … and very early on the first day of the week” The timing of the resurrection has resulted in the church’s assertion that the first day of the week is set over the sabbath as the day to celebrate God’s mighty act.

V. 6. Iēsoun zēteite ton Nazarēnon ton estaurōmenon ēgerthē = “you seek Jesus the crucified Nazarene; he has risen”: Jesus had predicted his suffering, death, and resurrection at 8:31; 9:9-11, 31; 10:33-34. The “young man” announced to the women that what Jesus had been telling the disciples had come to pass, that is, he had spoken with the authority of God. (Recall the discussion of Isaiah 25:8: “for the Lord has spoken.”

V. 7. ekei auton opsesthe, kathōs eipen hymin = “there (in Galilee) you will see him, just as he told you”: This conclusion to the messenger’s report further confirms that Jesus had spoken with the authority of God, that is, his word effected what he promised. Strikingly, we have no record in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus’ words concerning a reunion in Galilee.

V. 8. tromos kai ekstasis … ephobounto gar = “trembling and ecstasy … for they were afraid”: “The words “fear” and “trembling” appear together at 1 Cor. 2:3 as Paul’s style of ministry; at 2 Cor. 7:13 for the Corinthians’ reception of Titus; at Eph. 6:5 for the attitude of slaves toward their owners; and at Phil. 2:12 for the attitude in which to work out “your own salvation.” As for ekstasis, the word occurs at Mark 8:23 to describe the crowd’s response to Jesus raising from the dead the synagogue leader’s daughter. At Luke 5:26 the crowd is ecstatic over the healing/forgiving of the paralytic man. Likewise, at Acts 3:10 the word describes the crowd’s “astonishment” when Peter heals the man “lame from birth.” On the other side, at Acts 10:10 and 11:5, the word describes the “trance” that came upon Peter to make him receptive to the vision, at 22:17 Paul uses the same word for the “trance” in which Jesus warned him to leave Jerusalem.